Seventeen students have graduated after completing a two-year course “on the job” at Tesco.

The supermarket chain launched the Tesco Retail Foundation Degree course in 2007 along with its A-level Options programme and graduate recruitment programmes.

The students combined academics with work to receive degrees awarded by Manchester Metropolitan University and the University of the Arts London.

Joe Wheeler, one of the graduates, said: “It has given me an opportunity to get qualifications without having to leave my job or face the staggering amount of debt most students are faced with nowadays.”

The two-year full-time “learn while you earn” web-based course equipped students with a range of management skills including consumer behaviour, in-store marketing, management of information, retail law and retail leadership.

Despite criticisms that the course was dumbing down the education system, Hayley Tatum, Tesco UK operations personnel director, said that the “employer-led and work-based” course was “no easier to achieve”.

She said: “Not only is it subject to the same quality assurance standards as any other higher education degree, it’s also subject to quality assessment and evaluation by an employer.”

At a cost of £1,048 each term, Tesco offered the students paid-leave to spend three days at a university each term, including one day to discuss the syllabus with their tutors.