Keegan hails degree-level apprenticeship for students seeking space sector jobs

The new course will begin in 2024.

Callum Parke
Friday 14 July 2023 00:01 BST
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan (centre) with degree apprentices and staff from Airbus and the University of Leicester as she launched the new space engineering degree apprenticeship at the city’s Space Park (Callum Parke/PA)
Education Secretary Gillian Keegan (centre) with degree apprentices and staff from Airbus and the University of Leicester as she launched the new space engineering degree apprenticeship at the city’s Space Park (Callum Parke/PA)

Students looking to work in the UK’s growing space sector will be able to gain a degree-level industry qualification without incurring tuition fees, the Education Secretary has announced.

The new Space Systems Engineer degree apprenticeship will give people opportunities to work for global aerospace companies, space agencies and leading research and technology institutions, the Department for Education (DfE) said.

The curriculum, to be launched in 2024, was developed with the University of Leicester following input from leading businesses including Airbus, and will be delivered at the city’s Space Park.

Applications for the Level 6 Space Systems programme will open in September this year, with successful applicants beginning their training at Airbus in September 2024.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan, who visited the Space Park on Thursday, said: “It is a brilliant opportunity for young people to be at the forefront of the UK’s world-class space industry, earning money while they get a degree and unparalleled skills training.

“We will ensure the industry can access the talent it needs to continue to grow the economy and make history.

“I think it’s going to be hugely popular, and I look forward to seeing many more people get the opportunity to work in this fascinating industry via a degree apprenticeship.

“I think they’re a fantastic option, not just for young people who want to get that route into the same careers as opposed to just going via the university route, but also for older people, perhaps if they missed out but they do need to earn as well.

“It’s a fantastic route into any career and we now have degree apprenticeships in 140 different careers and we have 667 different apprenticeship standards, so you can literally be almost anything now via an apprenticeship.”

The new degree apprenticeship follows the approval in 2020 of a Level 4 Space Engineering Technician apprenticeship, which was designed to help young people gain the technical skills needed to start a career in space.

Apprentices on the new scheme will be involved in creating “complex, high-value space hardware and ground support equipment”, the DfE said and will spend around 20% of their time in the classroom and the rest working.

The announcement comes after the UK launched its first National Space Strategy in 2021.

The plan aims to expand the sector – which as of 2021 was worth more than £16.4 billion per year and employed more than 45,000 people – and increase the ability to “achieve the UK’s civil and defence ambitions in space”.

Professor Sarah Davies, head of the College of Science and Engineering at the University of Leicester, said: “Space is going to be a huge industry, it’s going to be (a) hundreds of billions of dollars industry.

“It’s growing at a significant rate and the UK is leading in that.

“In Leicestershire alone, there are 40 companies that are involved in space.

“It requires everything from computer scientists, to engineers, software engineers, a whole range of disciplines that can be brought into the space arena to develop new ideas and to develop new technologies.”

Degree-level apprenticeships were introduced in the 2014-15 academic year, with 188,000 apprentices since starting qualifications in sectors including nursing, science and engineering.

Apprentices earn a median salary of over £34,000 after completing their qualification at a university, without incurring debt from tuition fees.

Mrs Keegan is the only degree apprentice in the House of Commons and signed off the first space engineering apprenticeship when she was apprenticeships minister.

The Government has asked the Office for Students – a DfE body that regulates the higher education sector – to invest up to £40 million over the next two years to help education providers offer more degree apprenticeships.

Students looking to complete such a programme will also be able to see degree apprenticeship opportunities on the Universities and Colleges Admissions Service (Ucas) application system.

They're paying for university and work experience in engineering. Work experience is like gold dust,

Aaron Vidal

During her visit, Mrs Keegan spoke to current degree apprentices working with Airbus and was shown a range of new technologies, something she described as “fascinating”.

Aaron Vidal, 21, is completing the Embedded Systems Design and Development degree apprenticeship and said the qualification gave students a “big leg up” in their search for a job.

He said: “They’re paying for university and work experience in engineering.

“Work experience is like gold dust, so having four years of work experience and a degree when leaving university, people in the same place as me will have a degree but they’ll have a bunch of student debt and one year of work experience, so it gives you a big leg up in the jobs marketplace.”

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