Education Secretary Gavin Williamson has attacked employers in England who use apprenticeship funding to pay for qualifications for senior managers.
He wants to stop firms using the apprenticeship levy to subsidise MBA (Master of Business Administration) courses for “highly paid” managers.
Mr Williamson says the levy, paid by large employers, should benefit the job chances of the “disadvantaged”.
He has ordered a review of the use of apprenticeship cash for senior leaders.
The apprenticeship levy takes 0.5% of the salary bill from major employers - with the intention of using the money to improve skills and provide training.
But the scheme has faced accusations that “fake apprenticeships” are being created to access funding, rather than helping young people into new opportunities.
There have been warnings that existing jobs have been “rebadged” as apprenticeships or the money has been used to benefit already well-qualified staff.
Mr Williamson has written to the Institute for Apprenticeships with his concerns about the use of apprenticeship funding on management qualifications for senior leaders.
“I’m not convinced the levy should be used to pay for staff, who are often already highly qualified and highly paid, to receive an MBA,” writes Mr Williamson.
“I’d rather see funding helping to kick-start careers or level up skills and opportunities. That’s why I’ve asked for a review of the senior leader apprenticeship standard to ensure it is meeting its aims.”
He says the levy needs to show it is providing good value for money - and to observe the “spirit” of the apprenticeship scheme in helping improve the chances of people from disadvantaged backgrounds.
But in 2018-19 there were more than 3,000 “senior leader” apprentices, taking qualifications such as MBAs, MAs or MScs in management.
These represent only a small proportion of those starting apprenticeships, but Mr Williamson’s letter says “we absolutely need to safeguard the integrity of the apprenticeship brand”.
A spokesman for the Institute for Apprenticeships and Technical Education said that, as requested by the secretary of state, they would “look again at the senior leadership apprenticeship standard”.
“The institute has an established process for reviewing individual standards which we will follow.”