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Lucy Hodges' article on degree franchising ("Sleaze by degrees", Education+, 10 April) is more than welcome.

Senior and experienced staff of the franchiser university are diverted from teaching and research in order to win and implement the contracts. They cannot be replaced by comparable staff by offering franchise-funded short contracts of part-time teaching contracts to young staff. The more seriously the franchiser takes the responsibilities of quality control, the more seriously does it misallocate resources.

There is an easy and cheap solution. The traditional external degree regime was far more prudent. The university concentrated on syllabus, curriculum and examinations and bore no responsibility for the teaching of students who were the registered students of their local college. The Funding Council should financially penalise universities that franchise degrees. External degrees should be encouraged. Revenues would be less but so would costs so there would be no serious reduction in the earning power to the United Kingdom universities.

JM Oliver,

Barbican, London

A formula for physics Alan Smithers' solutions to the problem of the disappearing physics teacher (Independent, news report, 10 April) reveal that those who live in ivory towers really should not propose solutions to issues that they know little about. Teaching physics is a process of transforming your knowledge into a form which is understood and appreciated by the young children you teach. Good subject knowledge is a necessary but not sufficient requirement to do this well. What is needed is the ability to create imaginative and engaging learning activities, to use language effectively to interpret and explain a difficult subject with appropriate illustration and good resources, laboratories and equipment to undertake this task. Some of these are personal skills and some could be provided by increased financial resources but none of these will be improved by a sabbatical in a university physics department.

Science education offered in many universities is highly didactic, overloaded with content and an archetypal example of what science teaching should not be. One indication of this state of affairs is the high drop-out rate from first-year undergraduate science courses and research which shows generally negative impressions of the physics education provided. Alan Smithers believes that university departments offer facilities at the cutting edge of research but too many graduates I meet arrive on a PGCE course without ever having used the kind of computer-based instrumentation that is commonly available in schools. Hence the idea of university science departments undertaking teacher training is simply laughable.

The shortage of physics teachers is a chronic and international problem whose solution will not be achieved by well-meaning but simplistic proposals. Dare I suggest that one remedy still remains untried - raise the price that you are prepared to pay for a physics teacher?

Dr Jonathan Osborne

Lecturer - Physics Education

King's College London.

The accountant cometh The further education college I know best, with a good record of success in public examinations, and heir to a 200-year-long tradition of service to local young people, received good marks from Further Education Funding Council inspectors for the quality of its teaching and its results, then, only a short time later, a kick in the teeth from FEFC accountants, who deemed it "financially vulnerable" and in need of drastic treatment.

There is a limit to what may be achieved by "efficiency savings", hence well-qualified and hardworking teachers now face redundancies, "restructuring", pay cuts and an impossible workload. At the same time, student choices and opportunities are curtailed and student performance threatened by crowded classes, fewer teaching hours per subject, and the fact that their education will be dispensed by a harassed and demoralised staff with no time to prepare or mark work.

Do the Tories care about the A-level gold standard, or about the possible closure of institutions with fine records and reputations? Do they really believe that there is enough money swilling around in the private sector to make up for these vicious cuts?

Only the other day Chairman Mawhinney claimed "We are an education standards focused government". His words are an offence not just against the English language but against truth itself.

Alan Bates,


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