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Thursday 2 December 2010
Letters: On student fees, the Lib Dems are the party of principle
While students demonstrated in the streets, Labour in the Commons ridiculed the possible three-way split among Liberal Democrats on the issue of tuition fees, and much of the media criticised Vince Cable for his indecision as to which way he will vote.
But the Lib Dems, whichever way they vote, will be doing so through "principle". Those who vote against, as my own MP has declared he will do, will be following through the pledge he made to his constituents in May. Those who abstain, such as Cable, will do so because of the clause in the Coalition Agreement which specifically provided for this. The Coalition came into being because the Lib Dems, on principle, believed they should support the party which had received the greatest support from the voters for the sake of creating a stable government.
Those who support the current proposals will do so either because they are members of the Government and believe in collective responsibility, or because they consider that Vince Cable's proposals will benefit those students who come from poorer backgrounds, as Nick Clegg illustrated in replying to Harriet Harman.
Labour introduced student-tuition fees in the first place, established the Browne Commission and appear to have no alternative plan themselves. To my mind the party of principle is the Liberal Democrats.
The Liberal Democrats did not win the election and are therefore unable to implement their full pre-election programme. Faced with conflicting priorities, they have persuaded the Coalition Government to deliver their manifesto commitment of "a fair chance for every child". A "pupil premium" will go to every deprived child, on top of existing budgets, to put extra resources into narrowing the attainment gap between the richest and the poorest.
New funding arrangements will tackle the present unfairness of student finance. Many of today's student protesters now accept that graduates should contribute to the cost of their education, especially as a degree increases lifetime earnings by more than £100,000. The argument is about the way in which this should be done.
For the first time, under the new proposals, part-time students will not have to pay their fees upfront. More generous maintenance grants will be available to those on low incomes, and the threshold for loan repayments will be raised.
The new proposals thus form a coherent approach to the issue of university and student finance and will allow able students (including part-timers) from low-income backgrounds to enter tertiary education on a level with their peers.
A sizeable proportion of university students arrive there from independent schools. Parents who have deemed that state education is not good enough for their children at a primary, junior or secondary level feel that it is OK to drop them back in for higher education. These students should be required to pay at least an average independent-school annual fee as their new student-tuition fee. Arguments that their parents have paid twice through tax for their education do not wash as they made, and had the financial ability to make, the choice. That choice was not made on cost but on their opinion as to the standard of state education.
For instance, here in Newcastle the Royal Grammar School charges in the region of £10,000 per annum while Eton and Westminster Schools charge around £30,000. And pupils from such establishments waltz off to state-funded universities and pay £3,250.
Now they are marching around our cities complaining of a possible rise in tuition fees that will actually not exceed their former school fees. If these students wish to see higher education for all, and not a return to an educated elite, they should back a means-tested system and accept a higher fee for ex-independent school pupils.
Newcastle upon Tyne
Police baton schoolchildren! Where? South Africa? No, in London at a well-behaved demonstration by students anxious about their chances for further education.
Taunted by irresponsible media when they made a more reasonable response to an earlier student march, they reverted to the colonial-style policing usually reserved for adult environmentalists. Don't they have children who want to go to university? What part of their training allows them to hit teenagers over the head?
I hope there is sufficient outrage from parents to prevent police behaviour from escalating. Demonstrations are legal; the police must stop behaving as if they are not.
Mary Dejevsky may have stumbled on the reason behind the huge rise in university fees (Comment, 26 November). She is probably right that more students are going to university than are needed by the economy. This will create competition for jobs which do require degrees and push down salaries.
Therefore, the Government is acting sensibly to reduce competition, by making a university education too expensive for the children of poorer families, and thus using market mechanisms to ensure that the children of Conservative voters continue to gain a university education and the top jobs.
The recent student demonstrations have produced results: Clegg is publicly discredited; the Lib Dems are split; Cable is reportedly ready to vote against a policy he has ministerial responsibility for. Well done direct citizen action. I mean citizen action done peacefully and within the law. Youthful energy and enthusiasm are not necessarily to be feared.
Am I the only one to remember that it was Tony Blair who broke his election promise and introduced student fees in the first place?
Yatton, North Somerset
Will Wikileaks tackle bankers?
I suspect I am not alone in being completely underwhelmed by the "revelations" produced by Mr Assange and his cohorts in their splurge of a load of leaked diplomatic communications. Do they actually tell us anything that anyone with a naturally cynical view of the operation of the higher echelons of government hadn't already believed? Doesn't everybody talk indiscreetly about everyone else behind their backs or in private?
Banks, however, are a different matter altogether. If Mr Assange really has got some dirt to dish on bankers and their slimy practices, then the sooner he puts it out there the better. I'm amazed that there aren't waves of protesters following the students' lead and marching on the City, a much more deserving target of national ire than the hand-wringing Mr Clegg. Since he and his Coalition partners are clearly going to do nothing to curb the excesses of the financial sector, perhaps more direct action is needed.
If Wikileaks can make a start by flushing out the many criminals masquerading as upright bankers then it will be doing the world a far greater service than it has by revealing a lot of low-grade diplomatic tittle-tattle.
In the light of the fact that thousands of pages of sensitive, classified data from US embassies have been put up for public display on Wikileaks, by what reasoning can we be asked to entrust our most sensitive, private data to the IT sector. If even the US government cannot protect itself from this scandalous example of a security leak, what chance do we have?
Newhaven, East Sussex
Young ignorant about HIV
Congratulations to Elton John for editing such an informative and relevant paper (1 December).
HIV/Aids is something that we should all strive to remember as we go about our daily lives.
As a co-ordinator of a volunteer-led LGBT (lesbian, gay, bisexual, transsexual) youth project, I am well aware of the impact that HIV can have on young LGB people. In supporting a young person recently who was facing an HIV test following the revelation that their ex-partner was HIV-positive, what was strikingly obvious was the lack of sex and relationship education specifically for gay and bisexual young men in Suffolk.
In discussing this with other young people it soon became apparent that sexual health information for LGBT young people isn't covered in school.
Praise should go to the Dutch where a youth charity has released on YouTube informative and direct videos of young people talking about LGB sex and sexual health.
We will use these to help our young people access quality information – it is shameful that the UK has no similar resources.
Co-ordinator, OutreachYouth, Suffolk, Ipswich
Sorry, but too much, way too much. I know it's World Aids Day again, but do we really need saturation coverage? As a gay man, I am very sympathetic to the cause, but I react very badly to being preached at, and your 1 December issue is preaching with a nail-studded baseball bat. It is the first time in a long time that it has taken me less than 10 minutes to read The Independent; it's 6.28am and I am already sick and tired of World Aids Day.
The inequity of massive salaries
I was intrigued by the reports (1 December) on the Hutton recommendations that top public-sector salaries should be no more than 20 times those of the lowest paid.
It occurred to me to consider how these matters might be managed within a smaller social group or community. Imagine trying to justify such differentials in a self-contained village of 500 people, or a town of 5,000.
If we are a society with a common aim – namely, our survival and prosperity – at what point in our growth does it become acceptable for one of our number to take for himself or herself a portion of the communal wealth which would otherwise feed, clothe and house 20 others? And how do we justify it?
Walkers who court death
I can only assume that Mr Wray (letters, 27 November) does not live or go much into the country.
In this part of Suffolk it is possible to travel miles without seeing a pedestrian. To be certain of avoiding them if they have no torch or high-visibility jacket on unlit roads at night is a worry, and luckily we have headlights. But to be certain would mean travelling at about 20 miles per hour or less over miles of empty roads.
That is why I am very glad that my partner carries a torch at night; and wears her high-visibility jacket when walking the dog, even in daylight. Bright sunshine can cast deep shadows that can make pedestrians invisible.
And not only pedestrians. I once had words with a cyclist riding in black clothes with no lights, after I missed him by inches.
During the war in the black-out, people were instructed to "Wear something white at night". Mary Dejevsky (16 November) is right. "See and be seen" should always be the order of the day. In country roads anything else is suicidal. It is arrogant of Mr Wray to suggest otherwise.
Don't let Julie get to you
The point about Julie Burchill (letters, 29 November) is that she is paid to be outrageous. She is like the child at the vicar's tea party who shouts "Knickers!" to enjoy the shocked reaction. Read it for amusement, and don't expect intelligent content; that way you won't suffer raised blood pressure.
St Ives, Cornwall
A theatre by any other name...
Although an admirer of Tom Sutcliffe as a perceptive arts critic, I consider his sideswipe at the renaming of the Cottesloe theatre unworthy and inappropriate (Culture, 26 November). Among Mr Dorfman's many contributions to the arts, the £10 tickets subsidised by the company he founded, Travelex, have made going to the theatre accessible to so many enthusiasts for whom it was previously an expensive and irregular treat. This patronage is all the more vital in an age of swingeing arts cuts. Tom Sutcliffe should be praising not deprecating.
Professor David Roodyn
Talbot's the man
Perhaps Talbot Church, The Man the Royals Trust, could use his influence to invite Wills and Kate to guest edit The Independent? Loyally yours,
The correspondence regarding your talented new columnist Talbot Church is interesting. Surely this is the welcome return of a previous writer, Cooper Brown, under a nom de plume. He's out there!
Enfield, Greater London
I'd have thought it easier, and kinder, to have told everyone about the shortage of Christmas trees rather than just warning "homeowners" (report, 1 December).
Perspectives on old age
Junk mail that targets the elderly
Within the next few days I shall be 70 years of age, and something very odd is happening to me.
It seems that all the databases to which I now seem to be umbilically tied, have tripped a switch. The other day I received a phone call asking whether I had any trouble getting into my bath. No. Did anybody else in the household? Mental calculation told me that my cat had absolutely no problems. No. "Well, you look after yourself, dear. Bye bye". In an hour someone is calling to see if I want a chain across my door to protect me from harmful intruders. I am informed that I shall need to be re-tested to drive my soft-top two-litre GTI (small and elderly, like me). My ears have just been tested. Do I need help? A little magazine pops through my door, all about knee-warmers and bath mats that don't slip.
As a local authority councillor and police authority member, I am acutely aware of the problems that all sections of this county's community are facing. Is it not ironic that, old and obviously doddery as I am suddenly defined to be in the eyes of society, I am standing for re-election next year, in order to continue to make decisions that I could not have made when I was younger?
I am off to get a blue rinse. Bye bye, take care, now...
Winter-fuel payouts for the deceased
Yesterday, I received my winter-fuel payment, as also did the father of a relative of mine who was over 80 and therefore entitled to a higher payment of £400. To be more exact, he did not receive the payment personally, but his estate did because he died on 1 October at two in the morning which entitled him to the winter fuel payment; if he had died two hours earlier his estate would have been out of luck.
Apparently the rule is that any person who is alive between 30 September and 30 November is entitled to the winter-fuel payment, even if they are no longer alive when the payment is made.
I have no knowledge of how many people over 65 die during this period every year, but it must be many thousands. In these straitened times, it is surely not too difficult to change the system so that taxpayers' money is not wasted in this way.
I'm a pensioner –not a 'burden'
I am tired of pensioners, myself included, being referred to in the media as a "burden on society". I have been contributing to society, through my taxes and voluntary activities, all my adult life. I still pay taxes. I still do voluntary work. In what way am I, and thousands of other retired people like me, a burden?
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