Letters: Poor students stay near home

These letters appear in the print edition of The Independent, 20 June, 2013

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One factor which seems to have been missed in the debate about the fall in applications to Russell Group universities from state school pupils and poor students is the huge increase  in pupils choosing to attend a local university.

This has been particularly noticeable over the past decade, and when questioned students invariably cite cost, as they can choose to live at home if money is or becomes tight. In two local selective schools, up to 40 per cent of pupils now elect to attend local universities and colleges. Although the Russell Group is pretty well represented geographically, there are large areas of the country where this is not the case.

It is particularly sad that a kind of parochialism and social apartheid founded on cost has crept into the university system, as two fundamental advantages of the university experience are being lost: first, the chance to mix with a wide range of students from different geographical areas and backgrounds; second, the opportunity for students to become socially mature and independent by taking responsibility for themselves at an early age.

J R Whelan, Bebington, Wirral


G8 fails to get tough with tax avoiders

The pledges made on tax avoidance at the G8 summit have come under fire. What did anyone expect of the G8? Words. Not a penny more in tax will be paid by Amazon or any of the other companies who operate intricate webs of offshore companies to avoid tax.

As an independent bookshop owner, and the originator of the petition calling on Amazon to pay its fair share of tax (which now has 169,000 signatures ), I realise that there is only one solution. And that is for HMRC to stop pussyfooting about with big business and start calling the shots. All they need to do is start with the premise that Amazon does have a permanent establishment in the UK, and that it is therefore liable to pay Corporation Tax. What could be simpler? Why are they not laying down the rules instead of seemingly letting big business dictate?

Margaret Hodge as head of HMRC?

Keith Smith, Warwick


I don’t get why we need international assistance to enable us to tax profits generated here in the UK.

We don’t need help collecting VAT or business rates from businesses here, and Her Majesty’s Revenue and Customs already operates a scheme where businesses can pay a fixed percentage of their turnover to cover their corporation tax liabilities.

All we need do is say, “Profit here, tax here.” Surely we don’t need international organisation, taking years to enforce, to do something that simple.

Shahriyar saeb-noori, Torquay


What was to be achieved by the G8 leaders studiedly dives ting themselves of their neckwear and becoming tieless in Fermanagh?  

Did they think it looked impressive? Just ridiculously untidy, more like.

Roy Evans, Harpenden, Hertfordshire


No magic bullet for bovine TB

Your article on the pilot badger culls (19 June) fails to fully explain some of the key points around this emotive issue. Vaccination is not, and will not be, an instant cure for the problem of bovine tuberculosis. Everyone would like to see this terrible disease dealt with, but as the House of Commons environment committee said recently, vaccination is no magic bullet. 

Farmers are fully supportive of the idea of vaccines for both badgers and cattle. But, unfortunately, there is no vaccine available to protect cattle, and best estimates from the European Commission suggest it will be 10 years before a licensed vaccine is available. This is not merely because the BCG vaccine interferes with the current TB cattle test. The vaccine’s effectiveness is totally unproven in UK field conditions. Similarly, vaccinating badgers is not a viable alternative at the moment either, since it is costly, logistically challenging and of no use at all if a badger already has TB.

There is no single simple solution to TB. But the best available scientific information, and the experience of other countries, shows that tackling it on all fronts at the same time, including controlling disease in wildlife, can have a significant impact. The possible effects of perturbation identified in the article can be countered by using hard boundaries such as roads and rivers. The fact that 50,000 badgers a year are killed in road accidents shows boundaries like these will help to stop badgers spreading the disease to other areas.

We appreciate that there are strong views on this issue, and British farmers are acutely sensitive to public opinion. But getting on top of this dreadful disease is an urgent priority for them and the British public. When presented with the full facts about TB, people understand that a targeted badger cull is a necessary part of a package of controls.

Tom Hind, Director of Corporate Affairs, National Farmers Union, Stoneleigh Park, Warwickshire


Assange digs in for a long stay

How encouraging to know that Julian Assange has the strength to endure his comfortable if cramped hiding place for as long as it takes, maybe for ever (report, 18 June). The taxpayers of both Ecuador and Britain surely won’t begrudge the huge cost of this, in the interests of upholding his human rights. 

No doubt Bradley Manning won’t begrudge him the opportunity to escape the consequences of his actions, while Bradley faces the full force of the law. 

As for the Swedish women whose accusations of sexual assault remain unanswered, well they of course will realise that any violation of their rights is as nothing compared with the desperate situation of the unfortunate Julian. 

“Truth and consequences” was a popular game when I was a child, but apparently not one that Julian Assange ever played. No principled campaigner here: he did what he did because he could, not as a serious, principled act of truth-telling; and now he probably wishes he hadn’t.

Paula Jones, London SW20


Block paedophile porn at source

While the measures being proposed by the Government to block paedophile websites are laudable, I have a feeling that ministers still do not fully understand how the internet works.

Where internet access has been filtered or blocked in countries, during uprisings and civil unrest, the “rebels” often find ways of connecting and spreading their side of the story. These methods are available for evil as well as good intentions; the technology is neutral.

While the casual searches for this material will hopefully be blocked, it will not stop those who really want it. The only real way of preventing this material being available is to stop it at source.

This is where the foreign aid budget could really help. Funding law enforcement in countries where the pictures are created and uploaded will help far more than trying to plug all the possible ways of downloading the images in this country.

Sean Mulcahy, Caerphilly


Lane-changing for the planet

Your recent correspondence about middle-lane hogging causes me to wonder again about which is the best way to drive on motorways.

I try to be a good citizen and when I drive I limit my speed to reduce my carbon footprint. This means that I’m often in the slow lane between lorries. I wonder whether I then breath more of the pollution generated by the lorry in front of me, particularly more diesel particulates.

If to avoid this I go into to the middle lane and drive faster, however, I may be breathing cleaner air but I shall certainly be generating more pollution and increasing the cost of my journey.

Dennis Leachman, Reading


My local motorway is always so jam-packed with vehicles that the middle lane is usually the only option. Go in the left-hand lane and you’re chugging along at 50 with the trucks: go in the right-hand lane and you’ve got headlamp-flashing speed merchants on your rear bumper most of the time.

But my pet bugbear on motorways is the design fault that seems to affect mainly Mercedes, BMWs and Audis: their right-hand direction indicator never seems to work.

John Williams, West Wittering, West Sussex


Schools can’t trump parents

I must take exception to Gary Howse (letter, 15 June) when he blames the education system because a 17-year-old trainee at his firm couldn’t be bothered to get out of bed to come to work.

Wherever this lad went to school, his teachers would almost certainly have been the only adults in his life supporting and encouraging him to work hard, to gain good qualifications and to better himself. Alas, as every headteacher with a challenging intake knows to their cost, the complete lack of support and drive from the home background of a child can easily outweigh everything a school tries to do.

Please can we not blame schools for all of society’s ills?

Ben Warren, Headteacher, Summerhill School, Dudley, West Midlands


Hall fiasco

Andreas Whittam Smith has covered the Stuart Hall fiasco in style (19 June). The sentence of 15 months is obscene; an insult to the poor victims and an outrage to every thinking man and woman in the country. I just hope that the newspapers don’t allow this to slip into obscurity, and pressure will be sustained until the Attorney General acts to make the punishment realistic.

K Wheeler, Pembridge, Herefordshire


Fit punishment

A moral principle for dealing with reckless bankers should be, “Whatsoever a man soweth, that shall he also reap.” The appropriate punishment is poverty, not a prison sentence (“Bosses of collapsed banks should be sent to jail”, 19 June). An individual deemed reckless by the regulator should forfeit the liability protection enjoyed by directors and controlling managers of companies.

Peter Brooker, West Wickham, Kent


Bodily harm

FGM is not akin to GBH (letter, 18 June). Mercifully, the latter’s physical effects usually fade with time, although the psychological may endure longer. The physical effects of FGM last a lifetime.

Peter Lack, London N10


In bloom

I assure Peter Tallentire (letter, 19 June) that here too there is a glory of buttercups and ox-eye daisies the like of which I’ve never before seen. It almost makes it worth having endured that apparently never-ending winter.

Sara Neill, Tunbridge Wells, Kent