Welcome to the new Independent website. We hope you enjoy it and we value your feedback. Please contact us here.


Letters: Immigration rules

Immigration rules could drive away foreign students

The UK economy is going through its deepest post-war recession. Against this backdrop the Government has chosen to introduce a new points-based immigration system for non-EU students. These rules, we presume, are aimed at disreputable educational organisations whose real aim is to provide their "students" with a visa and a way into the UK. However, in our view these new rules are putting at risk one of Britain's most successful export industries.

According to the UK Council for International student affairs, over the 2007/08 academic year there were 229,645 non-EU overseas nationals studying at UK universities. A typical undergraduate and PhD student will spend three years studying for their qualification, providing an invaluable boost to our economy via the fees they pay for the privilege of studying at some of the world's best universities. In addition to the fees these students have living expenses. It has been estimated that the average overseas student spends almost £200 per week while studying in the UK.

The new immigration rules for students are putting this huge source of revenue at risk. At both of our business schools we have already experienced a number of incidents where the new rules have been incorrectly interpreted by Border Agency officials. If they can't get it right, how can they expect students who have little familiarity with immigration law to navigate the requirements? Under the new rules, students do not get a second opportunity to apply if they have not provided all the information in the format required in the first application.

One of the reasons why overseas students choose to study in the UK is that tuition is in English. However, more and more of our competitor universities and business schools in Europe now teach in English too, as they look to grab a slice of this market. So in future a genuine, prospective student denied access to the UK's education system by these draconian immigration rules may well plump for a European university. And once our European competitors start building large alumni bases in non-EU countries, they may build a momentum that may be hard to arrest.

This issue needs to be addressed. Highly regarded universities and business schools in the UK need the Government's support if this valuable export market is to continue making a contribution to our economy.

Andrew Clare

Associate Dean, Professor of Asset Management, Cass Business School

Julian Birkinshaw

Deputy Dean, Programmes, Professor of Strategic Management, London Business School

Whiff of hypocrisy in attacks on MPs

There is a strong smell of hypocrisy in the air about parliamentary expenses. In my experience, if it is possible to claim for expenses, people invariably claim the maximum allowed. And I am sure that includes the journalists running the witch-hunt of MPs.

Most MPs could earn more outside Parliament, but they cannot vote themselves a pay increase without an outcry, led by the tabloids.

Let us at least allow MPs to claim for the money they spend. Or do we want to go back to the days when only gentlemen of independent means could afford to stand for Parliament?

David Foster

Whatfield, Suffolk

We run our own independent business, a gift shop. We are one year old and doing well, despite the climate (and that also includes the rain). We take what we can out of the business to enable us to run our house, feed the kids and so on.

We are limited by law as to what we can claim as business expenses, and should we overstep the mark the tax office would presume our guilt and rip us to shreds in an effort to ensure we have not falsely claimed, and if need be bankrupt us and take us to court for fraud.

We are horrified that the MPs who pronounce such concern towards people on the street and how they are coping with the recession – homes repossessed, increase in prices, loss of jobs – have during this period been fleecing the taxpayer to such a degree.

Sean Kyne

Caroline Andrews

Sunninghill, Windsor & Maidenhead

I disagree with Michael Brown's article calling for higher salaries for MPs (9 May). They are currently paid more than £65,000 per year, which is three times the average British salary; they are then paid again, in full, for their meals, travel, accommodation, furniture, council tax, utilities, household goods, groceries, entertainments, musical instrument tuning, personal security patrols and any other conceivable expense that a working home owner could have.

We don't need to increase their salaries to end this scandal, we need to stop all expense claims and let them meet their living expenses out of their wages (like the rest of us).

Paul Tyler

Canvey Island, Essex

One of the most nauseating aspects of the revelations about the excessive expense claims by Tory MPs is the memory of them at their party conference some years ago, vigorously applauding a colleague who was attacking single mothers for claiming a few pounds a week in benefits to feed and clothe their children, while the same MPs were milking the taxpayers of tens if not hundreds of thousands of pounds in excessive claims. Paying these back is not a virtue but an admission of guilt.

Jack Campbell

Steyning, West Sussex

MPs claim expenses for nappies, bath plugs and pornographic films, but most cannot find the money to pay the basic minimum wage to many of the staff who work in their offices. Under the guise of an "internship" young people are acting as MPs' employees for months without pay. There is a culture of exploitation in Westminster which needs to be debated alongside the current expenses scandal.

Rosanna Rickett

Alexander Try

Interns Anonymous, London N1

According to Hazel Blears and other MPs, it's "the system" wot dunnit. I'm surprised that they don't go the full Monty (Python) and put the blame where it clearly belongs, with "society".

Keith O'Neill


In defence of school worship

I am a firm admirer of your columnist Johann Hari and have on many occasions quoted him as an atheist voice with credibility and integrity. I would like to lend my support to his call (8 May) for a rethink about collective worship in schools having a predominantly Christian bias, indeed having any religious bias at all.

However, in mitigation, I must say that Johann's portrayal of the average collective worship as manipulative, coercive and indoctrinating does fly in the face of my own experience of it, which is that it is mostly very sensitively and appropriately conducted and conducive to the encouragement of spiritually and moral and ethical development within a broadly Christian context. I have never known it be heavily evangelistic. However, Johann makes good points and I continue in my enthusiasm for what he has to say.

Dr Tim Ellis

Bishop of Grantham

Schools refraining from Christian assemblies is not neutral (Letters, 12 May), it is rational – the rational default position in respect of publicly contested belief. Schools do not assume belief in djinn – Muslim theological justification does not suffice to warrant it; they should not assume belief in God or Christ – Christian theological justification does not suffice to warrant it.

John J Shepherd


Grandfather of the nest box

I was delighted to read the article on "John Masefield's swallow" (9 May) and have ordered the book to which it refers. This John Masefield (usually known as J R B Masefield, to distinguish him from his distant cousin John Masefield, the poet) was my grandfather, whom I remember well from my childhood.

He was an amateur naturalist of broad interests, on which he produced various papers and at least one book. He has a second distinction in connection with the study of birds, in that he was a pioneer in the design and use of nest boxes; I believe his publication in 1897, Wild Bird Protection and Nest Boxes, is probably the first in this country to cover this subject. The barn owls that nested in his barn were well known to me as a child.

Joan Benner

Hampton, Middlesex

Victim of campus neurosis about sex

It is indeed tragic that Derek Walcott has been forced to withdraw from the election to the Chair of Poetry at Oxford because of unsupported allegations of sexual harassment made in a university tutorial twenty years ago.

His case illustrates the neurotic PC attitudes to sex in American academia. I am sure that when he was teaching at Harvard, he would have been warned never to meet with women students without a chaperone and to have kept the office door wide open. Most American universities require academics to undergo a compulsory training course in sexual harassment as a condition of contract.

I have worked in an American universities for over twenty years and learned always to be vigilant in dealings with members of the opposite sex. Even a perfectly unblemished record and total innocence might not be enough to save one from a vindictive false charge. Sexual harassment is the only offence in American schools which does not permit a defence – mere accusation is enough to get one dismissed. There is never due process.

Chris Payne

American University in Bulgaria

Blagoevgrad, Bulgaria

Mirage of 'choice' in public services

Alan Milburn's political vision of the future ("More state is not the answer", 7 May) makes for grim reading. If the most visionary image he has of the future is of citizens spending their declining spare time poring over reams of internet data to help decide which schools to transport their children to or which GP, hospital or indeed treatment to choose, then it a sad day for Labour, new or old. "Choice" for public services is the mirage in the desert of traditional political thinking.

If this so-called citizen empowerment is the key to activating politics, I suggest he considers giving the public the choice on whether to go to war, invest billions in nuclear weapons, subsidise factory farming or car manufacture with taxpayers' money, or so many other issues on which politicians of so many similar hues tend to consider the population too dim to consider sensibly.

Or maybe we need leaders who are courageous enough to make unpopular decisions because the best experts we have tell them what is needed, such as 20mpg urban speed limits, drug legislation, carbon rationing, and exponentially increasing tariffs for big users of our dwindling raw materials.

Dr C Bannon

Crapstone, Devon


No flies on him

Man Ray may have been a brilliant photographer, but he was no entomologist. The insect in his photo Fly and Landscape (Life, 13 May) is clearly a vespoid – a wasp or a hornet.

Dr Matthew Cobb

Faculty of Life Sciences University of Manchester

Name for scandal

Yes, there is an appropriate home-grown suffix to replace "-gate" (letter, 12 May): it is "-minster", as in Sleaze- minster, Troughminster, Rotminster, or Flipminster. And it looks as though almost every MP will have his or her own personalised one: Plugminster, Hedgeminster, Nappyminster, Moatminster – the potential list is endless.

Michael J J Day

Settle, North Yorkshire

Fighting child abuse

Indiscriminate sacking of social workers will not end the extremes of child abuse ("Sacking social workers will not stem this tide of depravity", Dominic Lawson, 5 May). However, a moral solution based on the churches cannot be the answer either – not least because long-term institutional or residential abuse inflicted by ecclesiastical agencies has also been a hazard for children. Compared with other professions, social workers have only recently begun to be subject to more rigorous qualifications and professional training. Looking for "best practice" is surely relevant at this time.

Jim Waddington


McKellen's origins

Your Godot reviewer (11 May) refers to Ian McKellen as "Boltonian". He was born in Burnley and moved to Wigan when a just few months old. Only when he was about 12 did the family move to Bolton. We who were born in Wigan think of him as a Wigan lad.

Godfrey Keller


Smokeless pubs

The best way to settle the argument about the impact of the smoking ban on the pub trade (letter, 8 May) would be to allow smoking in pubs. Then we will see who is right.

Adrian Durrant

Eastbourne, East Sussex