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Tuition fees 'totally unacceptable'

If implemented, Further and Higher Education Minister Baroness Blackstone's proposal to introduce tuition fees ("The new approach to old problems", Education+,15 May) would have a massively detrimental impact on both student and living standards and access to university education for those from lower-income backgrounds.

The tuition-fee plan submitted to the Dearing Committee on Higher Education by the Committee of Vice Chancellors and Principals (CVCP) would mean students being charged pounds 20,000 as the price of a three-year degree. This would be totally unacceptable both to the vast majority of students and to the millions of parents who hope to see their children achieve a university education in the future.

While we welcome Labour's commitment to further expand higher education, we completely reject the notion that this can only be achieved by shifting the burden of funding on to students.

Carolyne Culver, NUS Executive-elect

Linda McGowan, NUS Executive-elect

Des Minton, NUS National Council

Paul Cornell, Welfare Officer-elect, University of East London

Liz Hutchins, Women's Officer-elect, Sheffield University

Mark Tweedale, President-elect, Bradford College

Sophie Bolt, Welfare Officer-elect, Goldsmiths College, University of London

Graham Hellawell, Student Broad Left

Mark Watts, Editor, Dearing Watch

Assisted places: for and against The new government's decision to phase out assisted places has caused much controversy. As a parent whose children have benefited from the scheme I have mixed feelings about this.

Although my children are doing extremely well, with the wisdom of hindsight I would not have accepted the places.

The basic problem is financial. We live on Income Support. My girls' school fees cost the government over pounds 4,000 a year. It allows me just pounds 24.75 per week to keep them.

We live too near the school to qualify for help with travel, but too far for it to be reasonable to expect children to walk - bus fares alone currently cost me pounds l0 weekly, one-tenth of my weekly income.

We have had help from a number of sources - the school itself, various charities, kind friends and relations. But there is always a shortfall and difficult decisions to make - shall I pay the fuel bill which is already very overdue, buy myself much-needed shoes or spend the money for a theatre visit for my daughter to see a set text? As my daughter usually feels acutely embarrassed not to have brought the money to school already, you can probably guess what I choose if at all possible. It is time-consuming and emotionally draining, and - that word again - embarrassing, repeatedly to have to ask for help.

When I was choosing my daughters' secondary school, I repeatedly asked the local state schools what provision there was for bright children. Most of them supported "special needs", as is right and proper, but there seemed to be an attitude of "bright children will always do well" which did not satisfy me. If I had to choose now, I would want the Labour Party to have procedures and policies for the more able up and running before pulling the plug on assisted places.

Janet Grant, Loughborough

I have received a circular letter from the Secretary of State for Education and Employment. It is difficult for me not to regard it as a piece of sanctimonious hypocrisy.

He says in this letter that he is not interested in dogma; he is committed to what works. As headmaster of an independent school which offers government- assisted places, I have some difficulty with accepting this assertion.

The independent schools which offer assisted places are generally regarded as among the most distinguished and effective schools in the country. They work. The assisted places scheme enables boys and girls who could not otherwise afford to do so to attend such schools, to their benefit and to that of the country. The withdrawal of the scheme will deprive them of this opportunity, to the advantage of no one. The Secretary of State's real reason for withdrawing the scheme is that it is a soft target and an easy way of appeasing members of his party who oppose it on dogmatic grounds.

Mr Blunkett writes that he looks forward to working with me. I look forward to working with him once he has thought out a sensible and realistic way of co-operating with the independent sector.

A R D Wickson, Headmaster

The King's School, Chester

The so-called public schools claim that through the assisted places scheme they are helping disadvantaged pupils to attend their schools, but they fail to emphasise that these places are selective. This means that, at state expense, they boost the standards of their establishments and thereby attract more private funding.

R F Jameson, Dundee

Rock buns and lardy cake

Hooray! to Prue Leith ("Cooking at school is cool", Education+, 15 May) for her plea for cooking in schools. But boo! to her unjust dismissal of the "old domestic science of rock buns and lardy cake. The home economics I studied at grammar school taught me how to make four kinds of pastry, cook with yeast; bake cakes using three different methods; cook different cuts of meat and make dishes my mother didn't know about.

When I left school after A-levels and needed to earn a living, the only transferable skills I could identify were the ones I had acquired in the home economics lab. When I blagged my way into a job as the sole cook in a bistro, it was fortuitous for all concerned that I had been sufficiently well taught that scaling-up food production from four portions to 50 wasn't too difficult. (It wasn't haute cuisine a la Leith, but it ate well and I didn't poison anyone.)

Since then, in an increasingly cerebral professional life, cooking has been my main creative pleasure and my greatest gift to my friends.

Suzanne Shale

Fellow in Law, New College, Oxford

I was astounded at the comments made in Prue Leith's article from her position as chairman of the Royal Society for the Encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce. I would have felt more comfortable to read that her knowledge of current national curriculum practice was related to what is actually happening in 1997 as well as that which is planned for the future.

Her preference "to teach cooking at school, (but) not the old domestic science of rock buns and lardy cake, all cheap fat and sugar" relates to an era I do not recognise, but may have been more appropriate to an age when we used to dig for our own coal.

Jennifer Miller, Liverpool John Moores University

Please send your letters to Wendy Berliner, Editor, EDUCATION+, The Independent, 1 Canada Square, Canary Wharf, London, E14 5DL. Include a daytime telephone number. Fax letters to Education + on 0171-293 2451; e-mail: educ@independent.co.uk

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