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Questions raised by inquiry

The report by Lucy Hodges on Sir Ron Dearing's inquiry into the cost of higher education ("Degrees: compare and contrast", Education +, 6 March) invites three supplementary questions.

The first is whether it was really necessary for committee members and staff to travel to six more or less distant countries. What was the cost of all that? The information required must be well known in the DfFEE already, or in British universities, and could be topped up as necessary by means of inquiries to Unesco, or through British embassies or through the countries' embassies in London.

The second question, on the substance of the inquiry, is whether external efficiency is being examined. What do all the graduates do when they have obtained their more or less expensive degrees? Do we the taxpayers get our money's worth from them? Do they obtain work, sooner or later, which makes use of the knowledge acquired and talents developed? Are students properly informed about their future employability in their chosen field? Graduate unemployment is reputed to be an important economic and social phenomenon in many countries; is it?

And the third question is whether the proportion of public expenditure on HE in the various countries which goes on student maintenance is being examined. There are arguments for and against living at home while studying at university, or working your way through college. Presumably funds can be allocated to academic purposes if they do not go on maintenance.

Charles Manton


Why did she leave teaching?

When Caroline Elton (Your views, Education+, March 6) trained with us 17 years ago, she was not weak. She was thoughtful and hard-working and had the qualities needed to be an effective teacher: good subject knowledge; an ability to apply that knowledge in a lively, interesting way for pupils in the classroom; good interpersonal relationships; and a keenness to be fully involved in the life of the schools in which she did her teaching practice. Yes, she did find it a challenge, initially, to keep control of difficult classes, but with advice and support she overcame these difficulties and emerged as a very promising teacher. It is with some sadness, therefore, to read that after only three years she left the profession.

The real question to be asked is: why was this allowed to happen? To lay the blame at the door of initial teacher training misses the point. All concerned with the teaching profession have a responsibility. Appropriate support needs to be provided in order to avoid people like Caroline Elton leaving the profession and joining the pool of inactive teachers - which, sadly, continues to grow.

Dr Barbara MacGilchrist

Dean of Initial Teacher Education

Institute of Education, University of London

Trouble with numbers

James R Adams (Your views, Education +, 6 March) complains about lack of numeracy and then displays lack of numeracy himself. Quoting "More than half English 11-year-olds have below-average reading skills", Mr Adams claims: "This is almost bound not to be true". Wrong. It is perfectly possible for the quote to be true: there is no reason in general why we should expect mean and median - which are what Mr Adams confuses - to be equal.

Dr M C Jones

Department of Statistics

The Open University

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