Screen Shot 2016-03-17 at 16.53.30A North East University is collaborating with industry on a new Degree Apprenticeship; continuing its work to deliver graduates with higher-level skills and address the regional high-tech skills gap.

The University of Sunderland is one of a select group of UK higher-level teaching institutions to be working directly with businesses on a new Higher Degree Apprenticeship programme. The programme, which is endorsed by the Tech Partnership, allows the students to attend university, while also being employed full-time.

Long-running collaborations between the University and businesses in the North East led to discussions with Accenture – one of the world’s leading management consulting and technology services companies – to develop a Higher Degree Apprenticeship programme in partnership. The BSc (honours) Digital & Technology Solutions programme at Sunderland allows students to specialise in Software Engineering.

Professor Alastair Irons, Professor of Computer Science at the University of Sunderland and recently elected as the new Chair of the BCS, The Chartered Institute for IT (Newcastle Branch),commented: “Our first Degree Apprenticeship is now up and running with Accenture and builds on our long-term relationship with the team there. We developed this new study opportunity as a result of our work with businesses, to support skills growth – we continually align our courses to the current and future needs of employers.

“Our Digital & Technology Solutions degree provides a route for employed apprentices to develop their skills and knowledge in computing and IT to Honours degree level, at the same time as contributing to the workload and operation of their employer.

“The student apprentices study the core principles and applications associated with digital and technology solutions and have the opportunity to specialise in Software Engineering. The programme has a very strong element of work-based learning and project work, which allows the students to integrate and apply their new skills and knowledge in a work environment.”

The new Higher Degree Apprenticeships are being supported by the Government’s Skills Funding Agency to ensure that industry is gaining graduates with the core skills, technical knowledge and behaviours it needs to succeed.

A Higher Degree Apprenticeship combines degree level study with work. The apprentices gain a degree alongside work experience, ultimately meaning the employer‘s staff are trained to degree-level in the specific skills the business needs to succeed.

To meet the requirements and needs identified by Accenture undergraduates study the principles and applications of Software Engineering supported by the principles of Digital and Technology Solutions including; Information Systems, Systems Development, Data Analytics; Databases; Cybersecurity, Networks, Project Management and Business Organisation.

In the second and third year of the programme there is a significant element of work-based learning and project work, which allows the apprentices to integrate and apply their new skills and knowledge in their work environments.

James Brown, an Accenture apprentice studying the BSc (honours) Digital & Technology Solutions programme, commented: “I chose to work in the technology sector as I could see it is continuously growing and offers long-term career opportunities. I had developed a keen interest in web development and quickly came to terms with the concept of having to learn on the job to better my skills in the industry.

“My experience as an apprentice has been excellent. There is an outstanding support network within Accenture and University of Sunderland. The transition from College to University wasn’t too difficult and a large percentage of the assignments are work based.

“I’m focused on completing my degree but after graduation I plan to stay with Accenture to advance my career level and to find the ideal role or project that I’d like to settle into. Accenture give you every opportunity to progress and very supportive with the choices employees make.”

There are currently 15 students, who have all been employed by Accenture in the first year of the Degree Apprenticeship’s delivery. However, discussions are underway with other regional employers to expand the levels of participation.

Mark Larsen, Managing Director for Accenture’s Newcastle Delivery Centre, said, “Accenture is working closely with the University of Sunderland to help deliver the talent pipeline we need to grow our business. It is this kind of collaboration between industry and the education community that will help us create jobs for the future and close the skills gap in the North East.”

Professor John MacIntyre, Pro Vice-Chancellor at the University of Sunderland, added: “The new Higher Degree Apprenticeship programme is an example of the University and industry working together to ensure there are highly qualified individuals with University of Sunderland qualifications and real-world experience, who meet regional business needs and requirements and have opportunities for exciting and challenging careers.

“We encourage other employers interested in degree apprenticeships and working with us to get in touch.”

North East businesses keen to find out more about collaborating with the University of Sunderland on research, skills growth and knowledge transfer partnerships, including Degree Apprenticeships, can contact the Enterprise and Innovation Team on 0191 515 3479.