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An exploration of degree apprentice perspectives: A Q methodology study

Fabian, Khristin; Taylor-Smith, Ella; Smith, Sally; Meharg, Debbie; Varey, Alison


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Prof Sally Smith
Head of Graduate Apprenticeships and Skills Development and Professor

Alison Varey


Degree apprenticeships have recently been introduced in the UK, representing a significant shift in approaches to degree-level study: from traditional models of higher education to workplaces as locations for learning. As the model matures it is important to hear the under-researched perspectives of apprentices who hold dual roles: as students and employees. Using Q methodology, the study aims to identify the different apprentices’ viewpoints of the degree apprenticeship, exploring aspects of belonging, support, challenges and views of the learning experience. Thirty-five second-year computing apprentices at a UK university participated in the study. Centroid factor analysis was conducted to identify different perspectives. Three perspectives of apprentices were revealed: aligned student-workers, busy professionals, and the cast adrift. Aligned student-workers were balancing work and study effectively, finding value in both. Busy professionals were already consolidated as professionals, using this degree apprenticeship to upskill. Finally, the cast adrift, reported a lack of support in the workplace that was affecting their view on the apprenticeship. This exploratory study, resulting in a new research instrument and approach, contributes apprentices’ perspectives to research and practice, as apprenticeship models expand in the UK and beyond. Support for individual apprentices is a shared responsibility, between universities and employers. All three parties, including apprentices, benefit from learning more about apprentices’ situated experiences, their sense of belonging and identity, and their views on the apprenticeship. Policymakers also benefit from insight into the shared responsibilities of successful degree apprenticeships, as these apprenticeships evolve.


Fabian, K., Taylor-Smith, E., Smith, S., Meharg, D., & Varey, A. (2022). An exploration of degree apprentice perspectives: A Q methodology study. Studies in Higher Education, 47(7), 1397-1409.

Journal Article Type Article
Acceptance Date Feb 12, 2021
Online Publication Date Mar 8, 2021
Publication Date 2022
Deposit Date Feb 25, 2021
Publicly Available Date Sep 9, 2022
Journal Studies in Higher Education
Print ISSN 0307-5079
Electronic ISSN 1470-174X
Publisher Routledge
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 47
Issue 7
Pages 1397-1409
Keywords Work-based learning; degree apprenticeships; Q-methodology; computing
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An Exploration Of Degree Apprentice Perspectives: A Q Methodology Study (485 Kb)

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Copyright Statement
This is an Open Access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivatives License (, which permits non-commercial re-use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original work is properly cited, and is not altered, transformed, or built upon in any way.

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