Small Businesses are a big focus for our Degree Apprenticeships

As a leading provider of Degree Apprenticeships, here at Manchester Metropolitan University we have partnered with over 120 SMEs to give apprentices the opportunity to earn while they learn, and to develop the skills employers want and need.

Degree Apprenticeships combine working with studying part-time at university to gain new knowledge and skills and to develop their career, along with a full honours degree. Our SME partners are using the scheme, which for them is at least 95% government funded, both to bring fresh talent into their teams and to upskill or reskill existing staff as they grow into new roles. Some of our biggest SME uptake has been in the areas of digital skills and management practice, both of which are really important for productivity and helping small firms to respond to the pandemic.

We were one of the few universities who signed up to offer Degree Apprenticeships to SMEs, as soon as the scheme opened in 2017, as working with small businesses is part of our DNA. Across a wider range of programmes we have given support and education to more than 2,000 SMEs and leveraged more than £20M to support them with innovation, leadership and growth.

Although we also work with hundreds of large firms and multi-nationals, we make sure our SME partners have just as large a voice. They are invited to sit on our Apprenticeship Employer Advisory Boards where they directly input into how we shape the curriculum; co-designing assessments and live business projects with us.  

We offer the same Ofsted Grade 1, “RateMyApprenticeship No. 1 university” quality to all our employers and also help our SMEs with providing recruitment and account management support, manager and mentor training, assessment centres and free spaces at our open evenings to interact with hundreds of potential apprentices. 

Michael Green, Managing Director at Red Systems, is one example of how our apprenticeship programmes have benefitted an ambitious SME.

 He told us how he left school with GCSEs and went straight into the world of work, gaining lots of business experience over the years but wanted a deeper understanding of theory as well as practice.  

This led to him wanting to take an MBA but, working at an SME, he found the cost was prohibitive. He couldn’t justify the amount of money and the risk involved. Instead, he explored degree apprenticeships as having access to the apprenticeship levy funding was crucial in his final decision to take his MBA.  

He said: “I think the MBA Degree Apprenticeship is the best use of this type of funding that I have seen in 16 years of business. It should be made available to more SMEs who are the mainstay of the UK economy and create jobs and wealth. 

“I actually hired someone from my MBA Apprenticeship cohort and this has resulted in efficiencies at Red Systems of around 5% per year- equivalent to £300,000 annually, so the impact on productivity and profitability was immediate.  

“In the two years from November 2017 to November 2019, our turnover has gone from £6,000,000 to £9,100,000. Our corporation tax has gone up by £60,000 in this period and we have taken on seven new members of staff. This in turn has generated around £250,000 in salaries and an extra £32,000 in National Insurance for the treasury.”  

When Michael started the MBA Degree Apprenticeship with Manchester Met, Red Systems did not have any apprentices or staff in education.  

Now, seven out of their 35 staff are in education and training, including two MBA apprentices, a Chartered Manager apprentice, an MSc in Engineering apprentice, an MSc in Quantity Surveying apprentice, a Quantity Surveyor on placement and a manager studying a Level 4 qualification in Supply Chain Management.  

Michael said: “I think there is still a stigma attached to apprenticeships. Being good at your job is about practice and theory. The MBA Degree Apprenticeship connects these two elements. Every unit on the course has been applicable and relevant to me as an SME Director.” 

We are exceptionally proud to have been awarded ‘exemplar’ status by the Small Business Charter for the support provided to small businesses in accessing the benefits of Degree Apprenticeships. The University has also achieved the Small Business Charter (SBC) for a further five years, following a comprehensive re-assessment of its impact, services and programmes last year, after first gaining the SBC Award in 2014. 

The exemplar status awarded for our work on apprenticeship provision is testament to our pioneering initiatives such as the Growing Apprenticeship Partnerships for SMEs (SME GAP) project, which has directly involved over 650 SMEs alone in discussions about apprenticeships. 

Degree apprenticeships are one of the best value ways to build skills in SMEs, and a great way to partner with an SBC accredited university such as Manchester Met, which can also support in many other ways.


For more information on the Degree Apprenticeships at Manchester Metropolitan University, please visit

By Jonathan Lawson, Director of Strategic Partnerships at Manchester Metropolitan University