Your views: Autonomy for higher education is about furthering knowledge

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University independence ("University chiefs furious over curbs on autonomy", Education+, 8 December, 1997) is about far more than administrative decision-making, financial autonomy or tuition fees.

It is about independent thinking, critical analysis and the furthering of knowledge for its own sake (as my teachers used to say). The problem is that business lobbies and philistine bureaucrats want to turn universities into subsidised low-level management training schemes and sources of cheap near-market research.

The result has been to seriously "dumb down" the system, and successive governments have increasingly adopted this agenda - indeed, often taking the lead. The Teaching and Higher Education Bill is merely the latest of these attacks.

Philip G. Cerny

Professor of International Political Economy

Department of Politics

University of Leeds

What tuition?

It is not surprising that many potential students are being scared off by universities charging pounds 1,000-a-year tuition fees. This situation would no doubt be exacerbated if it were widely known how little tuition the average student will be getting for their money. As a mature student myself, I was amazed that in my first year studying philosophy I was attending only five hours a week - a grand total of 50 hours in a term, 150 hours in a year. (That's pounds 6.67 an hour.)

This term, thus far, I have had exactly two hours a week, on a Friday afternoon; 20 hours in ten weeks. With the reading and essay writing, I spend anything up to a huge 15 hours a week on extra studying. University life so far has hardly been a challenge. I feel somewhat of the dishonest cheat getting a degree for so little work. If I were one of those paying a fee, I would be livid.

Having such a small amount of tuition to give, perhaps it would be wise for each university to start charging per hour and billing weekly rather than by the year? This might seem more palatable to the parents of an average sixth-former.

Clifford G. Cumber

York University

revision for boys

In Judith Judd's article "Regardless of sex, it's cool to do well" (4 December, 1997) she rightly states that "if ministers could solve the problem of boys' underachievement, they would be well on the way to reaching the demanding national targets they have set for the year 2002".

If the Government does decide to hold an inquiry into boys' underachievement I hope that those in the best position to know, the pupils, will be asked for their opinions on the subject.

My A-level sociology group recently carried out an investigation into why girls do so much better than boys at GCSE at our school. It revealed that the students believed lack of revision was the most important factor. This was more of a problem for boys than girls. This difference in attitude was also illustrated in opinions on homework. The boys seemed to have more difficulty imposing the self-discipline needed to do their homework or to revise for their GCSE examinations.

After carrying out their research, the A-level group wrote a 40-page report that includes a list of recommendations for pupils, parents and teachers. A copy of this report can be found at the Sackville Sociology Website at: http://www3.mistral.co.uk/spartacus.

John Simkin

Sackville School

Lewes Road

East Grinstead

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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