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Crucial access to information

I read Professor Barnett's article "What role for university?" (Education +, 26 June) with great interest.

When I was at university, we had a professor who maintained that the sole purpose of a university education is to find out how to use a library. In other words it is about meta-knowledge rather than knowledge. What particular subject a student reads does not matter; it's whether they can find out about any given subject by efficient searches of repositories of knowledge and opinion. This fits in well with Prof. Barnett's ideas about the contestability of knowledge. The only place I would disagree with his article is that I think that knowledge has always been taught in universities as contestable, never as absolute (except possibly in mathematics and even there theorems depend on which set of axioms one starts with).

Of course nowadays knowledge resides not only in libraries but also in more modern repositories such as the Internet and the World Wide Web. It fills me with despair that libraries in universities have undergone (along with other aspects of higher education) such enormous cuts in funding. My own subject, computer science, has had to make huge reductions in the numbers of periodicals that we take and it is almost impossible to keep our shelves stocked adequately with texts for our students. On the other hand I am encouraged that I and my colleagues and students have access to electronic search means.

Whatever else Sir Ron Dearing says in his forthcoming report on higher education, I hope he will recommend that the technology for searching for and manipulating knowledge, both old and new, be kept to the forefront of our thinking about how universities should work. Every higher education student and all researchers and staff should have easy access to the information in libraries, both written and via modern electronic multimedia equipment.

Tony Davie

Computer Science

St. Andrews University, North Haugh,

St. Andrews


Buildings or staff?

The Government has just awarded a large sum for long overdue school repairs. It has also made it quite clear that none of these funds are for teacher remuneration. Here in Labour-controlled Bristol, my excellent over-subscribed local schools are being pressurised into sacrificing experienced senior staff in order for funds to be released for school building work. This does not make educational sense. Why are parents and governors being put in this position?

Winifred M Baker BA

Governor St Anne's Infants School

St Annes, Bristol.