25/09/2013 07:33 BST | Updated 25/09/2013 07:33 BST

The Traditional Academic Year Is Dead

The UCAS late applications deadline for 2013 courses came and went last Friday. Historically this deadline has been accompanied by a fanfare of last chance warnings urging students not to get 'left behind'. This year though, I noticed it was a much quieter affair and I think I know why.

Missing this deadline doesn't mean students have to wait another year to study - it hasn't done for some time. The difference is, however, that students are now much more aware of this fact and their options for higher education.

In an age of higher tuition fees, where students question the value or what they are getting, what they want from a qualification and what paths they need to take for chosen careers, they also consider when they want to study. Intake periods have had to become more flexible to accommodate these changing decision patterns.

Gone are the days of 'get a place in September or go on a gap year'. The modern trend is for more fluid intake periods spread throughout the year. The academic calendar of old is gone.

Many university course dates are now staggered. At RDI, there are quarterly intakes for a wide range of degree, masters and HND courses with UK universities. As well as meeting the needs of domestic students, the switch to this more flexible approach aligns with international demand. Globally, many students searching for UK based courses are unfamiliar with the 'traditional' calendar and expect to be able to study at times which suit their chosen career or academic paths. The UK has simply had to adapt to this.

But how many places are available - is there really choice throughout the year? Yes. For example, just glancing at this week there are over 5,000 courses listed with vacancies, from HNDs, diplomas and degrees, to masters, on-the-job training, sponsored degrees and apprenticeships.

If you look at official estimated apprenticeship 'start' numbers from the Skills Funding Agency for year 2012/2013, while 160,900 started in the traditional autumn quarter, figures for subsequent quarters didn't dip substantially, with 100,400 starting between February and April 2013.

There has been a great deal of talk regarding students becoming 'consumers' - largely because of the tuition fee hikes. It's been a topic of some controversy with many warning that if students are considered consumers, education runs the risk of becoming overly transactional.

I for one think that higher education should never reach a point where it is ever considered in this way. Yes students need to have the right to question what they receive for their fee, and expect certain standards for their money but it is and should never be just about that. The learning experience, interactions and life value of higher education mean that students will never be consumers in the traditional sense of the word.

But the evolution of the academic calendar is one area where the consumer parallel can be drawn.

Just as changing consumer behaviour dictates retail and service trends, shifting patterns in student needs, behaviours and attitudes have impacted on academic trends, the result being more courses available at more times of year. That's certainly a consumer concept that gets my full support.