Letters: Too much education

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The Independent Online

Too much education can be bad for your employment prospects

Sir: I disagree with your correspondents who believe the Government should try to reverse the trend of fewer state pupils going to university (Letters, 26 July). On the contrary, it should encourage it.

I have just received a letter turning me down in my application for a fairly modest administrative job, because I cannot compete with the other applicants on skills and experience.

The reason I do not have sufficient skills and experience is that I spent four years in higher education studying for an upper second joint honours degree, therefore not gaining work skills directly relevant to the creation of wealth. This is why a degree can have an adverse effect on a young person's employability similar to that of a criminal record.

The Higher Education Statistical Agency has recently reported that a third of graduates are stuck in bar-work, shelf-filling and other menial jobs in which they often start at the bottom and stay there. If these talented young people had decided to go straight to work instead of university, they could have taken occupational training courses and prospered, instead of being condemned to a miserable life of anything from low-paid menial work to unemployability and economic inactivity.

Young people who can cope with a degree course to the benefit of both themselves and the university should go there only if they are wealthy enough not to have to work for a living, or if they are clairvoyantly certain that they will get a graduate job.

The lower down the social pecking order they are, the greater the likelihood that the class ceiling will prevent them from doing so. A faw-faw in your accent will often open more doors than a 2.1 after your name.



Facts about rights and about states

Sir: Dominic Lawson writes, "You don't have to be an anti-Semite to deny Israel's right to exist - but it helps" (28 July). States do not have rights, people do. The Parthian empire, Holy Roman Empire, Maya and Nazca states have no rights, neither do the Grand Caliphate, the Weimar Republic or Kurdistan.

A right associated with a state is a collective right of the people comprising that state. Here we have the confusion of the Jewish peoples with the state of Israel. By claiming all Jews as citizens, supporters of Israel claim any criticism of its actions to be a criticism of all Jews, although many are appalled by Israel's leaders.

The implicit claim that all Arabs and Palestinians therefore also belong to one state, so the Arab countries should house displaced Palestinians and Arabs divests Israel of responsibility for anyone else.

I am a descendant of a First World War hero (Iron Cross, 2nd class) who escaped from the Nazis in 1939 after being held by the Gestapo, and who was wounded in France while fighting for the Allies in the Second World War.

In the Jewish cemetery in Prague, I counted 64 people with my original family name (Schlesinger) sent to the concentration camps. Guiltily, I did not count the rest; there are too many.

I hope I am not an anti-Semite, but I find Mr Lawson's comments offensive, his arguments irrational and humanity lacking. He tells us of an increase in the non-Jewish population of Israel, which refuses return by Palestinians born there, and he forgets it welcomes Jews wherever they were born.

He refrains from addressing serious questions, such as what constitutes proportionate response to the Hizbollah attacks on Israeli towns, claiming that in war there is no such thing as a proportionate response.

Yet the international community has defined war crimes specifically to curb the excesses of war, so that disproportionate actions are deterred. When the IRA mounted its bombing campaigns in the north and the British mainland, the UK did not shell Dublin or destroy the bridges over the Liffey and Shannon. A proportionate response excludes attacking clearly marked Red Cross vehicles, an unarmed UN observation post, or civilian refugees whom you have just ordered to leave.



Sir: We in Israel are at war for our survival. We are fighting to remove the most evil and dangerous threat to our existence. Our defence forces take every precaution not to cause civilian casualties, but these are unavoidable in war, as Britain found in the Second World War, as happened with the Nato fighting in Serbia, the US/UK fighting in Afghanistan and Iraq. The list is long.

We apologised. We are devastated. We are holding an inquiry. Now there is a call for an international inquiry. Why? Is there to be an international inquiry on the unprovoked, deadly Katyusha attacks on Israel's northern cities?

Has there ever been an international inquiry into the hundreds killed and maimed in the many Arab suicide attacks on our citizens? No. The West shrugs, mutters and carries on. Only when Israel dares to rise and defend itself does the West wake up and protest. Hypocrisy and double standards are the West's key words for Israel.



Sir: I feel Tony Blair is not George Bush's puppy, and that he is genuine in his belief. But he must see that almost all intelligent, caring, humanitarian Europeans are convinced he is wrong, and the violence and mass murder should stop now.

For once in his life, Mr Blair should stop being stubborn, and have the common sense, and the courage, not to join Mr Bush, and the confused, isolated, adolescent, United States of America. As long as human beings are not civilised enough to respect those with different religions than their own, there will always be conflict.

We must stop wasting more innocent lives, and Mr Blair must bow to the majority, and listen to his conscience. If New Labour has even a trace of a connection with socialism, listen to the people. Stop the carnage now. Enough is enough.



Open Gateway to cleaner air

Sir: I much support Nicky Gavron's idea (Opinion, 20 July) of linking carbon-free zones and the Clean Air Act's smokeless zones. The latter, a brilliantly simple idea, probably made a bigger difference to our towns and cities than any other planning initiative of the 1950s and 1960s.

If Ms Gavron wants to make a start, why not on her own turf, in London's Thames Gateway? I have been campaigning for some time for it to become a new kind of national park; it could be the UK's first sustainable eco-region. The essential lesson from the Clean Air Act is that it was a brave example of political leadership, by the then equivalent of the Minister of Environment, Duncan Sandys. He was a great conservationist, ahead of his time, who got the Act through, in spite of opposition from much of Harold Macmillan's Tory cabinet.

Yes Nicky, your idea is great, but we need more than polemic from our political leaders: we need real proposals with money and timetables. So declare the first zone, the first step to an all-Thames Gateway carbon-free zone.



Religion is still homophobic

Sir: The Gay Police Association (Letters, 29 July) has drawn attention to what many refuse to admit, which is that homophobia is often fuelled by recourse to a faith-based defence.

Since acts of discrimination against gay and lesbian people are frequently and officially done in defence of the so-called values of Judaism, Islam, and Christianity, no one should be deceived into thinking that the biblical injunction to love your neighbour is consistently applied.

The distinction between orientation and practice, so favoured by literalists, and their apologists, is fundamentally flawed.

There is nothing isolated about the churches' habit of thinking and acting homophobically. Most faith leaders, and bodies controlled by them, still react with an instinctive preference for all that is heterosexual. Official faith bodies still routinely deny jobs, refuse the use of premises, decline advertisements, and attempt to browbeat those who challenge these widespread infringements of liberty and conscience.

Faith-based schools refuse to robustly challenge homophobia and cannot bring themselves to teach the moral equivalence between straight and gay, thereby sowing the seeds for another generation of faith-inspired discrimination.

The GPA has shown great moral courage by addressing these issues, and the crimes in their wake, than all faith leaders put together.



The jury is still out on the effects of khat

Sir: After pressure-group lobbying, the Government recently referred possible prohibition of khat to its Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (report, 1 August). The ACMD advised against classification of khat under the UK Misuse of Drugs Act 1971. The reluctance of the ACMD could be seen as a reflection of the present dissatisfaction with the scientific evidence base which informs drug-classification systems.

I and my colleagues have recently reviewed the extent to which use of khat can be detrimental to mental wellbeing. Only a few studies found a weak association between excessive khat use and psychological symptoms, but remain inconclusive about a direct causal link to mental illness.

Unfortunately, the inadequate designs of these studies have contributed to the general confusion about khat use and psychological problems. If the ACMD had accepted the proposal to ban khat on psychological grounds, then we would have moved away from a policy based on empirical evidence to one driven by pressure groups.

A better understanding of psychological impact of khat on users and their communities can be gained only by improving the quality of future neuroscience studies with the right (prospective) designs and adequate sample sizes.



Sir: I have seen some odd scientific reports but this drug survey takes the biscuit ("Drugs: the real deal", 1 August). Other surveys have shown moderate alcohol use to be beneficial, and that men who drink a couple of pints of beer a day are more healthy than non-drinkers. Should teetotalism therefore be on the list above alcohol?

My father was a regular beer drinker, known to consume 30 pints in a session. He also smoked Capstan Full Strength cigarettes. He worked for 52 years without missing a day through sickness and died aged 82. I suppose he would have had a healthier life if he had swapped his beer and baccy for a coke habit.

Mind you, both my father and his father could be said to have alcohol-related deaths. Dad had a fall on the way (note: to) to the club for a drink and suffered brain damage. This indirectly led to his death a couple of years later.

Grandad had popped across the road to get a bottle of beer from the off-licence but, on the way back, fell off the kerb and broke his hip. He died a week later aged 88. He did not break the bottle. I am off to the pub. I may be some time.



Disgrace on wheels

Sir: James Daley's cycling column (Motoring, 1 August) was a disgrace. His boasting that he rides through red lights and cycles on the pavement will be condemned by law-abiding cyclists everywhere. He proudly claims motorists hate him. As a daily cyclist, I hate him too. I am vulnerable enough without having motorists feel I am a legitimate target because of this man's ranting.



Westminster wings

Sir: Pandora (24 July) suggested Lembit Opik is the only Parliamentary aviator. In fact, there are three others in the Commons who are licensed: Nigel Griffiths (Labour, Deputy Leader of the House and helicopter pilot); Grant Shapps (Tory, fixed-wing); and me (who does occasional aerobatics). With four in the House of Lords (Viscount Goschen, Lord Rotherwick, Lord Trefgarne and Lord Stevens of Kirkwhelpington), we have formed the Parliamentary Aviators Group and campaign on an entirely non-partisan basis in support of general aviation.



No more room

Sir: Bringing more people into the country (report, 26 July) may be socially stimulating and economically expedient, but is it morally right? For 100 years Britain has looted other countries' brightest and best young people to do the low-paid jobs we choose not to do, stripping other countries of their skilled workers and leaving England much the most densely populated country in Europe. Now our environment is beginning to buckle under the strain, with water shortages and urban sprawl. It is clearly unsustainable.



Catch them young

Sir: YMCA England is alarmed that the number of male prisoners aged 18 to 20 is predicted to rise more rapidly than any other age group (Letters, 29 July). We are particularly concerned that the Youth Justice Board's target of a 10 per cent reduction in the numbers of young prisoners by March 2007 looks set to fail. More specialist attention must be given to offenders aged 18 to 25. This will help them mature and abstain from criminal behaviour more quickly, and reduce the prison population.



What goes round ...

Sir: Efficient electricity generation depends on maximising the temperature difference between two entities (31 August). If the ambient surface temperature of the Earth rises, most existing engines will become less efficient. At our present rate of progress on tackling global warming, our best bet is to reduce the rotation of the Earth to once a year, and utilise the temperature difference between the light and dark sides of the planet.