05/02/2013 07:32 GMT | Updated 06/04/2013 06:12 BST

UCAS Figures Show Appetite for Education and Change

December reports suggested a likely drop in university application figures. But following the January deadline, the latest UCAS figures (which include January applicants) are slightly more positive - in fact showing a 3.5% increase on the previous year.

While this is welcome news - in terms of showing a continuing appetite for higher education post tuition fees hikes - we shouldn't rush too quickly to assume that things are heading back to normal. University applications are still low and other evidence points to significant changes in how students want to learn.

Demand for new ways of learning

Consider, for example, these two statistics. At RDI, UK applications for online distance learning degrees and other qualifications are up over 40% on the same period last year. Applications for apprenticeships in 2012 told a similar story - over 1,127,000 were received (the most popular day being A Level results day).

The fact that both apprenticeships and online distance learning are proving so popular, and that they are also routes that offer the ability to gain degrees and other qualifications while in employment - gaining practical work life skills - is no coincidence. It shows people are simply thinking of education differently.

The influence of technology

It shouldn't really come as a surprise that this is the case. In my opinion, the rising demand for new ways of learning is an indication that higher education is being just as heavily influenced by modern consumer trends as every other area of life.

For example, we now live in a technological age - mobile computing is predicted to overtake desktop computing by 2014. This flows into education. Phones, tablets and Kindles are no longer simply communication devices - they are where people work, shop, consume news, create, and now - learn.

And I'm not alone in my view that technology is changing the structure of learning. Gillian Tett's recent article on the 'virtual university' highlights arguments that are gaining increasing volume within the higher education landscape.

Education is changing - so must our mind-set

Sally Hunt, General Under Secretary of the University and College Union, was recently quoted as saying that we "need our brightest pursuing their dreams" and that "more must be done to encourage people to aspire to university".

While I whole-heartedly agree with her desire to encourage young people to fulfil their potential, it is time to challenge the assumption that this automatically means pursuing a university degree in the traditional way. While it might be right for some - it may not be for others.

Young people today have a far greater range of educational choices than ever before and, thanks to the technological revolution, numerous ways of accessing them. What these latest statistics show, when studied in context, is that these options are no longer going unnoticed - people are starting to explore them and that is exciting news.