Degree apprenticeship for next generation of space engineers lifts off at Education Secretary visit

The Education Secretary has launched a first-of-its-kind degree apprenticeship to boost technical careers in the space industry during a visit to Space Park Leicester, where the University of Leicester intends to host apprentices.

With a curriculum co-developed by space scientists at the University alongside employers, the new degree apprenticeship in space engineering will open up more opportunities for young people to build rewarding careers in the space industry and train up the talent the sector needs to grow, Education Secretary Gillian Keegan announced today (14 July).

From spacecraft manufacturing to testing satellites, apprentices on the new Level 6 Space Systems programme will have a leading role in the development of complex, high value space hardware and ground support equipment.

The new apprenticeship will offer a world of career opportunity for people to work in the UK’s world-leading space industry, including for global aerospace companies, space agencies or institutions including universities and technology research and development laboratories. 

The apprenticeship is first of its kind at degree-level. Applications open in September, and apprentices will start work for Airbus and begin their degree training with delivery partners across the UK in September 2024. The curriculum was developed with the University of Leicester, and will be delivered with Space Park Leicester, where students will have access to specialist facilities and world-class expertise in space mission development.

The new degree apprenticeship was announced during a visit by the Education Secretary to Space Park Leicester, the University of Leicester’s pioneering £100 million hub science and innovation park dedicated to – and specifically designed for – space-related companies and researchers.

During the visit, the Education Secretary toured the site, seeing first-hand how it brings together teaching, research and industry, and saw a demonstration of the Exo Mars Rover Prototype by Airbus. She also had the opportunity to speak to current apprentices at Airbus, as well as some of the scientists that have been involved in supporting more than 90 space missions at the University since 1960.

Education Secretary Gillian Keegan said:

“Apprenticeships can take you anywhere at any level – even space. Today we are launching our newest degree apprenticeship – in space systems engineering. This will provide the opportunity to be at the forefront of the UK’s world-leading space industry as it continues to grow. 

“I approved the first space apprenticeship in my previous role as Minister for Skills and Apprenticeships, so I’m very proud to formally launch this new degree-level apprenticeship. As a degree apprentice myself, I know they are a great way for people to gain the skills and experience businesses truly value. 

“Mine kickstarted a career that took me around the world in international business. And today you can do almost anything through an apprenticeship - from nursing, digital, construction, corporate sustainability and much more. At the end of it you’ll not only have a degree from one of our top universities, but years of business experience, and no student debt.”

Degree-level apprenticeships have grown in popularity with more than 188,000 starts since they were first introduced in 2014/15. They give people from all backgrounds the chance to gain the skills and workplace experience needed to build rewarding careers in a wide range of key sectors - such as nursing, science or engineering - while gaining a degree qualification from one of the UK’s world-leading universities. They offer a high-quality alternative to a traditional 3-year degree, with apprentices earning a median salary of over £34k after completion without incurring tuition fees. 

Professor Nishan Canagarajah, President & Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leicester, said: 

“The University of Leicester is committed to providing this exciting new Level 6 Degree Apprenticeship, which thanks to the employer trailblazer group has expanded the options open to employers and young people with a completely new kind of degree offer. Some of the most important space sector employers in the UK and globally have worked together, often hand-in-hand with competitors, to design a training programme that addresses their current and future skills needs, including delivery of training in new technologies and techniques that are set to transform the industry.”

Professor Nigel Bannister led the University of Leicester’s involvement in the new degree apprenticeship curriculum. He said:  

“This apprenticeship is the product of a true meeting of minds between industry and the higher education sector, to build the next generation of space engineers with the essential knowledge, skills and behaviours needed in our growing space sector.”

Ben Bridge, Chairman, Airbus Defence and Space UK said: 

“As a leading industrial partner to the British government we recognise the importance of growing domestic capability and talent. Airbus has always been committed to cultivating early careers and increasing opportunities in the growing space ecosystem. Alongside our existing early careers programmes, this degree level apprenticeship will equip people with the skills and qualifications to further their careers in the vibrant UK space sector and help us create the industry leaders of tomorrow.”

The apprenticeship will support the UK’s space sector to grow, supporting the Government’s ambition to inspire the next generations of space scientists, engineers, and entrepreneurs, as set out in the National Space Strategy.

The new Space Systems Engineer degree apprenticeship follows the approval in 2020 of a Level 4 Space Engineering Technician apprenticeship, which was designed to help young people gain the technical skills needed to kick start a career in space.