Leveraging the Levy

21 February 2024      Julia Ascott, Employment Taxes Specialist

The University of London commissioned Leveraging the Levy from Workwhile to look at “how the University of London federation can do more to support apprenticeships and make better use of the Apprenticeship Levy we pay”. University of London VC, Professor Wendy Thomson CBE, decided to share the report “on the grounds that its analysis and recommendations could prove helpful to other universities” and the Professor is not wrong.

We’ve set out below our summary of the main report, however we recommend reading the full report for those of you who want to get more out of your levy. You can also read Professor Ben Rogers' (the University of London's project director) article on whether universities are using their position as major employers to enhance social mobility by deploying the levy effectively.

What is the issue?

It is estimated that the University of London (consisting of 17 independent federated members) has unused apprenticeship levy contributions of £7.5 million, potentially funding 750 apprenticeships each year, however, this money soon expires and joins the government’s tax coffers by osmosis. If this is reflective of the higher education sector as a whole, there is a huge amount of contributions currently being wasted, that could collectively promote recruitment and retention for all staffing levels.

Why are they being wasted?

Workwhile identified common challenges and barriers in either offering apprenticeship roles or even transferring some of the contributions to non-levy paying employers. The number one complaint appears to be resource capacity, being:

  • not having internal capacity (particularly in HR teams) to support apprenticeship programmes, and
  • reluctant line managers not wanting staff to take off-the-job training that takes them away from their ‘day job’.

Why should universities be upping their usage?

There are numerous benefits cited from apprenticeships, including a positive impact on staff recruitment and retention at all levels, and “a way to ‘grow your own’ talent pipeline”. If apprenticeship levy paying Higher Education Providers have unused contributions, then can also transfer up to 25% to non-levy paying organisations, perhaps as part of a community improvement strategy.

How can universities get there?

Workwhile had a number of recommendations, key points listed below, but there needs to be a fundamental shift in understanding on how apprenticeships can benefit universities internally (short and long term) and the wider community.

  1. Ensure strong senior sponsorship of apprenticeships – whether as part of a federation or lone university, there needs to be senior support to increase usage as a strategic priority, linking to internal and external goals.
  2. Build-up HR staff capacity and expertise to expand and support high-quality apprenticeships – recognition that HR teams are overstretched and high quality apprenticeship programmes aren’t achievable without appropriate and adequate support.
  3. Maximise opportunities for structured collaborative working and best-practice sharing – working groups with appropriate levels of staff in a formalised approach.
  4. Maximise the transfer of unspent levy funds to small and medium sized business, enabling them to take on apprentices.

There is also specific mention of the level 7 academic professional apprenticeship for newly recruited academic staff/early career researchers on contracts of at least 18 months as an opportunity to utilise levy funds. “It might also be considered as a means of supporting applicants to academic roles from less traditional backgrounds, thus further fulfilling EDI objectives.”

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