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Wednesday 29 June 2011
Letters: Graduate jobs
The news that 83 graduates are chasing every job vacancy (28 June) points to a much larger problem facing bright young people in the future.
Our recent research shows that over half of this year's graduates will spend their first year out of university unemployed or in low-skilled jobs that do not require degrees. This lack of return on investment must call into question whether degrees are worth it for many people, and the time has come to face the fact that university is not the right option for everyone.
With fees set to triple and the value of actual experience of work on the rise, increasing numbers of young people will look to quality vocational options to get into "white collar" careers previously the domain of graduates. It is up to the Government, business and the education sector to ensure they have this option.
Jane Scott Paul
Chief Executive, Association of Accounting Technicians
We should urgently dispel this "graduate gloom". While everyone should have the opportunity to go to university, not everyone should go. As a former Russell Group director of communications during the introduction of tuition fees, and now mother of a university applicant, I am dismayed by the avoidance of these simple truths.
And as a graduate recruiter, this is my advice. Study a subject you love, at which you are as good as possible, in a place of which you are proud. Be confident in your future and realise that UKplc needs you. Above all, use your teens into twenties to grow up and make your mind up, independent of the propaganda that the only way is a degree and that a degree is all about getting a job. It's one way and a great way. But it's your life and your choice.
During the last recession in the early 1990s, many young graduates, faced with a tight job market, opted to undertake teacher training as an insurance policy. This gave them a professional qualification and allowed them an extra year in which to determine the direction they might subsequently take in their careers. Many fine young people then in fact became teachers, strengthening the profession considerably.
Faced as they are now with 83 competitors for every job, it will be interesting to see if a comparable surge in applications for teacher training occurs this year. Confronted with the triple whammy of longer working years, increased pension contributions and smaller pensions, this does seem unlikely.
An attack on our freedoms
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown's article (Notebook, 27 June) purported to support freedom fighters such as Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma. The article was an intolerant diatribe against the very freedoms we should be supporting.
She criticised the courts of the Netherlands for supporting the right of Geert Wilders to criticise a religion, surely one of our most important freedoms. This does not mean that I support the views of Mr Wilders, but criticising Islam is not the same as "barfing over Muslims" as Ms Alibhai-Brown so crudely put it.
Those criticised by Ms Alibhai-Brown for walking around in slut kit were demonstrating for the freedom of women to have equal entitlement to legal protection instead of being blamed for crimes committed against them.
And yes, we should have the freedom to spend our earnings on cigarettes, drink, sweets and pizzas if we so wish. If I choose to do so then it is none of Ms Alibhai-Brown's business, and no one is forcing her to follow my example.
As far as "screwing around" goes, this is simply an insulting generalisation against British society.
I now have a very clear idea of the kind of society Ms Alibhai-Brown would apparently like to live in: no religious criticism allowed, women's clothing strictly regulated, morals and diet controlled by the state. Perhaps Afghanistan under the Taliban comes closest to her ideal.
It is wrong to discriminate against people, or incite hatred towards them, on the grounds of their race, gender or sexual orientation; these are characteristics preordained by our DNA and not chosen by us. Conversely, there is nothing wrong in criticising religions, cults or ideologies. Belief in the existence of a god that has told people (through an intermediary) how to live their lives is a personal choice and nothing more.
Like him or loathe him (and I'm no great fan) Geert Wilders has criticised an idea, not a race. He thinks the idea is dangerous and unworkable in progressive societies that value free speech, equality and universal human rights. If he didn't have continuous police protection he would be slaughtered by people who believe in the idea very strongly. This rather seems to support some of his contentions.
Wilders has compared the idea to fascism and its defining literature to Mein Kampf. This offends many people, but I'm afraid there is no such thing as a right not to be offended. I'm fairly certain that had the Dutchman's quarrel been with a fascist organisation of white-skinned Europeans espousing similar views to those he finds so disturbing, this newspaper would have supported his stand.
Brave MPs save circus animals
I am writing to offer my congratulations to your paper for its uncompromising support for the ban on the use of wild animals in circuses. The success of this campaign is a tribute to the stalwart hard work and determination of so many people who care enough and recognise that the suffering of wild animals is not acceptable in a compassionate society.
Mark Pritchard MP is a rare breed indeed, in all political parties not just in England, as very few individuals have the moral gumption to sacrifice personal advancement for the greater good.
David Cameron's opposition to this ban is not surprising, given his support of hunting, which involves another form of cruelty to animals. His attempts to pressurise MPs and undermine the democratic process does little to inspire confidence or admiration of his leadership.
Glounthaune, Co Cork, Ireland
I have just finished reading Martin Hickman's coverage of this major vote in the UK ("Victory in campaign to ban circus animals", 24 June) – and am applauding those Members of Parliament who had the courage to stand up and represent the will of the people.
I can only hope that the people in the US take heart and renew efforts to achieve the same sort of response from our representatives here. It was a shining example of democracy at its very best; congratulations to your country for setting the bar for the rest of the world.
Congress, Arizona, USA
Unfair trade in cotton
Your article on rising cotton prices ("Rising cotton price puts pressure on retailers", 27 June) failed to mention the "elephant" of the international cotton market – US subsidies.
Current strong prices mean that American farmers surely don't need the millions of dollars handed out annually by the world's greatest free-trader. Coupled with budget pressures at home and a WTO ruling against them, you would think the case for ending US subsidies was complete.
Yet the US continues to resist. Even a proposed deal at the WTO exclusively for the poorest countries looks set to falter because of US reluctance to act on cotton.
The millions of vulnerable small farmers across Africa face the real pressure. Unlike their larger US counterparts, they are not nimble enough to play the market and take advantage of short-term higher prices. For them to see a decent return for their labour requires a fairer world cotton market. It's up to the US to take the first step to make this a reality.
Director of Policy and Programmes
The night of Gielgud's arrest
In his review of my biography John Gielgud: Matinee Idol to Movie Star (Books, 24 June), Nicholas de Jongh asks if I am posthumously calling Gielgud a liar in describing the events on the night of his arrest.
This is a ridiculous assertion. There are conflicting accounts of what happened on that traumatic occasion, and whether or not Gielgud tried to phone the powerful theatrical impresario Binkie Beaumont. I have simply presented the alternative versions as told to me by different but reliable sources.
De Jongh cites Sheridan Morley as the source for Gielgud's account of his actions that evening. Yet Gielgud was speaking to him at the age of 90, when his memory was not quite at its sharpest, while Morley's biography, which contains over 200 errors, is notoriously slipshod and unreliable.
The noise of tennis
Nick Bollettieri's article (27 June) on tennis players grunting willfully misses the point. Many tennis players do not "grunt"; they shriek and scream every time they hit a ball. Since the majority of players seem to be able to manage the operation without this attendant performance, one has to conclude that it is an act of choice.
There must be a reason. One explanation which leaps to mind is that they are seeking to intimidate, distract and irritate their opponents – what would elsewhere be called cheating.
Nick Bollettieri cannot be serious. The racket made by too many shriekers and grunters has produced a highly annoying distraction, with no merits or benefits to the players' game. It should be banned immediately as being unsportspersonlike.
When it comes to clichés
This correspondence about clichés is awesome.
Eschewing cliché is admirable, but not if it creates a subsequent black hole.
While I see where your correspondents are coming from, I think the time has come to move on.
The issues raised about the cross-examination of Milly Dowler's parents are important and I was happy to comment on them for publication (report, 27 June). However, I said that counsel's duty was to carry out his client's instructions "fearlessly" not "fiercely".
Michael Wolkind QC
Perspectives on the teachers’ strike
Gove's unhelpful intervention
Last week Michael Gove wrote to all school leaders outlining ways in which they could undermine the NUT and ATL strike set for this Thursday. While education leaders loathe closing their schools and academies, Mr Gove needs to remember that schools function largely on the goodwill of teachers to do far more than they are contracted to do. It would be foolish of school leaders to undermine this collective endeavour for some perceived short-term gain.
Recruiting and retaining the best staff is the most important thing we do. Expecting teachers to work longer for a worse pension at a time when there is a pay freeze and many new entrants are already carrying student debt is not a recipe for getting the most talented people into our classrooms. Given the recruitment challenges we already face in many subjects the situation is far more serious than Government appear to realise.
Mr Gove's intervention is irrelevant at best and unhelpful at worst. He would do better to spend his time getting the best deal for teachers from the Treasury if he is serious about building a world-class education system. Trying to split school leaders from their colleagues resonates more with industrial relations in the 1970s.
Headteacher, Ansford School,
Chair, Somerset Association of Secondary Headteachers
And 24 other Somerset headteachers and community college principals
Trade unionists are the public
In the light of Michael Gove and other ministers predicting the anger of the great British public should unions strike over cuts to pensions, jobs and pay, surely some clarification is needed. When does a trade unionist cease to be considered a member of the public? After all there are 6.5 million trade union members, more than a third of the workforce, surely their opinions cannot simply be disregarded because they don't gain favour with government ministers.
The concept of what the public does and doesn't want is misrepresented to suit the interests of a government set on dumping the cost of the deficit on the most vulnerable and poorest people in our society.
Middle class takes to the picket line
The phrase "broken society" is an absolutely perfect description for what Britain has become and the forthcoming industrial action is a perfect illustration of our now divided society.
With the traditional working-class unions almost eliminated, the fight is mainly centred on the chattering classes. They thought that you worked hard at school, did the same at work, paid tax, paid for a pension and would never become like those strikers of old. The houses they thought could only rise in value are falling in value, their savings likewise and they find themselves portrayed in just the same way as were car workers and miners years ago.
And, standing back from all of this are a motley collection of money men, politicians and celebs, who with their access to tax dodges, expenses and the law to conceal what they do wrong, smugly pocket riches almost beyond belief.
Governing it all we have the chummily aloof Cameron and inept but pompous Gove, who think that it can all be solved with a couple of volunteers. I don't know where we're going but, given the choice, I wouldn't start from here.
Mr Gove expresses concern that children will suffer the loss of a day's schooling and parents will be inconvenienced during the teachers' strike on Thursday. Where is that same concern when many schools are closed for the day to elect him and his fellow MPs?
Cost of living
As people live longer there is no choice but to increase the age at which pensions become payable and pay larger contributions towards them, so I am not in favour of Thursday's public sector strike. However, following the expenses scandal, to prove we are indeed all in this together, I think MPs should set an example by increasing the amount they contribute to their pensions.
Undoubtedly the laws around trade unions need changing. But, contrary to the claims of ministers, we don't need yet another round of union-bashing, Thatcherite laws. We need to start understanding that we don't live in the 1980s any more – and that there are other ways of balloting for strike action.
The fact that unions must conduct ballots by post is a cause of low turnout. If we updated the law to reflect the fact that it is now possible to vote safely and securely over the internet, or indeed at the workplace, turnout would soar.
Will Gove's parent strikebreakers all be CRB checked in time and fully insured, or are such details irrelevant in his fantasy world?
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