The UK government is poised to axe a controversial apprenticeship scheme that allowed companies to enrol senior executives on MBA courses using funds intended for on-the-job training. 

Since the introduction of the apprenticeship levy in 2017, which forces large organisations to set aside money for workplace training, campaigners have argued that funds should be used to onboard school leavers and upskill standard employees – not to send executives to business school. 

The move to scrap the MBA qualification, which was included as part of the level seven senior leader occupational standard, is expected to be confirmed in early June, when the government is due to publish a review of MBA apprenticeships. 

Under levy rules, UK organisations with annual wages bills of more than £3 million must set aside an equivalent of 0.5% of their payroll each month.

Under the changes, companies will still be able to spend levy funds on high-level leadership training, but such schemes are expected to be less attractive as participants would no longer receive a master’s degree on completing programmes. 

 In the first full year following the introduction of the levy, the number of apprenticeship starts fell 26% compared to 2015/16, before the levy was introduced. Meanwhile, the proportion of high-level apprenticeships, equivalent to bachelor’s degrees and above, increased from 5.3% to 12.8% over the same period. 

According to FE Week, a trade publication geared at the further education sector, there were 6,387 starts on MBA apprenticeship programmes up to the end of the first quarter of 2019/20. Because each of these courses can receive up to £18,000 from levy coffers, the publication claims that up to £115 million had been spent funding these qualifications.