The government claims that tuition fees should not discourage students from going to university as they will not start repaying their loans until their incomes equal £21,000 a year. However, as Hamish McRae has indicated ("Our path to recovery has diverged from America's", 3 November), inflation is already way ahead of target and interest rates are likely to rise significantly by the time the next cohort of students graduate.
This will reduce the real value of net incomes and increase the real cost of repayments, assuming graduates can get a job in the first place. Given all this, ambitious students may well opt to qualify and then seek their futures abroad, given that loans will be written off after 30 years. How would that help us meet the need for doctors, engineers and other vital professions?
In proposing the increase in university fees (letters, 4 November), has no one done their sums? If graduates typically start with a debt of £30k, then with the increased rate of interest to be charged, only those with incomes around the higher-rate tax threshold will have any prospect of paying it off within the 30-year horizon. The majority will repay 9 per cent on income above £21k – indistinguishable from a 29 per cent tax rate on this band – over that entire period. Not so the better off: someone on £100k can expect to pay off the debt within six or seven years, at a significantly lower total cost.
Whatever the solution to the university-funding problem, this is not it. Even a straight graduate tax, which would be at a significantly lower rate, would be preferable to this ill-considered and regressive proposal. I can only hope that all the Liberal Democrats, including Messrs Clegg and Cable, will come to their senses before it is too late.
Dr Nick Kerry
Surely if the higher-education system is in such a calamitous crisis that it merits the fee levels proposed, based on personal loans, and huge debts on graduation, then should not every university grant given over the years be converted into a personal loan, repayable on exactly the same terms, eg current earning levels, as those proposed for the young today? After all, our generation benefited from free education, and we're all in it together now, aren't we?
Your article "Rebellion fears as tuition fees rise to £9,000" (4 November) rightly highlights the crisis facing Nick Clegg as he reneges on the pledge that he and every other Lib Dem MP made before the general election to vote against any increase in tuition fees.
But the anger of parents and future students will only increase when they realise that, in most cases, universities will be no better funded as a result. Fees are being driven so high because the Coalition Government has decided to cut public funding for teaching by 80 per cent.
The London School of Economic stands to lose all its teaching funding. Oxford and Cambridge between them will lose almost £56m a year in teaching funding. Sheffield Hallam will lose more than £63m and Kingston will lose more than £44m.
The huge cuts in the teaching budget puts at risk the world-class nature of our universities just when we most need them to be helping create new jobs in hi-tech, high-value industries. Students in England will now face the worst-funded and most expensive degrees of any the western world.
Nearly 15 years ago, Lord Dearing said that the cost of higher education should be shared between the taxpayer and graduates. That principle has now been broken without real public debate, yet it has huge implications for both students and for the long-term health of higher education in this country.
Gareth Thomas MP
Shadow Minister for Higher Education,
House of Commons, London SW1
In the debate about who should pay for a student's university education, one group has been strangely ignored by the Government; this group is the employers of these students for, surely, they benefit most from their employees having a university education?
Indeed, in some areas employers already pay. For example, large legal firms frequently pay for their trainees to take the professional Legal Practice Course, and the military pay for their officer candidates to take a university degree.
We could tax all employers to pay for universities, or require that employers of graduates pay off the employee's student loan as part of the employment contract.
Professor Ian Grigg-Spall
Kent Law School
The main reason why the proposed increase in tuition fees is wrong is simply that it does not serve the interests of the nation as a whole. This is already true with the current fee level. Obviously the proposal discriminates between rich and poor, but more importantly it rocks everybody's boat.
For a nation to succeed in a competitive world, it must provide top levels of education to the majority of its brightest young people, and the proposed policy does the opposite.
Furthermore, the claim that top English universities must compete with the best American universities is also wrong. American universities serve the interests of a society – the American society – which is significantly different from ours.
Lastly, no one in their right mind can seriously claim that with tuition-fee levels 30 times higher than those in French universities, for example, the standards of our universities are 30 times higher than those of their French counterparts.
Dr Daniel Julve
We should all be litter-pickers
Picking up litter is not just the job of the unemployed. We all have a responsibility to each other and society in general not to litter and to clear up litter.
As I walk along the street and I see a discarded cigarette packet, coke can or plastic bottle in my way and a litter bin further down the road, I bend down, pick up the litter then throw it in the bin. This is the job of a moment.
I am sorry to hear the Coalition is considering making picking up litter a job for people on benefits. Some local-authority workers are going to be made redundant because of it; also, making litter a task for those on benefits tends to suggest that litter is not the responsibility of the rest of us. If carried through, this policy will be another nail in the coffin of David Cameron's big society.
Frankly I find it difficult to understand why people drop litter at all. I also find it difficult to understand how people can walk past a crisp packet, or tin can on the ground, when there is a litter bin nearby and they are heading in that direction anyway.
Peterlee, Co Durham
Housing benefit: levy landlords
Since the high rents received by landlords arise because of the chronic shortage of housing, and not through the workings of a free market in accommodation, there is no reason why the taxpayer should continue to subsidise the sector (letters, 6 November). All housing benefits should be funded by way of a levy on landlords.
Stop relying on foreign labour
The comments by Matthew Sanders (letters, 28 October) demonstrate all that is currently wrong with the care, manufacture, and construction industries. If there is a lack of trained people and high unemployment, these industries should be training the unemployed so they have the skills required to work in these industries, rather than asking the Government to change the law so they can import as many workers as they need.
Decades of over-reliance on foreign workers and the belief that there will always be someone who will work for the lowest possible cost is why these industries are now having such severe recruitment problems.
Untangle our ties with Israel
We learn that, notwithstanding the embarrassment William Hague suffered at the hands of his Israeli hosts, we now nevertheless have to "look forward" to an early resumption of the strategic dialogue with this nasty regime ("Israel ambushes Hague over arrest warrants", 4 November). I think I am not alone in wishing that what we had to look forward to instead was a cancellation of the UK arms trade with Israel, and the downgrading of the EU-Israel trading agreement, at least until all settlements are evacuated, the armed occupation of the West Bank ended and the cruel siege of Gaza lifted?
French make firm allies
Terry Hancock (letters, 4 November) is quite right about French support in the Falklands crisis. In his memoirs, published in 2002, Sir John Nott, defence secretary at the time, says: "In so many ways... the French were our greatest allies."
He details the assistance they provided with Exocets, and the way they made available warplanes of types they had supplied in the past to Argentina, so that British pilots could train against them.
Nott contrasts this with the attitude of the Americans, whom he found much less supportive, because of what they perceived to be in their interests in South America.
Regarding defence co-operation with France, Tony Dixon (letter, 4 November) writes that the Americans will "view this new approach with deep suspicion". Tough. I'm sure I am not alone in believing that we are Europeans and that reducing our links with the US military-machine is long overdue.
Linlithgow, West Lothian
Supermarkets greedy for profit
I am extremely angry at never-ending supermarket offers of "two for the price of one". Today at the cheese counter in a shop which shall be nameless, there was hardly a block of cheese untouched by such pricing. To buy one block of cheese would cost £1.98, but I could buy two for £3.
If the store can make a profit by charging £1.50 a block, then why can we not buy it for £1.50? Over and over again this greed for profit attacks those least able to afford it and those living alone.
It seems to me that our history has been built on insatiable greed: slaves for the sugar plantations; cheap labour for the Panama Canal; Indians for the railways in Africa. Will it never stop?
Why compel police to retire?
I understand that police cannot be made redundant because they are "Crown servants". That is pretty crazy in the first place, but it is even crazier to suggest that savings can be made by enforcing early retirement (report, 4 November).
Who, other than the taxpayer, will pay for these enhanced pensions? One of the main causes of the structural increase in public spending in recent years is the substantial rise in the cost of public-sector pensions due to increased longevity. Much better to ask the police to work more of their remaining years.
You won't catch me in a cape
How I agree with Deborah Ross on the subject of capes (2 November). You can't drive with them on unless you hitch them over your shoulders, looking like Bat Woman on a bad day, because otherwise you can't get your arms far enough out to reach the steering wheel and gear stick.
And as for carrying a bag over your shoulder or a load of shopping, forget it – they are the most restrictive and awkward garments ever invented. They are no doubt designed for women who use cabs, carry little clutch bags and get their shopping delivered! Give me real sleeves any day.
St Albans, Hertfordshire
Flood risks from cuts
We know about global warming and the inevitable rise in sea levels; we experienced the floods in the west and the north-west during the past few years. And yet, this money-mad Government is going to cut the flood defence budget by 25 per cent; no wonder the insurance industry has taken fright; the consequence will be the abandonment of properties in at-risk areas.
Tydd St Giles, Cambridgeshire
Image problem for Cameron
Faced with the recession, David Cameron has joined old-age pensioners and the poor in taking austerity measures. Mr Cameron has at public expense employed only a photographer and a film-maker (report, 3 November). Cameron's painful sacrifice appears to be doing without the services of a make-up artist and a style guru.
Millions of pensioners and the nation's poor are also taking austerity measures by cutting back on heating and eating. The Coalition Government's mantra is that we are all in it together and have to tighten our belts. Sadly, millions have to tighten their belts far more tightly and painfully than others.
David Gould (letters, 2 November) is wrong – it is not possible for more than half of us to have below average intelligence because of, say, a "Rooney factor" – somebody so far off the scale that the average itself is moved.
IQ tests are not based on an average intelligence of 100 but a median intelligence of 100: exactly 50 per cent of the test sample will fall above, or below, 100.
Only last week I was discussing this with someone on an internet forum who assured me that this could not possibly apply to Americans, the overwhelming majority of whom "must" have IQs way above 100. Somewhat unwittingly, I think he proved my point.
Barford St Michael, Oxfordshire
In discussing whether more or less than half the country's population is of below average intelligence, John Hall (letters, 4 November), observes that in all walks of life really stupid people far outnumber really clever people. This is probably because you don't have to be unintelligent to be stupid, but if you are it helps.
Is average intelligence adequate in understanding what an average is?
Perspectives on the European Union
Irrationality of the Euro-sceptics
It may well be that "the phase when Europe destroyed parties has passed", as Steve Richards writes ("For the first time in four decades 'Europe' is no longer poisonous", 4 November). This is as much do with the state of the global economy, the Euro now being a "parked" issue, the unlikelihood of a major follow-up to Lisbon and a focus on making the Coalition divisions on Europe invisible.
But these issues are not static and may re-emerge as problems in a UK which now has a record number of Euro-sceptic MPs. An entrenching of Euro-scepticism, and an almost irrational hatred of the EU based on enduring myths, is a long-term problem for the UK. A case in point was the deeply embarrassing hostility to the EU, from mainly Conservative MEPs, in relation to the ECHR judgement on prisoner votes in the Commons this week. It was clear that many MPs didn't understand the difference between the Council of Europe and the EU, and laid into the EU with real hatred thinking it was to "blame".
The level of understanding of the positive EU narrative, is, I would suggest, at an all-time low in the UK – and yes, rational politicians must take their share of the blame for not making the positive case.
Informed Euro-scepticism is one thing; an ignorance of what the EU is about, and an irrational hatred of it in the media (The Independent is a rare exception) and at many levels of British society, is a deeper problem.
Claude Moraes MEP
European Parliament, Brussels
Dutch and disenfranchised
I am a Dutch citizen and have been resident in the UK for more than 30 years. Although I have kept my Dutch citizenship for cultural and sentimental reasons, I am very much an active and responsible resident in this country. I am a state-school teacher, the wife and mother of UK citizens, a taxpayer, and am busy in my local community in many different ways. I have never had any run-ins with the state which might make me undesirable.
I therefore feel it is rather ironic, that, as a result of a decision by the European Court of Human Rights, prisoners should be allowed a vote and therefore a share in the democratic processes of this country, while European citizens like me continue to be disenfranchised.
Decapitate this wasteful body
Steve Richards describes my intervention in the House of Commons during the EU Budget statement as "extreme and irrational".
At a time when local democracy in this country is facing cuts of between a quarter and a third and unemployment is soaring in EU member states, surely the moderate position is to want similar cuts in the EU bureaucracy and budget?
The EU's profligacy in creating higher salaries for commission officials, an increased hospitality budget, and the formation of a new European Foreign Office with associated embassies around the world is redolent of Marie Antoinette's "Let them eat cake." Like Marie Antoinette, the EU should be decapitated.
Graham Stringer MP
House of Commons, London SW1
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