Asylum, top-up fees and others

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How asylum policy terrified one 10-year-old girl

How asylum policy terrified one 10-year-old girl

Sir: It is not just adult asylum-seekers who are frightened by David Blunkett's ill-considered "tough man" remarks (Johann Hari, 3 December).

As headteacher of a London primary school I had a 10-year-old Kosovan girl ring me at home when news of the amnesty for the 15,000 came out. She was listening to the news and reading newspapers struggling to understand whether it applied to her family and interpreting all the information into Albanian for her family. She was cautiously optimistic: "I think we may be able to stay - but I'm not sure."

She rang me after the Queen's Speech, very upset, to say, "It's bad news, Sir. You know the Government said we could stay: well they've changed their mind. They've stopped it. They're going to make us all go."

I had to calm her down and say that the policy of taking children into care was aimed at asylum seekers who were being sent home and were refusing to go. I felt very angry that there are probably thousands of children who have been thrown into panic or despair by this news item. This child had seen her infant brother deliberately blown up by a hand grenade thrown into his bedroom. She suffers recurring nightmares and is terrified of being sent "home". She is now terrified of what the Government may do to her and her family. Young lives shouldn't be played with in this way.

Blunkett has tried to justify his policy by citing the threat of the BNP. What he is doing is capitulating to the BNP's agenda when he should be challenging it. I remember well the intimidatory atmosphere produced in schools by Enoch Powell's infamous "rivers of blood" speech. What followed was an upsurge in racist attacks.

Wembley, Middlesex

Top-up fees and the politics of envy

Sir: The Government's justification for the increase in top-up fees starts with a revival of the politics of envy. People are encouraged to think: students are getting something for nothing and I'm paying for it. It depicts all graduates as the recipients of vast amounts of wealth and privilege.

The reality is somewhat different. Most graduates will earn modest salaries, way below that commanded by, say, a Cabinet minister or an MEP, and as more and more graduates pour out of our myriad universities, the size of the average graduate salary is bound to decrease.

Courses which do not automatically lead to a well-paid job, but which, in the broadest sense, help to enrich and civilise society - such as English, history, philosophy, classics, modern languages - will wither away because nobody will consider it worth their while to do them. Salaries in areas such as medicine and the law will tend to inflate because of the enormous debts accrued by those who study them.

The financial mess which the Government has got itself into over higher education could be solved by scrapping the idiotic and arbitrary figure of 50 per cent university entry, and instead ensuring that children get a proper education at primary and secondary level.

London W4

Sir: When I left school in 1956, access to the limited number of university places then available was restricted, broadly speaking, to the very bright, the very rich and the very poor. By failing to win a scholarship to Cambridge, I disqualified myself from the first category and, since my parents did not fall within the second or third categories, I was obliged to give up the idea of further education until I retired from work some forty years later.

If the government of the day had offered to lend me the full cost of a university education, at a subsidised rate of interest and with no obligation to repay until I was earning a reasonable salary, would my decision have been different? However it may look to later generations brought up to expect a further education largely at the taxpayer's expense, I don't think my generation would have failed to recognise such an obvious gift horse.

Let universities provide whatever courses are demanded and let them charge whatever fees the market will bear for each individual course. So long as the Government continues to provide student loans on an affordable basis, we are unlikely to see the decline in university admissions that the opponents of top-up fees so confidently predict.

Ashford Bowdler, Shropshire

Sir: Andy Brown (letter, 4 December) believes that "universities are places where the activities of the better off are paid for by the rest of us" and that this is immoral. This is an argument which could be applied to any aspect of the public sector. The taxes of childless couples and singles pay for schools which they don't use; those in work pay for the benefits of those who are unemployed.

Apart from giving birth to my daughter, I have never been in hospital, I don't smoke, am not overweight and take regular exercise but my taxes "pay for" the health care of those who smoke, drink excessively, do no exercise or are morbidly overweight. Mr Brown suggests that it is reasonable to make moral decisions about which university courses will benefit those "paying for it" and thus to decide which deserve subsidy from the tax payer. As a fit non-smoker perhaps I should ask that my taxes are not used to pay for the treatment of those suffering from smoking-related diseases or from diabetes resulting from a poor diet and consequent overweight?

I think not. In a country where public services are paid for out of general taxation there is no place for debate about who "pays for" elements of those services and who benefits from them.

Cobham, Surrey

Sir: By far the most insidious part of the current access-to-university debate is the call for variable fees. This goes entirely against the promotion of equal opportunity in education.

The notion of debt is far harder for poorer families to handle than for richer ones. And as sure as Faust and his soul were separated, the creation of an elitist Ivy League will follow. A premier league of grotesque overblown fat-cat universities will charge higher and higher fees whilst reducing and restricting opportunity for the poor and so handing out places to students best placed to pay. No doubt we'll have the Manchester Uniteds, Liverpools and Chelseas of the football world reflected in the Oxfords, Cambridges and Durhams of the academic one.

Sweatshirts sponsored by Sky, pay-to-sit exams, Bill Clinton imported back to Oxford on £100,000 a week to deliver lectures in American studies, rescheduled - much to the students' rancour - to Sundays at 5pm in order to maximise ratings delivery. Meanwhile Bradford University will only be able to muster up Gyles Brandreth to discuss knitting patterns and, just like its once illustrious football team, will spiral into debt and eventually into obscurity.

Don't let market forces ruin our universities. Education is far too important to be kicked around like a football.

Blythe Bridge, Staffordshire

Sir: Your leader (3 December) states: "University students still come disproportionately from better-off backgrounds, whereas taxes are paid on the whole by people lower down the social scale."

The first element of this statement is undoubtedly true: the second is complete nonsense. Eighty-nine per cent of income tax is paid by the top 50 per cent of earners - it follows that increasing income tax on high earners to pay for increased university funding, and subsidise the children of the dustman, is not regressive as you suggest, but is the only way of ensuring equal access to higher education.


Share the blight

Sir: Perhaps Mr Smith (letter, 5 December), who writes from the Cotswolds in opposition to windfarms, would like to come and live near the Drax power station if he thinks it's so wonderful. Actually it's ugly and dominates this flat landscape for miles around.

Why do people who live in beautiful areas believe that those of us who live in more ordinary looking places should have all the country's electrical power generated in our areas because they're not pretty to start with?

Those people with the advantage of living in a naturally beautiful place should accept their share of the blight of electricity generation, just as they accept their share of the electricty.

Sherburn in Elmet, North Yorkshire

US steel deal

Sir: During the recent visit of President Bush your editorials and correspondents were calling for Tony Blair to get some concessions out of the President. The latter has now dropped the steel tariffs, but will he get any credit for it? Of course not; many will say Bush was under domestic pressure to drop them. Whenever America does anything that benefits other countries, like entering both world wars and invading Iraq, some people always say that it does it only to benefit America. Whatever it does, to some America can do no right.

London NW7

Lost and found

Sir: Michael Rider (letter, 4 December) seems to have a typically cavalier Anglo-Saxon approach to logic. The French version of "Lost Property", " Objets trouvés" or "Found Objects", has little to do with sociolinguistics and more to do with Descartes . It is a simple question of fact. Not everything which has been found has been lost. Some found objects may well just have been left on a train or ferryboat because the owner no longer wanted them, whereas, sadly, it is unlikely, even in England, that all the property lost has been handed in.

Tervuren, Belgium

Disdain for all

Sir: Whilst I am sympathetic to the unique challenges faced by the wheelchair-bound friends and relations of your readers (letters, 5 December), they are missing the point: all passengers of budget airlines are treated with equal disdain. If I want to be treated like a human being, I won't use a budget airline; if I do, I accept that the low cost of my seat comes at the expense of some dignity. Should these operators give disabled passengers special treatment? The heart says yes, of course; but Orwell understood the danger of some being "more equal" than others.

Kingston, Surrey

Empty excuse

Sir: Here is one to beat "leaves on the track". Yesterday, the train I took from Princes Risborough to London stopped in High Wycombe a little longer than expected and the following announcement came on the loudspeaker: "This train is unable to continue its journey as it has run out of fuel. Please could all the passengers disembark and catch the next train to London. We apologise for any inconvenience caused." What a relief that Chiltern railways run trains and not airplanes.

Whiteleaf, Buckinghamshire