Letters: Lecturers' pay

Lecturers caught in clash between scholarship and business
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The Independent Online

Sir: One important reason why the pay talks between lecturers and universities have reached stalemate is a clash of two cultures which will always be difficult to reconcile.

Academics tend to consider that the major function of a university is to teach ideas, values, skills and knowledge to each new generation of students. Unsurprisingly, they see themselves as the most important group in a university and view others in the institution as being there to support them. The positive side of this is a high level of self-motivation and a collegiate outlook.

Those who run our universities increasingly see them as a business and use as the measure of their success the degree to which they can "grow" that business. Unsurprisingly they expect to receive large pay rewards and the status which results from wealth and position. To them academics are just another group who need to be managed, evaluated, monitored and "trained". Critical appraisal by academics of "growth at any price" is seen as obstructive.

Whilst universities insist they have no more money for academic salaries it does not go unnoticed that there always seems to be oodles of money to create new posts or offer training if you can just use the right buzzwords: inclusion, widening participation, disability discrimination, ethics, teaching and learning, e-learning, enterprise and intellectual property rights all seem to have an open-sesame effect.

Taking a tough line in the hope of getting the dispute settled quickly may seem an attractive option to employers in the short term but it ignores the fact that the two sides do have to continue to work together long after the dispute is settled.

The growth of internet technologies has the potential to transform the nature of the teacher-student relationship; increasing student plagiarism has the potential to destroy the value the degree classification system; the idea that a degree is just another consumer item to be bought has the potential to destroy the notion of scholarship. Finding effective answers to these problems will require co-operation. I hope that our employers realise this.



Fear and anger after Forest Gate raid

Sir: I live in the area in which 250 officers conducted a raid on a house in Forest Gate on Friday. My immediate reaction was a mixture of dread and scepticism.

Scepticism at another intelligence-led operation, of the kind which led this country to a disastrous war in Iraq. Basic facts about this case have not been established, yet there is a feeling that these men's guilt has already been assumed. The fact that previous raids conducted in the full blaze of the media have yielded so little in terms of arrests and prosecutions under anti-terror legislation should make us all feel uneasy at the fear and anger left behind long after the media jump on to the next story.

Most people I have spoken to believe these raids are designed to create fear within the Muslim community, and if that is the case it is working. The sensationalism of the press coupled with the heavy-handedness of the police and the unwillingness of community leaders to provide a strong response to the rumour mill will further the alienation of Muslims in the area, and this is not conducive to cohesive community relations.



Sir: It is still early in the police investigation into the possible "chemical weapons" in Forest Gate, but already a familiar pattern is emerging.

An unarmed man has been shot during a police operation, and the force are "unable to comment due to an IPCC inquiry". The next step is usually unattributed "police sources" giving unbelievable accounts of what happened, refusing to change their story until proved wrong. Remind anybody of Jean Charles de Menezes? It's way past time that the police were more open and accountable, and stopped hiding behind a hugely exaggerated terrorist threat.

After more than a thousand arrests under anti-terrorist laws, producing a scant 23 relevant convictions, one would hope that senior officials within the police and Home Office would realise that they are burning up public trust and goodwill at an alarming rate. Is the cure proving to be worse than the disease?



Sir: If a mistake has been made in an effort to catch someone who is suspected of making a bomb, the police must say so. The public would be very understanding of that. If however there is any feeling that there is an effort to cover up, the public will lose confidence in the police.



Sir: The news of 250 police officers being used in a massive "terror" raid on a two-up two-down house in east London raises questions over use of police resources.

Were quite as many officers needed? How much consideration was given to the public relations impact of launching a raid in such a way? This operation came hard on the heels of the use of 78 officers at a cost of £27,000 to take away peace campaigner Brian Haw's banners from Parliament Square. These vast expenses of manpower need to be placed against the appallingly low clear up rates of crime.

Some questions need to be asked regarding the management of police resources and the service being provided to the public.



Sir: After the latest anti-terrorist raid in Forest Gate the usual suspects are queuing up to condemn the police and security forces before the full facts are known.

The words "dawn raids", "heavy-handed policing", "insensitivity to Muslims", "Jean Charles de Menezes" and "excessive numbers and force" figure prominently. These are the predictable outbursts of anti-police hysteria led by the usual crowd of liberal lawyers, activists and apologists for Islamic violence.

Why are sympathisers with Muslim extremists allowed radio and TV time to attack the police? Eleven months on from the 7 July horrors are we too complacent to stand up and support the police and others who put their lives on the line for the British public?



Sir: On your front page (5 June) you referred to the two victims raided by 250 police in Forest Gate as "the suspects". After shooting a man, surely the suspects are, as in Stockwell, Sir Ian Blair's police?



Cost of living in London

Sir: Your report of the Greater London Authority's updated report on the living wage for London ("Cost of living in London soars to record high", 30 May) rightly flags up the impact of price rises on those on the lowest incomes. It was incorrect, however, in suggesting that the cost of living has increased in London by more than 5 per cent, or that the report states that inflation is higher in London than in the rest of the UK. The report does not look at average prices in London but only the situation of the low paid.

In fact, as the report makes clear, the 5 per cent increase in the living wage (from last year's £6.70 to £7.05) is due to a combination of factors, including increases in the prices of the goods and services that make up the typical "shopping basket" of low-income households, in particular the increased costs of fuel, household services and council tax and changes in the way the figure is calculated.



When Ken Loach put on a school play

Sir: In your feature on Ken Loach (30 May) you state that he realised his attraction to the theatre only when he was up at Oxford.

I can assure you this is untrue. When I was a housemaster at King Edward VI School in Nuneaton, we held an annual one-act-play competition. Each house's play was directed by a master, with the exception of Ellyot's House, whose entry was directed by a fifth-former, one Ken Loach.

He beat the lot of us. I may or may not have succeeded in teaching Ken some biology, but I can tell you he taught me all I know about theatrical direction. Even as a teenager, he was passionately devoted to the theatre. I am gratified to learn that he found his schooldays pleasant. It was certainly a pleasure to teach him.



Foolish affair of the Curragh 'mutiny'

Sir: Neither English Tories nor "left-wingers" are objective or knowledgeable when dealing with Ireland. Jim Cordell (Letters, 31 May) did not know that the 1914 Home Rule Act received Royal Assent. It was suspended for the duration of The First World War.

Mr Cordell's "treasonous plot" of March 1914, which supposedly involved half the Army, was much less exciting. J E B Seely, the War Secretary, foolishly asked the top brass to take informal soundings, about a possible "invasion" of Ulster. Brigadier-General Hubert Gough inquired whether his cavalry officers, at the Curragh, wanted to head north. Fifty-seven of them, many with Irish relatives, said that they would prefer not to go. The War Office agreed the Irish officers could disappear, for a few weeks, if the operation went ahead. The Liberal press cried "Mutiny!"



Rescued by knight in a white van

Sir: I am compelled to add to the correspondence about cycling. Having cycled in London I can unfortunately see all sides.

I too have been annoyed at cyclists who seem blind to red lights, who jump on pavements to avoid traffic jams and generally cycled faster than me. I also recognise the impossibility of cycle-paths.

But my most abiding memory of cycling in London was after I was cut up on Lancaster Gate by a female driver (obviously no solidarity there), a vehicle came screeching to my side and Mr White-Van-Man stuck his head out of the window and said: "Are you all right, love? Do you want me to get her for you?"

Stunned as I was, I feebly nodded and he sped away, cutting up several other motorists in the process of exacting my revenge.

I now live in Bangkok, where if you walk on the pavements, you need to watch out for the motorbike taxis speeding up behind you, dodgy paving slabs that rear up in your face and the dogs sniffing your ankles for fresh meat.



Sir; Thank you for encouraging the cycling correspondence which has produced a wide range of interesting views. As a safe cycling campaigner for many years, one thing still puzzles me.

On stretches of the A34, Winchester to Oxford road, and on recently built sections of the A43 past Silverstone, one metre-wide cycle lanes are clearly marked on dual carriageways, maximum permitted speed 70 mph. On motorways there is a three metre-wide strip at the side and the maximum permitted speed is still 70 mph. Cyclists are not permitted on the latter although they would be far safer than on the A roads.

The Ministry of Transport has never produced a convincing argument why the more dangerous cycle lanes are encouraged, and the less dangerous forbidden.



The Blairite way with legislation

Sir: A newspaper publishes a story in the morning. By tea-time, the Government has promised new legislation. In months, a clause composed of ill-thought-out drivel will be put into omnibus legislation and force-marched through the Commons. Then either the Lords will save the Government from its folly (and be abused for it) or the lawyers will earn a lot as it works its way through the courts.

Does no one in the present administration have enough testicular fortitude to say, "There might be grounds for doing something about this. I'll think about it and let you know"?



Scorpion or shrimp?

Sir: The picture accompanying the piece on new species from Israeli caves (1 June) is not a scorpion, as captioned, but a crustacean. Apart from the uropods where the missing sting should be, the specimen has too many legs and antennae to pass muster. Its general resemblance to a crayfish or lobster should have been a bit of a clue.



Standing room only

Sir: In case the nation is carried away with enthusiasm for burying the dead standing, may I add a note of caution? Many older cemeteries and churchyards do not have the space for the circular excavator mentioned by Robin Allington (letter, 2 June). Where hand digging is the only option, and it's very common in south Lincolnshire, it's obvious that a vertical grave is impractical. And the high water table already makes burials a challenge in some areas. Just off to brush down the Prayer Book's service for Burial at Sea ....



Humble honour

Sir: Michael Winner is under a misapprehension if he believes, as reported, that by accepting the offer of appointment as OBE he would be in danger of being bracketed with toilet cleaners. Such humble persons, if recognised at all, would receive an offer at MBE level, alongside such other nonentities as the Beatles and the Ashes-winning England cricket team (not to mention my humble self). Whatever its shortcomings, the honours system does attempt to recognise merit of all kinds, not just those of which Mr Winner might approve.



Ticket to confusion

Sir: I'm confused. Last year I came up from Exeter to London to go to a Prom. I travelled by train; the train ticket cost £26.50. I'd like to come up again this year. The cost of the train ticket: £59, despite wanting to book three months in advance. Inflation at over 100 per cent? Perhaps I'll drive, or fly instead. Never mind global warming. Or maybe I'll stay at home and write a joined-up transport policy. It couldn't be much worse than the one we've got. Who's responsible? How do we get out of this mess?



Prescott's legacy

Sir: John Prescott has said: "If I have anything of a legacy it will be to see Labour win a fourth term" (report, 2 June). He's joking, right? After his recent performances he hasn't got a legacy to stand on.