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Wednesday 25 November 2009
Letters: The higher education industry
Quality plummets in the modern industrial university
I would not be surprised if the scam operated by London Metropolitan University (report, 23 November) were only the tip of a very large iceberg.
Modern higher education is an industry. The activities of LMU have come to light in the very week that control of the universities passed from the Department of Education to Peter Mandelson's Department of Business.
The motivation of the modern university, with precious few exceptions, has moved from scholarly excellence to the mass production of the end-product, a university degree. Lip-service is paid to quality, but no one believes anything other than that standards are going inexorably down and have been for years.
In this mad scramble for market share, demand is systematically managed – "If you haven't got a degree, you won't get a job" – while academic staff, many of whom entered the profession out of a sense of scholarly vocation, find themselves demoralised by low salaries, poor promotion prospects and falling status. Promotions are never given for academic success or teaching effectiveness. Rather they are awarded to the bureaucrats, the report writers, the committee attenders and above all to those who recruit the most students.
So expeditions are sent out all over the world to try to con students at foreign schools to pay through the nose to sign up for the exciting new degree course in Rock Music Studies. It is little wonder that many universities have become little more than remedial A-level establishments. It is little wonder that drop-out rates are high.
When I worked in British higher education, I was regularly threatened: "If we don't get the students in, you will all be out of a job."
There are London Metropolitans all over the country.
Questions for the Iraq inquiry
The answer to the question in your caption "Does this picture show British soldiers broke Geneva Conventions?" (24 November) is no, not by itself. A picture merely proves what was in front of the camera when the photograph was taken. Only when you are aware of the surrounding circumstances can you say whether a violation has been committed and, if so, by whom.
No doubt the Chilcot inquiry will address the questions that this photograph prompts, such as whether necessary, reasonable and short-term measures were being taken to secure the detainees prior to their evacuation, or whether the detainees themselves had committed war crimes by firing at British troops while masquerading as civilians.
Senior Fellow, Lauterpacht Centre for International Law,
University of Cambridge
The Bruce Anderson writing about how the Iraq war was predicated on a falsehood (23 November) is the same Bruce Anderson who was so staunchly bellicose at the time? If even he is admitting that Blair took the country to war mendaciously, then it will say a great deal of our prevailing moral health and ethical standards if this is not seen as a most heinous crime.
Blair stated that he "believed" Saddam had weapons of mass destruction, not that he "knew". In consequence of our having gone along with this, hundreds of thousands of people are now dead, and the world remains a terrifyingly unsafe place.
I trust you will give as much space to the arguments against Britain's illegal, immoral and unjust wars in the Middle East as you have given to David Davis' polemic supporting General McChrystal's call for 40,000 extra troops for Afghanistan ("Crunch time for a botched mission", 19 November).
One of the objections is that a major condition for a just war is that the action must be proportionate to the offence. Since the start of Britain's "War on Terror" the worst terrorist attack on UK soil has resulted in the deaths of 52 people (7 July, 2005) whereas well over a million Iraqis and Afghans have died. This is not proportionate.
Other conditions include that war must be the only way of responding to a major and mortal attack and that all other options have been tried and failed. None of these conditions have been honoured.
Surely it is time to stop emphasising the party political posturing on these appalling wars and take seriously those who want us to move on from the colonial thinking of previous centuries. The world needs peace so that it can focus on the other dire problems which beset us all.
The picture you paint of the scale of the international presence in Afghanistan (17 November) is incomplete. As a Danish national I notice in particular that Denmark's military contribution is not mentioned.
There are about 1,400 Danish troops in Afghanistan, and while I was in Denmark for four days in the middle of September every day brought news of yet another Danish soldier killed. Other Nordic countries such as Finland also contribute both to the military efforts and to the efforts to build the country's governance.
Whatever your opinion, no one is immune to this any longer.
Nuclear power is less harmful
Much of the correspondence about climate and energy provision is seriously lacking in knowledge of the physics.
A Wills (letter, 13 November) deplores the pollution in CO2 terms produced by the mining and use of nuclear fuel. Coal and oil have exactly the same drawbacks, with the addition of liberation of the other intense climate warming gas – methane. The scale of uranium mining is tiny, 200 grams of raw uranium ore in a standard fission reactor being equivalent to 16kg of fossil fuel.
Nuclear waste is small volume and manageable. Its total of 760ml per person per year compares with the 5.5 tons of CO2 per person per year into the atmosphere from fossil fuel, plus the four million tons of ash from 10 coal-fired power stations.
Future supplies of nuclear fuel may well be derived from the oceans, and reactor design is in development to further improve efficiency. Decommissioning costs are estimated at 2.3p/kWh which compares with the current subsidy of 7p/kWh to offshore wind.
Politicians should be compelled to do the sums and tell us how they propose to meet our energy needs.
Easter Compton, Gloucestershire
Women in danger around the world
Yasmin Alibhai-Brown wrote: "The truth is that all nations would prefer it if women went back indoors again." (23 November) The sad reality is that "indoors"' is exactly where many women around the world are least safe.
Violence against women and girls is one of the most widespread abuses of human rights, affecting one in three women globally. It is not only a major cause of death and disability, but it is also a leading factor in global poverty. Violence prevents women and girls from escaping poverty by limiting their choices and ability to access education, earn money or participate in political and public life.
Physical and sexual violence is routinely used in many countries to intimidate and control women and girls as well as their families and communities, both in conflict and in "peaceful" societies. Yet violence perpetrated against women and girls continues to be invisible and unacknowledged as a pressing global issue. The international community's silence means that this global scandal goes unchallenged.
Today (25 November) is the International Day for the Elimination of Violence against Women. Ending violence against women worldwide requires leadership from committed governments like the UK's.
As a signatory of all the relevant international conventions and fresh from publishing its first violence against women strategy, it is time for the British government to put violence against women and girls at the heart of its international agenda, by making it a foreign policy priority.
Jessica Woodroffe, UK Gender and Development Network;
Claire Melamed, ActionAid UK;
Marie Staunton, Plan UK;
Southall Black Sisters;
Janet Veitch, End Violence Against Women;
Sue Turrell, Womankind Worldwide;
Graham Bennett, One World Action;
Geoffrey Dennis, CARE International UK;
Peter Grant, Tearfund;
Vivianne Hayes, Women's Resource Centre
Living in a global crowd
Terry Pugh (letter, 19 November) believes we should be unconcerned by our ever-growing population since there are many benefits in city living. He contends that economies of scale, creativity and competitiveness increase with population, and that successive waves of immigration have brought immense benefits to this country. This last is self-evidently true.
However, it is controversial to suggest that creativity and competitiveness depend on absolute numbers of people. The Renaissance and the Age of Enlightenment dawned before the appearance of cities with 8.5 million people.
We are but 60 per cent self-sufficient in food. With growing numbers, more land goes under housing, as the need for food increases. As global warming develops, accelerated by general population growth, sources of food will ultimately, despite technical advances such as GM foods, become scarcer, and readily available only to the highest bidder.
As for other species, we shall increasingly squeeze them out by appropriating or damaging their habitats. It may be possible to fit 70 million or indeed 170 million people into Britain, but do we want to exist in such an impoverished and cramped environment?
A humane end for lobsters
I was delighted to see your article by Andy McSmith "I'll have my lobster electrocuted, please" (21 November). There has been a great deal of research on pain in invertebrates and it has been discovered that most of these creatures have opioids – analgesics – for pain relief. It seems odd that they are necessary unless the animals are capable of feeling pain.
Because they don't have brains, it is assumed that they don't feel anything, but lobsters have ganglia, similar to brains, at each segment of their body, (crabs have two) and if one is destroyed, the others will still have sensation. Some methods of killing crabs and lobsters are quite horrific, given these facts.
Simon Buckhaven is to be congratulated on working to create a way of causing crustaceans the least suffering, if any, when they are killed. We would like to see an end to all killing, but that is for the future, and until that day, all creatures should be treated with the greatest care and respect and never put through any terrifying and painful ordeal.
The Shellfish Network, Woking, Surrey
In Japan people cycle on roads, pavements, all over the place (letter, 19 November). This causes no problems because they do it quite slowly on identical old-fashioned upright black bikes and they respect pedestrians. That's the difference.
It is understandable that a short obituary often omits some of the salient details of its subject's life and career. It is nevertheless odd that your piece on the late Belgian politician Pierre Harmel (23 November) makes no mention of the fact that he was prime minister of Belgium from July 1965 to March 1966.
Not all bad news
I am delighted that, following the floods, the engineering expertise of Network Rail will result in a new station being built at Workington North within seven days. Perhaps it is too much to hope that 314.4mm of rain in 24 hours will flood the low-lying parts of Ilkeston, Derbyshire, so that similar engineering expertise will end a wait of more than 30 years for a new station.
What's in a name?
Many years ago I had cause to give my name to a representative from a rival newspaper (letter, 23 November). I gave him my name and then automatically spelt it out for him. He looked at it for a long moment and then said: "That's a very unusual name. Are you sure you've spelt it correctly?"
I found the headline, "So what do you do?", to your photograph of the Prince of Wales and Chief Tashka Yawanawa (20 November) somewhat condescending. After all, it simply shows one titular head of tribe speaking to another titular head of tribe, one out of, the other in ceremonial uniform.
Dr Brian Fisher
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