Generation citizen - RSA

Generation citizen

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  • Picture of Matt Hyde FRSA
    Matt Hyde FRSA
  • Higher education
  • Skills
  • Social innovation

The RSA will be one of the founding organisations to employ an individual studying for a ground-breaking social change degree apprenticeship. Matt Hyde FRSA shares how this degree apprenticeship was developed and outlines its aims and potential to create a new generation of skilled social entrepreneurs.

After three years of development, Queen Mary University of London has launched a new degree apprenticeship for social change. This is the first of its kind in the world and aims to be relevant for a generation of young people who want to leave the world better than they found it. In short, it enables students to earn, learn and change the world.

So how did this come about? Back in 2012 I was Chief Executive of the National Union of Students (NUS) and I visited Roosevelt University in Chicago  a private, non-profit university that has a single mission: social justice. Whatever course you do there, everything is rooted in developing socially-conscious citizens to have active and dedicated lives as leaders in their professions and their communities. It was totally inspiring and I could find no comparator in the UK.

In the years that followed, a growing body of evidence has suggested that we have a generation of young people that are remarkably civicly-minded. Building on earlier studies by the think tank Demos and the #iwill campaign, the RSA’s own Teenagency report showed that 84% of young people want to help others, but only 52% believe that they can make a positive difference in their communities. This generation is seeking meaningful and fulfilling career paths that enable them to make a bigger social impact.

It was therefore surprising to find that unlike in countries such as Australia, Canada and the US, there was no UK undergraduate degree focused on social change careers to meet this demand. 

The tide of young people wanting to create social change represents a major opportunity for the social sector (charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises), which is seeking to attract a new and more diverse pipeline of talent. With charity sector colleagues we considered how to develop a degree course which would give people the skills, knowledge and behaviours to succeed in a non-profit environment and make a bigger social impact.

By taking a multi-disciplinary approach we explored how to develop people to lead change, manage others, analyse politics and culture, develop policy, understand finance and ensure self-management. We sought to open up new pathways in to the social sector for people from diverse backgrounds. The four-year course – the Charted Manager Degree Apprenticeship (Social Change) – emerged from this work with the first intake starting in September 2019.

Degree apprenticeships allow people to study for an undergraduate degree and also be placed with an employer, where they receive a wage whilst they are studying. Employers can offset the student’s tuition fees against the apprentice levy (either their own levy if they have a wage bill of over £3 million, or potentially another employer’s under-spent levy). This means that while the student works towards a degree that equips them for a career in social change, they do not pay any tuition fees and can earn a wage. At the same time, the employer  and the charity sector  attracts new talent. The aim is not just to attract school leavers; anyone can study for this degree apprenticeship, including existing employees.

We specifically chose Queen Mary University of London because of its history and impressive track record on widening participation: 91% of its students are from state school; 60% are BAME; 42% are first into higher education; and 27% are from households where the annual taxable income is less than £10,000.

This degree apprenticeship represents an innovative, low-risk and practical solution to the sector’s concerns about attracting talent from diverse backgrounds. It also perfectly aligns with the RSA’s aim to bring people together to generate ideas to solve some of the most pressing challenges of our time. Young people will only be able to achieve this with the right support, skills development and knowledge to equip them to respond to the big social issues of our time. By working collaboratively with the university and the other social sector employers – including Water Aid, Samaritans, Action for Children and the Scouts – we believe we can shape a degree course that is genuinely disruptive, through a new curriculum and a method of learning that excites and inspires this new generation. 

You can find more details on the social change degree apprenticeship on Queen Mary University of London website

 Matt Hyde is Chief Executive of the Scouts and a Trustee of Step Up To Serve and of Comic Relief. He is a Patron of Unlock (the charity for people with convictions) and was previously Vice-Chair of the National Council for Voluntary Organisations (NCVO).  He was awarded an Honorary Fellowship from Queen Mary University of London in 2012.


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  • This is a brave and positive initiative.  You mention 'diverse backgrounds' hopefully this would be inclusive of the disabled community?  My work brings me into daily contact with young people who have have challenges - physical and mental - who need encouragement to help build a better world.  I would love to think that this project will reach out to them too.