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

Kelly-Mae Saville (Centre for Learning, Innovation and Professional Practice, Aston University, Birmingham, UK)
Gurkiran Birdi (Centre for Learning, Innovation and Professional Practice, Aston University, Birmingham, UK)
Sarah Hayes (College of Learning and Teaching, University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, UK)
Helen Higson (Aston University, Birmingham, UK)
Frank Eperjesi (Centre for Learning, Innovation and Professional Practice, Aston University, Birmingham, UK)

Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning

ISSN: 2042-3896

Article publication date: 10 June 2019

Issue publication date: 26 October 2020




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.


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.


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.


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.



Saville, K.-M., Birdi, G., Hayes, S., Higson, H. and Eperjesi, F. (2020), "Using strength-based approaches to fulfil academic potential in degree apprenticeships", Higher Education, Skills and Work-Based Learning, Vol. 10 No. 4, pp. 659-671.



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Copyright © 2019, Emerald Publishing Limited

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