Education letters: Global excellence

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Roger Brown set himself an interesting question ("Do we need to have world-class universities?", Education & Careers, 1 May) but falls some way short of answering it properly.

He overlooks two key considerations. First, the powerful economic benefits for the UK of its world-class research base, which has brought about significant advances in such areas as medicine and health care, electronics, nanotechnology, the development of sustainable energy alternatives and environmental protection. To talk of other universities as being "perhaps more socially useful" institutions misses this point entirely.

Second, the UK's internationally competitive universities attract the best students and academics from around the world, and offer an optimal student experience in an environment of enquiry-based learning and high-quality teaching. In today's knowledge economy, the Russell Group universities lead in educating many of the most talented and skilled undergraduates and postgraduates.

He is wrong about resources for teaching. Oxford's funding per student is not four times that of Southampton Solent, the university of which he was Vice-Chancellor. Somewhat perversely, exactly the same funding model for teaching applies to both institutions, with variations only in respect of Oxford's college system on the one hand, and the widening participation premium on the other. Perhaps he is confusing this with funding for research.

Anyone still in doubt about the importance of building centres of global excellence should look overseas. Countries such as the US, Australia, China, India and Germany are increasingly targeting resources towards developing or sustaining leading universities. If we don't look after our world-class universities, you can be sure that our international competitors will be more than happy to take our place as global leaders in higher education.

Professor Malcolm Grant, Chair of the Russell Group and Provost of UCL, Dr Wendy Piatt, Director general of the Russell Group


I was amazed to read in "The man with Eton in his sights" (Education & Careers, 1 May) that Lord Adonis is keen to give up maverick entrepreneurs as sponsors of his academies, preferring old-fashioned public schools such as Eton. Adonis has just foisted an academy on our local school with a Swedish private-enterprise company as its sponsor, with no experience of the local community whatsoever.

The date of your article was the day Labour was getting stuffed in the local elections, and the Old Labour Mayor being sent off to join the fossil newts in the Natural History Museum. Here, the last Labour councillor joined the Tories some time ago and is now their education spokesman. Even he has found Lord Adonis's Swedish project too much to stomach.

We are thinking of complaining to the new Mayor of London, in the hope that he will give us his alma mater, Eton, as a sponsor instead. His amiable lunching is likely to be a better class than Adonis's, and more effective in wooing the provost and headmaster.

I see Eton is giving its top students a year off to train for the Olympics. That will suit us nicely at Hampton, because we are only a few minutes downriver in jolly boating weather. Who needs A-levels anyway? Boris got where he did by a lot of Dick and a little bit of Whittington. Boom, boom! What!

George Low, Hampton Hill, Middlesex


I agree with the mum about the prices of holidays out of school term time (Diary of a Primary School Mum, "Club Med? A wigwam in the garden more like", Education & Careers, 1 May), and you only have to check any price list in a holiday brochure to find out when school holidays begin.

However, as a family who have had to give up our lovely Greek-island holidays and stay in this country, due to costs, I can confirm that there are alternatives. The weather is always an issue, I know, but as for price, we found many holiday parks in this country do special offers, and we booked a week away for half-price.

Most of us would love to stay in nice hotels in beautiful countries, but we have found alternatives in this country, which is also very beautiful in places, and the travelling and language are less of a problem!

N ame withheld


"Why physics beats drama" read the headline (Education & Careers, 1 May). It was, of course, only a headline, and the article dealt more even-handedly with the issue. Nevertheless, by way of Dürrenmatt's play The Physicists, it is drama that beats physics. Or at least, the eponymous physicists: two spies in an asylum pretending to be lunatics pretending to be Einstein and Newton to gain access to a third lunatic-physicist, Möbius, who pretends to be King Solomon and holds a world-shattering secret. In the end, they are all confined to the asylum by the hunchback woman who runs it.

A metaphor for something, perhaps?

Frederick Robinson, Bexhill-on-Sea, East Sussex


As a teacher with 16 years' experience teaching second languages in Australia, France, Hong Kong, England and Canada, I agree with Paul Kelley that new approaches may change our attitude to languages, though I question the endorsement of CD-roms ("New approach in language lessons helps pupils progress more quickly", The Independent, 7 May). The real failure of most second-language programmes – including so-called "communicative approaches" – is that traditional programmes don't offer careful selection of high-frequency vocabulary, sufficient repetition, a strong emotional context, scaffolding of language skills, extensive opportunities for creative, spontaneous use of the language, and an inductive, rather than deductive approach to the teaching of grammar. That is the direct opposite of most traditional teaching methods to which the article refers.

The French programme I use is based on an approach called the Accelerative Integrated Method (AIM), and these elements are present in every class. The AIM also uses gestures to teach words, syntax and grammar in a way that stimulates different areas of the brain simultaneously. It exists for English and French, and is in development for Spanish. Students achieve amazing levels of fluency.

Mardi Michels, Toronto, Canada


Your inner-city PE teacher who finds it difficult to get larger girls moving (Quandary, Education & Careers, 8 May) may find the game of Smite useful. It requires discussion and teamwork... and it's fun! It often provides surprised and surprising winners. Many schools use Smite as a cross curricular (Maths/ PE) activity, as well as a game that can be played by mixed ages and abilities.

Sue Cobb,

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