Using strength-based approaches to fulfil academic potential in degree apprenticeships

Kelly-Mae Saville, Gurkiran Birdi, Sarah Hayes, Helen E Higson, Frank Eperjesi

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


Purpose: The purpose of this paper is to highlight the positive academic and professional outcomes for students who undertake degree apprenticeships which use strength-based approaches in their curriculum and assessment. The design and implementation of programmes of work-based study which focus on an individual’s inherent talents are a new lens for higher education (HE), one that enables institutions to see diverse groups of students fulfil their potential and gain academic qualifications. Strength-based degree apprenticeships offer an effective way to align the needs of industry with the ambitions of individuals who wish to gain university level qualifications whilst in the workplace. Design/methodology/approach: The research adopted a mixed-methods approach. Semi-structured interviews with stakeholders in industry and HE were undertaken and thematically analysed. Student data were analysed quantitatively for students in the degree apprenticeship programmes which incorporate a strength-based approach to learning and assessment. Findings: The findings from this study highlight that the degree apprenticeships’ strength-based curriculum and assessment have spearheaded its success. On average, degree apprentices attain 10 per cent higher grades than students undertaking the same programme through the traditional degree route. Moreover, the module design and tailored support has contributed to over 91 per cent of apprentices graduating with a 2:1 or above. Research limitations/implications: This research is exploratory in nature, focusing on one university’s experiences and outcomes regarding a strength-based approach curriculum and assessment on degree apprenticeships. Originality/value: The findings describe how the knowledge exchange and culture of the HE sector has shifted, and the university’s efforts to make progressive relationships with employers. Moreover, this paper describes the challenges in designing curricula and assessing students based on the strengths and skills required for their employment, rather than university mandated learning outcomes. The findings of this paper could influence a strength-based framework for the development of degree apprenticeships in the UK.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)659-671
Number of pages13
JournalHigher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning
Issue number4
Early online date6 Jun 2019
Publication statusPublished - 26 Oct 2020

Bibliographical note

© Emerald Publishing Limited 2019
Published by Emerald Publishing Limited
Licensed re-use rights only


  • Degree apprenticeships
  • Higher education
  • Strength-based approaches
  • Widening participation
  • Work-based learning


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