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Students do not come in standard shape and age

I am afraid that The Independent is falling into the trap of making the three-year full-time degree course undertaken at age 18 into the gold standard of higher education. The assumption seems to be that if parents accept the need to make financial provision for tuition fees, that that is a determining argument.

But patterns of access to higher education have changed dramatically. In the university I work in, Sheffield Hallam, more than 50 per cent of our student intake are not 18-year-olds, but come in at a variety of ages and through a variety of modes of part-time and full-time attendance, including distance learning. Throughout the higher education system, we will continue to marginalise these students if we assume that the three- year full-time route is where we start planning - with add-on arrangements for "non-standard" students.

The disappointing perspective of Dearing is that it didn't put diversity of age, mode and pattern as the norm, and at the centre of our thinking. And the Government's plans for fees and access to loans are still unclear for part-time students, particularly for those in employment.

What prospect then for life-long learning?

Vicky Seddon, Sheffield Hallam University

Our system is a disgrace

We have two sons aged 14 and 10.

Both found reading "hard work" until about age 9, they needed (and received) more tuition than offered in school. We have found the newly qualified teachers often employed by the junior school inexperienced. They prefer to teach the more advanced children - they are "easier".

The lessons and classes are muddled, the youngest does not have textbooks to bring home for homework, only pages of badly photocopied work I can barely read.

When our eldest was 10 we took him from the same junior school and sent him to the local independent grammar school; the transformation was amazing. The discipline, text books, motivation and quality of teaching, amongst other things, have resulted in a fine 14-year-old I am proud of.

So far we have paid pounds 6,000 per annum in fees. Next year our youngest is due to leave the same junior school, and we owe him the same opportunity, but as struggling small business owners we cannot easily afford another pounds 6,000 per annum.

We have thought of moving house to a more rural area where secondary schools may be better.

We will find a solution, but at a price. It is a disgrace that we do not have a state system to be proud of. I owe my children a decent education; the Government should do everything in its power to raise standards of teaching and services in the state system.

Jeanette Tasdeler, Surbiton, Surrey.

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