Letters: Putting a price on education

These letters appear in the Saturday 12th October edition of the Independent

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The Vice-Chancellor of Oxford University did not say that we need to be able to charge undergraduate tuition fees of £16,000. There is no suggestion that Oxford graduates should pay the whole cost of their education (report, 9 October).

Professor Hamilton did repeat the idea that over time higher charges should play a part in helping to meet the true cost of a world-class education, one from which no student would be excluded for financial reasons. He made it very clear that generous financial-support packages would remain firmly in place. Oxford currently has the most generous financial support for the lowest-income students of any university in the country.

Professor Hamilton said that £16,000 is the cost of an undergraduate education at Oxford, but the University has always been clear that this shortfall in funding needs to be addressed in a range of ways – including philanthropy, which has a big role to play. It is right that the University contributes towards the cost of teaching as it always has done.

Dr Sally Mapstone, Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Education), University of Oxford


While I was higher education spokesperson for the Liberal Democrats in the House of Commons, the Labour  government legislated for an increase in annual student tuition fees from £1,000 to £3,000. At the time I tried to persuade the University Vice-Chancellors to oppose this move.

Sadly they (and particularly those from the Russell Group, led by the then Vice-Chancellor of Oxford) argued that they needed more funding and that the only way they could get it was directly from the students. I warned them that their cause was futile, and that any extra money from students would immediately be matched by a reduction in grants from the government. I pointed out that what government first has to decide is how much of the national GDP is to be spent on higher education. Once that decision has been made what proportion then comes from general taxation, and what proportion from students makes no difference to the income of the universities.

You have quoted Oxford’s Vice-Chancellor arguing for yet another rise in tuition fees, because “most of the income from higher fees had to be spent offsetting government cutbacks”. Is it too much to hope that people of such eminence in academia would be intelligent enough, if not to get it right first time, at least to learn from their mistakes?

David Rendel, Reading, Berkshire


But of course! Now that UK Vice-Chancellors are earning salaries as large as American university presidents, British undergraduates must, clearly, be charged America-sized tuition fees! The average fees at US elite colleges are $24,000 – pretty well exactly the £16,000 figure Professor Hamilton floated – an interesting coincidence.

How I wish we could ask John Ruskin, Christ Church 1842, what he thinks about this step taken by the current leader of his alma mater.

Peter Smith, York


Badger-cull numbers just don’t add up

Environment Secretary Owen Paterson shamelessly states that “the badgers have moved the goalposts”. (Report, 10 October). This bizarre statement follows  the news that far fewer badgers have been slaughtered in the Somerset cull than would have satisfied Mr Paterson and his friends in the NFU.

Mr Paterson claims that the explanation for the lower kill rate is that there are far fewer badgers in the cull zone than they had previously... well, randomly guessed at.

Anyway, Mr Paterson now says that because there are fewer badgers than they thought, they will need another three weeks to get the slaughter number up to what they originally wanted when... um... they thought there were more badgers.

I hope at the next election the electorate will avenge the badgers by culling the Coalition.

Penny Little, Great Haseley, Oxfordshire

The numbers being put forward about the badger cull don’t make any sense. Previously the target was 5,000 badgers (70 per cent of the population). That would leave 2,143 badgers alive. The new target is 2,670 badgers. Assuming that’s the same percentage rate, that would leave 1,144 badgers alive. Even Owen Paterson isn’t accusing dead badgers of spreading TB, so surely it’s the live ones that matter. And the new target is almost twice as stringent as the old one, in terms of badgers left alive at the end of the cull.

What scientific justification is there for this?

Mark Walford, London N12


Badgers have always caused problems for UK politicians. Back in the early 1960s the late Earl of Arran (“Boofy” to his chums) introduced in the Lords at the same time legislation relaxing laws on homosexuality and curbs on badger baiting. The first bill succeeded, the second didn’t. Asked to account for this, he observed that there were plenty of buggers on the red benches, but – alas – not that many badgers.

David Walsh, Skelton, Cleveland


Walking won’t cure this diabetes

I wish that the “answer” to the death and misery caused by diabetes were as simple and straightforward as your report “Walking just 2.5 hours a week could prevent 37,000 deaths”  (7 October) suggests.

As Diabetes UK’s own website confirms, Type 1 diabetes (which accounts for between 5 per cent and 15 per cent of all cases in this country) cannot be prevented. The body’s immune system destroys the body’s insulin-producing cells, and nobody – not even the scientists who have been engaged in research into this issue for years – understands why.

My daughter Stephanie developed Type 1 diabetes at the age of 11. She died suddenly from complications of the disease when she was 17. She was not averse to walking or “a bit of gentle exercise”. She was, however, very upset by the ignorance of those who felt qualified to tell her that developing this pernicious illness was her own fault.

Sue Marks, Manchester

Whatever the miracle breakthrough reported – salt reduction, walking 2.5 hours a week – The Independent does indeed seem to offer immortality in assuring us that large numbers of deaths can be prevented. I know of nothing that actually prevents death (that would be front page news indeed) and at best these procedures can only be said to delay the inevitable.

Bernard Smith, Hailsham, East Sussex


What did Snowden really reveal?

Does new MI5 boss Andrew Parker (report, 8 October) really imagine that the rest of the world had not already strongly suspected the level of surveillance, or that those suffering drone bombing had  not connected their use of communications with knowledge of their location?  What Snowden revealed was already known, but his crime was to disturb the vanity of  the “intelligence industry” and oblige it to justify its intrusions. 

In the league table of threats to the UK, I would place Snowden right at the bottom, far below that from the actions of British intelligence agencies themselves and the insane policies of the US State Department.

Those insanities are themselves highlighted in Libya, where as a result of idiotic “anti-terrorist” intrusion into that sovereign state still in anarchy because of Western intervention, the marginally legitimate leader was incarcerated by an armed group protesting at such “intelligence-founded” intrusions. 

M J Benning , Wellington, Somerset


GCHQ is deemed to be our jewel in the crown that enables Britain to punch above its weigh. But worship of the Cheltenham-based panopticon is too high a price to pay given the attendant loss of liberty. Better to trade our place at the top negotiating table for a restoration of national integrity.

Yugo Kovach, Winterborne Houghton, Dorset


Tom Simpson asks (10 October) “We are told that the security services are preventing ... plots almost daily – but how do we really know?” One easy way to find out would be to tell them to stop doing it for, say, a year and see how many atrocities occurred in that time.  I hope Mr Simpson would head  the queue of volunteers clearing  up the mess!

Geoff S Harris, Warwick