Supermarkets Offering Employees Degree Programmes
People go to the supermarket to do their weekly shopping, but some could end up with more than they bargained for, thanks to a new scheme from Asda that allows staff to work towards BA honours degree programmes while continuing to work at the supermarket. Could company-funded degree courses become the norm as more students struggle with the rising price of education?
Soaring cost of education
Asda has become known for its ‘Rollback’ prices and markets itself on the promise that it can save customers money on their weekly shop. With fierce competition from the other leading supermarkets, the chance to shop around in the search for the lowest prices has been a great help for consumers looking for ways to stretch their pennies as far as possible in these tough economic times.
Higher education, on the other hand, has gone in the opposite direction, with most universities choosing to take advantage of the rise in tuition fees by charging the maximum of £9,000 a year in course fees. Indeed, it’s thought that elite universities have to charge the full amount or risk looking as if they cannot compete with the best. It is hoped that other businesses and industries could take a leaf from Asda’s book and help fund university places of their own.
The three-year BA honours degree programme in distribution or retail operations is being offered in conjunction with Middlesex University with places for 30 Asda staff members that have been working for the company for at least six months, following a successful pilot of the scheme last year. It is hoped that the scheme will help find the ‘future leaders of Asda’.
With the high price of recruitment, many are considering Asda’s investment in 30 of its leading staff members a shrewd business move. Unlike some traditional university courses, the Asda degree will see students spend only 12 days in classroom workshops. Assessments will be work-based, while there will also be opportunities for online study and peer networking.
The fast food precedent
While Asda may be the first supermarket to fully fund a degree, other supermarkets have helped their staff gain qualifications while at work – last year Morrisons launched a foundation degree in supermarket relations. If we look away from supermarkets for a moment we can find plenty of examples of other companies offering their staff formal qualifications that can be taken away with them.
Kentucky Fried Chicken, for example, is already working in partnership with De Montfort University in Leicester to offer its staff a BA honours degree in business management. In fact, gaining qualifications while serving fast food is a relatively old concept now as McDonalds have been offering courses that could form the basis of an A-Level equivalent diploma since 2008. McDonalds took the qualification they offered a step further in 2010, allowing employees to work towards a degree-level qualification while ‘flipping burgers’.
A question of value
It’s interesting to note that the news Asda is funding a degree has been met with almost universal praise, especially considering the criticism that was levelled towards McDonalds when they first announced their training schemes. The press suggested that the ‘McQualifications’ would be useless, and worse still might devalue other qualifications that were supposed to be of an equivalent value.
The Prime Minister at the time, Gordon Brown, even made an appearance on GMTV saying that the qualifications being offered by McDonalds were not a sign of falling standards, but a positive sign of companies being willing to train employees in a way they weren’t before.
As he said this, almost half of university admissions tutors from a group of the top universities confirmed they wouldn’t be admitting students that had taken the diploma course. It’s fair to suggest, however, that most people earning the McDonalds’ qualifications would likely have wanted to stay in employment and try to work their way up the career ladder instead.
Will Tesco be next?
The Asda degree has not had to suffer the criticism of the McDonalds qualification first and foremost because it is being run by a respectable university; but it is perhaps also more respected now because there is an increasing acceptance that businesses may have to play a growing part in higher education, particularly in the light of rising costs for students. If it has now been accepted we can assume that before long it will be expected, and more companies will consider the value of funding their employees through degree courses.