The push towards raising the participation rate of young people in higher education over the past 20 years ("A question of degrees", 8 September) is matched by a corresponding decline of training schemes for school-leavers in organisations such as the banks, insurance companies , engineering and construction industries.
As a careers adviser in the 1970s and 1980s I was involved in giving advice and support to tens of thousands of school leavers with GCSEs or A-levels who were taken on every year into company training schemes. Since that time, with the recessions of the 1980s and 1990s , most of these companies have restructured, down-sized much or all of their school-leaver training schemes or else raised their recruitment criteria to graduate-only entry. Gone are the days when solicitors, architects and many of the professions recruited and trained school leavers – now they expect a grounding in higher education first before going on to further professional training.
The option of entry into many careers without a degree has disappeared . However because one has a degree this does not guarantee entry into what was seen as a graduate level job.
In some subject areas, especially in the most popular disciplines such as psychology, sports studies, design, performing arts, media studies and humanities, up to 40 per cent of graduates start in non -graduate level work, with consequent lower salaries. We are over-producing graduates in many of these fields with only a minority getting work in occupations directly related to their degree interests.
Toll of war in Iraq and Afghanistan
In the wake of the apparent massacre of civilians in Afghanistan by a US air strike, Kim Sengupta is not quite correct when he says that "warplanes play a central role in . . . bailing [US forces] out in emergencies" (9 September).
Often, they are called in as the first response by ground troops who have come under fire, and the technique was perfected back in Vietnam. Better to kill a dozen civilians ("gooks" as they were called back then, "towelheads" as they are labelled now) than to risk the death of a single US soldier, is how the philosophy goes.
In the follow-up, the number of dead civilians is frequently under-reported, and only makes the light of day when publicised by witnesses, leaving one to wonder how many unreported incidents have occurred in the Afghan wilderness.
Lisburn, Northern Ireland
I wholeheartedly agree with Andy McNab's timely comments ("Iraq trauma is a time bomb, says ex-SAS author", 8 September). Five years after serving in Operation Telic, my son, and indeed our family, continue to live the post-Iraq PTSD experience. When I began my campaigning in 2006, I knew that the tip of the iceberg was barely visible. This is an issue which should be kept in the public consciousness.
The systems in place are definitely not "robust". Our experiences have highlighted flaws and failings at every turn. It has been individuals, kind-hearted, non-judgemental souls, who have made the difference, rather than any system, while others have made our desperate situation worse.
I have been provided, by ministers, with more statistics than I really care to be in charge of, but again I have on a number of occasions been able to disprove these. In any case, statistics do nothing to help or assuage the anguish and suffering.
This government has been naive and negligent in sending its armed forces into a theatre of war without providing the infrastructure to support them on their return. It is now playing catch-up, but, as Mr McNab says, for many it is a case of too little, too late.
Andy McNab is so right. Government neglect of post-traumatic stress sufferers goes way back to veterans of the Second World War who are treated with patronising indifference.
I was wounded in action in Germany on 23 April 1945, never told of my right to claim a disability pension until the Soldiers, Sailors, Airmen and Families Association (SSAFA) sounded the alert, and am now being ordered to undergo triage by Powys Local Health Board before treatment can be resumed after a gap of over a year. Those who fought for our country years ago are in our 80s. How trying for those in authority that we're such a nuisance.
(Ex Lieutenant Royal Tank Regiment), Hay-on-Wye, Powys
Energy policy about to hit the iceberg
Your correspondents ("Bringing down the cost of solar panels", 4 September) are not just re-arranging the Titanic's deckchairs, they are busily hammering holes in her hull. Yes, you can make anything appear viable by offering subsidies, but artificial "feed-in" tariffs, renewables obligation certificates and support for biofuel producers merely transfer the economic costs to the taxpayer and the environmental costs to the planet.
Most renewables, particularly micro-generation, do not just leave users out of pocket; in many cases their production and distribution absorb more energy and emit more carbon than the units will ever pay back. By contrast, turning down the central heating or putting out some lights costs nothing and saves money on the next bill, not in 160 years.
We must recognise that reducing our energy consumption is essential, because all forms of fuel are running out, because we are increasingly dependent on foreign regimes for our supplies and because most energy use causes CO2 emissions. We must have an energy policy which includes sustainable sources such as underground coal gasification, geothermal energy and community-based combined heat and power. Unlike most renewables, these offer energy 365 days a year. Wind and solar have a place when they can be installed on an industrial scale at the point of use, but those who believe they will allow us to continue our squanderous lifestyle while saving the planet are recklessly deluded.
Eastern European states which entered the EU in 2004 and 2007 have understandable reservations about Russia ("The destructive prejudices of Europe's new members", Opinion, 2 September). One of the areas of concern is over energy policy, where Russia is a superpower.
Moscow has already flexed its muscles in this area, cutting gas exports to Ukraine in January 2006, and to Belarus in 2007. At present, the EU is highly dependent on Russian energy, with 45 per cent of Russia's energy exports going to the EU. The EU should urgently look for ways of reducing this dependence. One way is by pressing ahead with the European pipeline Nabucco, from the Caspian basin to central Europe. By taking firm action, the EU can help to reduce Russia's hold over its member states.
Chairman, Business for New Europe, London EC2
I loved Mike Watson's letter (8 September) recommending that the countries with climates favourable to renewable energy, including Australia, be subsidised so that the whole world will benefit. He didn't mention that one would need an invading force to install a renewable energy-friendly regime in office. The bipartisan political subordination in Australia to the energy dinosaurs ensures that Australia will not be playing the global role wished for by Watson.
It is relevant to observe that Australia's solar-power experts have cleared out overseas, where somebody takes them seriously.
Finding the facts on retail sales
Your columnist casts doubt on Office for National Statistics retail sales figures ("Lies, damned lies and government statistics", 29 August). Just because the ONS retail series doesn't tell the same story as those published by specific interest groups, doesn't mean that it is incorrect. The ONS retail estimates are produced to internationally approved standards and provide a robust measure of the sector.
Non-official estimates, such as those published by the Confederation of British Industry and the British Retail Consortium, provide timely indicators, but exclude important elements of the retail sector, and are based on smaller samples than those published by ONS. Our figures are based on a survey of around 5,000 businesses representing all retailers from the largest superstores down to corner shops. They also include specialist internet retailers and discount stores – which are not well covered by non-official surveys.
National Statistician, Office for National Statistics, Newport
Left knows enough to be wary of Palin
Where on earth does Dominic Lawson (Opinion, 9 September) get the idea that anyone serious on the "the left" ever thought Margaret Thatcher was a "stupid woman"? As I recall, not even the most impetuous militants of the Eighties were naive enough to underestimate their enemy as unintelligent, even if resentment of her sometimes verged on the pathological. Similarly, which of us now views Sarah Palin as an "inbreeding hick out of Deliverance" (Lawson's words, with one supporting quote from that well known leftist – er –Rod Liddle)? We might think these politicians dangerous, powerful and as espousing pernicious policies and ideologies, perhaps. But stupid? I doubt it.
I realise that "the left" is now seen by many hacks as some kind of collective bogeyman, incorporating everyone from Mao Tse-Tung to Ming Campbell, but for Lawson to suggest that none of it can think properly is to attack a lazily constructed stereotype of all his political opponents in one go, which is a poor substitute for political analysis.
Is this the kind of simplistic tongue-poking that "the right" characteristically goes in for, Mr Lawson?
While Margaret Thatcher may not have been swept into power by feminists (letter, 8 September), there was divided opinion about her within the women's movement, and many of its members did indeed vote for her in the 1979 general election.
I remember Jill Tweedie initiating a debate on which way feminists should vote in her newspaper column, and an article in the New York Times, dated 27 August 1979, is headlined, "Mrs Thatcher divides feminists" , and goes on to say: "The British feminist movement is engaged in a bitter debate over what some of its members regard as a momentous triumph, the election of a woman as Prime Minister."
I'm afraid it's your letter writer, not your columnist, who suffers from a short memory.
There has been little comment on the names of Sarah Palin's children: Track, Bristol, Willow, Piper and Trig. I know that parents now see the naming of children as an opportunity for personal expression, forgetting that the child will have to suffer the consequences, but what do the names tell us of the woman who may be a "heartbeat away" from power in January 2009?
I read that La Palin is "pro-life, pro-gun" – doesn't strike me as a clearly thought-through policy, on the face of it.
Crisis of capitalism?
It's funny and sad, reading old-style socialists such as Steve Richards and your correspondent Roger Moss (letter, 9 September) proclaiming the collapse of the market principle. Inadvertently, they show why their like cannot be trusted in political economy – because they don't perceive that Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac were market interventions in the first place. On a deeper analysis, it's the right-wing anti-interventionists who could more fairly cry, "I told you so."
Tennis on TV
Your editorial "Championship point" (9 September) says the BBC should be bidding for the television rights to Grand Slam tennis finals. Correct, and we have been doing just that. We have the rights to Wimbledon (until 2014), the French Open and the Australian Open – so the US Open is the only gap, though we do offer live radio commentary. British tennis fans will next be able to see Andy Murray in action in the Davis Cup later in September, and that will be live on the BBC.
Director of Sport, BBC Television Centre, London W12
Your obituary of Del Martin, the US civil rights campaigner, (6 September) made one unfortunate error. It described the late Ms Martin as going through a "civil partnership ceremony" in June of this year. In fact, it was a wedding. This is a vital difference – the UK's second-class, semi-equivalent of weddings for same-sex couples is not good enough – and would, I suspect, rather have annoyed the subject of the obituary.
The price of beer
One of the reasons for record pub closures (letter, 9 September) is the high cost of drinks sold in pubs. Beer in pubs can cost as much as four times the equivalent product in a supermarket. The smoking ban may have had an effect, but the real culprit is cost. Pub chains are pricing themselves out of business and no amount of karaoke nights or pub quizzes will tempt you in if you can't afford it.
Life after apostrophes
Paul Clarke of Oundle (letters, 5 September) maintains that doing without apostrophes would amount to poor English. George Bernard Shaw did without them – indeed he campaigned against their use – and he is not generally accused of having written poor English, let alone the lifeless Orwellian Newspeak that Mr Clarke fears would be the result of their abolition.