QA’s first-ever graduating class of degree apprentices received Bachelor’s degrees today from the University of Roehampton, bridging the historical divide between technical and academic education and paving the way for over 1,000 more QA degree apprentices currently on programme.

Class of 2019 graduates Roberta Baah, John Gay, Kelvin Stott and William Morton were awarded their BSc Digital and Technology Solutions degrees at a ceremony held at the London Southbank Centre’s Royal Festival Hall, having achieved two First class degrees and two 2:1s. The non-traditional routes they’ve taken to achieve their degrees demonstrate the barrier-breaking power of apprenticeships.

Degree apprentices are a new and different type of student. Some have come straight from school to work for employers using degree apprenticeships to open up previously narrow recruitment channels – such as EY and Accenture, whose focus on social mobility has led them to remove qualification barriers and UCAS barriers to entry. Some have progressed from apprenticeships at lower levels – in the past, these apprentices would have hit a brick wall after completing Level 3 or 4 apprenticeships, with on-campus degrees not designed for the working pattern of apprentices. And some are returning to education mid-career to get that first degree they didn’t, for whatever reason, have the opportunity to work towards the first time around.

While these four graduates have been the first to cross the finish line, many more are on their way – over 1,000 QA degree apprentices in technology and management are currently training in six cities across England in partnership with the University of Roehampton, Northumbria University and Middlesex University.

The graduates’ profiles show the variety of roles and routes they’ve taken to achieve a degree, progressing both educationally and professionally.

John Gay

John Gay, 24, joined Civica in Bath in 2013 after his A-levels as an advanced apprentice.

“I was the first in my immediate family to do a degree, although many of my friends have got degrees through the standard university process,” he says. “Going for a degree wasn’t something I intended when leaving school – I much preferred the idea of getting out and earning some money. When the chance to do a degree whilst working and learning on the job came up, it was something that I was interested in. I would not have a degree if the degree apprenticeship didn’t exist.”

John has since been promoted and now works as an Infrastructure and Cloud Engineer. He says he found a great benefit in the applied nature of the learning.

“A lot of the modules were on topics that are part of my day-to-day job at work. Having the theory behind the practical skills was important. At work you just ‘do it’ – having the academic side was beneficial to understand why you do it, and to explore other ways to approach things too.”

Roberta Baah

At 17, Roberta Baah started her apprenticeship on the Financial Times’ IT Service Desk. At the time, in 2012, it was the road less travelled.

“The majority of my cousins and friends went to university,” she says. “However, when I began my journey into the apprenticeship and spoke about it with them, everyone was always really supportive and proud of this alternative pathway that I'd landed on – especially in today's market and economy, given the competition for new graduates getting into employment within their desired field.”

After completing her Advanced (Level 3) and Higher (Level 4) apprenticeships, Roberta progressed on to a degree apprenticeship in 2015.

“The degree programme was different in a number of ways. There was definitely more of a push for me to be an independent learner, motivating myself to get my assignments and course content learning done in a timely manner. I also found that the approach to work-based learning in the degree apprenticeship was much broader, which was challenging but really made me analyse and critically evaluate my work to show my understanding.”

Roberta is still working at the Financial Times and has since been promoted to a role in IT Governance.