In the article `Students and drink: have the Puritans taken over the bar?', (Education+, 22 January) a senior academic bewails what he calls the new Puritanism in British universities.
I had no views one way or the other on the recent campaign to raise awareness about drinking on campuses. But last term, having become Pro-Vice-Chancellor at the University of Warwick, an institution I thought I knew inside out given the years I had spent in it, I found myself attending a university committee for the promotion of responsible drinking on campus. And my eyes were opened!
The membership of the committee comprised wardens of student residences, student welfare officers and representatives of the hospitality services and students' union bar staff.
Nobody was objecting to the idea of a responsible drinking campaign. But there were very serious objections raised to any concrete attempts to assist the campaign by, for example, restricting opening hours. Bars on our campus, following practice that appears to be widespread across the country, stay open until the early hours of the morning every night of the week. If word got round the sixth forms that a university like ours has restricted opening hours, we'd have problems recruiting good students, we were warned by one of the bar managers.
So there it is, all those who think that the choice of a university - and this one is in the top 10 per cent - has anything to do with quality of teaching, research or library facilities; what really counts is the amount you can drink and the amount of time you can drink.
The case against late opening and excessive drinking was, to me, pretty strong: drunks roll back to their rooms around the campus at 2am or 3am waking up the poor misguided boffs who have actually read a book earlier and gone to sleep, there is vandalism, broken glass, fighting, verbal abuse, claims of sexual harassment, in short everything you might expect from a minority (and it is still a minority) after a drunken night out. Except that it happens every night of the week.
Students are an easily exploitable market, and drinks manufacturers run promotions nights when alcohol is sold at cheap rates to encourage students to drink more. Alcohol addiction, like any other kind of addiction, can be encouraged by making access to it both easy and cheap. Yet if cigarette manufacturers handed out free fags in student bars, there would be an outcry.
Nobody is going to do anything about it because the income generated by bar sales is too much to forgo.
Far from decrying the campaign to promote responsible drinking on campus, I welcome it. It is certainly not going to discourage anyone who wants to from experimenting with anything.
University of Warwick
A research lottery
On taking a lunch break from writing a research grant application, I came across Susan Greenfield's passionate attack upon on the peer review system for assessing such applications (View From Here, Education+, 29 January.)
It was depressing to be reminded that my efforts will probably be in vain (but we live in hope); however, it was encouraging that there might be some debate on the matter.
Of the three "radical" suggestions made, the first two seem to offer no improvement. Dividing money equally between an agreed constituency of scientists rather begs the question "who decides the constituency?"
Neither do I have faith in all the greybeard reviewers losing lifetime habits of patronage, vindictiveness or plain eccentricity upon retirement from active science.
The third option of a lottery for worthy applications, however, merits attention. The Medical Research Council, for instance, currently rates applications alpha, beta and gamma. All alpha applications are supposedly of high merit, yet shortage of funds ensures only a proportion of those rated alpha-plus are supported. I have no confidence in the review system to make such fine distinctions. A lottery of alpha-rated projects might just make more sense and be infinitely preferable to the MRC's preferred solution of trying to discourage applications from research groups not already funded by them.
Lecturer in Developmental Neuroscience,
Sir James Spence Institute,
Department of Child Health,
University of Newcastle
Where's the money?
The reality of "Education, Education, Education" has something of a hollow ring in Wiltshire. As head of a rapidly improving school which has recently become a speciality technology college, I find myself facing the most difficult budget of the last four years. Schools are faced in this county with a cash standstill. This means we will have the money we had last year with no account made of inflation or teachers' salary increases.
Having pared the budget in 1997/98 to the bone, we have no possibility of balancing the books without cuts to front-line services. In other words, in the first year of the new Labour administration we are in danger of further redundancies and increased class sizes. You might wonder where Mr Blunkett's "new money" has gone - it certainly has not found its way, as he intended, directly into school budgets.
The George Ward School,
In search of aid
We write , as two veterinary surgeons, on behalf of Endalk Abebe, an Ethiopian warden in the Simien Mountains National Park.
Endalk is dedicated to controlling the deforestation, soil erosion and habitat destruction that endangers a delicate ecosystem.
He has a place at Bangor University, which has an international reputation for natural resource management.
Can you assist us to raise the pounds 35,000 the three-year course will cost?
Lorna Stevenson and Joe Hollins,
3 Venison Terrace, Dixons Lane, Broughton, Stockbridge, Hampshire, SO20 8AP
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