Are tuition fees the answer?
I take issue with your leading article on tuition fees (11 October). There ought to be much more funding for universities, but to raise this from tuition fees levied on all but the poorest would be wrong.
The purpose of university education is to enrich society, through the pursuit of learning and understanding, and through the contributions of its beneficiaries. I graduated at taxpayer's expense, and I have tried to repay society for this enormous privilege.
The argument that graduates do better financially ignores the fact that graduate income is spread over an enormous range – from a nurse to a banker. It can be argued that the more useful a graduate is to society, the less they earn: the top earners are bankers, advertising executives and the like, while among the lowest earners are nurses, teachers and researchers.
A recent survey of the Institute of Physics found that, while the salaries of physicists are on the whole above the national average, the vast majority have modest incomes. On the median income of a physicist, you would probably struggle nowadays to help your children go to a good university and become scientists.
To ask graduates to pay the same fees irrespective of the use to which their education is put, is outrageously unfair. It will also deter people from embarking on demanding and worthwhile but relatively low-paid careers.
Universities should be funded by a combination of research funding, increased private funding; offering at their real costs some less strategic courses (to put it delicately); and a graduate tax. As part of a graduate tax system, certain professions should go with very generous personal allowances, to make useful careers such as teaching and research more attractive.
Even in difficult times – especially then perhaps – we must not stop thinking about what is fair (which is why I voted for the Liberal Democrats) and what is worthwhile.
The current focus on university fees misses the point that "university" now includes institutions that used to be much lower in the academic scale. You can get a university degree in just about anything. I am doubtful if the taxpayer should be held as responsible as many seem to expect.
The apprenticeship scheme that we used to have spread the cost much more fairly. The apprentice learned by experience and paid by working for a lower wage, and the employer paid the apprentice for the work done. Nobody else was funding it, unless you count the "expenses" claimed by the employer against tax.
Many of today's so-called university qualifications could be better gained by experience in apprentice schemes. Universities used to be for those able to absorb training for the professions; now they have become degraded into tertiary education for everybody, and the country cannot afford it.
Dr T D Lawson
My son cannot train as an airline pilot without going into debt to the tune of about £65,000, to be repaid out of future salary, which he is not guaranteed to earn any more than he is guaranteed to have a job at the end of his training. Why then should students going into training through university not be expected to go into debt of less that one third of that for opportunities for career advancement?
Have Menzies Campbell and the Liberal Democrat backbenchers properly thought this through?
David J McCarter
In the debate about university tuition fees, the question "What tuition?" does not appear to have been raised.
When my daughter attended university she had precisely four hours' compulsory tuition per week. There is a clear tension between the role of universities as research institutes on the one hand and higher educational establishments on the other. When I asked a professor of mathematics recently how many hours teaching he did I was told that he did not teach.
If we are going to charge tuition fees, it seems only reasonable that the quality and quantity of that tuition should be assessed.
Dr Nick Maurice
There might be a simpler, fairer and more cost-effective way of relating fees to the ability to pay.
No fees to be paid by those who attended their last 10 years in junior and secondary state education; 10 per cent of the fees to be charged for each year spent in private education, culminating in full fees being paid by those who had spent their last 10 years of education in the private sector.
No means tests, fairer to the less well-off and relatively little bureaucracy.
A great big empty idea
When David Cameron started preaching about the "Big Society", I was reminded of communitarianism, which was the big idea New Labour was selling door-to-door back in 1997.
What prompted this recall was that, as with the "Big Society", no one could define communitarianism as a political idea. It was a kind of web of social relations, sort of sharing the same values and meanings sort of thing. Its main selling point for post-socialist New Labour was that it wasn't socialism, but then it was Thatcherism either.
The Big Society comes with the same list of ticked boxes: community, working together, sharing and so on. When you boil off all the fat in both these "big ideas" you're left with a bald statement that civic responsibility is a good thing, and there should be more of it.
What we got from the Conservative conference podium was a thundering endorsement of the bleedin' obvious.
Rarely can a government policy have had such an instant success as the "Big Society", urging citizens to become involved. Already 35,000 have joined the Labour Party.
Derek J Cole
St Leonards on Sea, East Sussex
Up to us all to protect English
Some of your correspondents are confusing the natural and acceptable changes which occur in language with others that impair it unnecessarily.
Language is a social property. It is a collective responsibility to preserve what is best in our language, and those who have most experience of using it have this responsibility to a greater degree.
Adults who shy away from helping young people to speak and write well are letting them down. The misuse of "like", however much some clever folk attempt to rationalise it, is uncouth and degrading, and should be discouraged. It makes people sound ridiculous. The fact that older generations had their youthful language fads is beside the point. These were on the whole harmless affectations which had little effect on comprehensibility. Many people grew out of using them, because they had not affected linguistic processes profoundly.
The alleged "cleverly adjectival" use of "like" does have a profound effect, and is likely to hinder its users' language development in the long term, by arbitrarily distorting grammatical structure.
By neglecting our duty to correct young people and to maintain the language's structural strength and lexical subtleties, and its links with our sense of collective identity, we are allowing English to become a mere sub-set of American and "World" English. We are helping along the demise of nuanced meaning, and of our sense of who we are, and this is avoidable.
N A Birt
All of this talk about the decline of language reminded me of a stand- up comic I once saw who was also an English teacher. He related an exchange he had with a pupil:
Pupil: "Sir, why have I got less marks than my mate?"
Teacher: "It's, 'Why have I got fewer marks than my mate?' "
Pupil: "Sir, I can't stand your pedanticness."
Teacher: "No, you can't stand my pedantry."
Joe Roberts (Letter, 6 October) was lucky to have heard girls: they may use a fractured pseudo-American creole peppered with "like" and "ohmygod", but boys seem to communicate only with grunts, occasionally interspersed with vaguely recognisable words such as "Rooney" and "Chelsea". That evolution has come to this!
When enough has been said on the topic of "like", could we move on to those who use "actually" in every sentence they utter?
Pleasures of the seaside
Joan Smith's view of the English seaside (Opinion, 7 October) is over-generalised. I was born in Morecambe and lived there for 20 years. I've just got married there in the fantastic Midland Hotel (easily the match of any hotel in the country), and spent my honeymoon travelling the Welsh coast. I've long had a fascination with the seaside, and have been right round the country to many of our coastal towns.
Sure, some resorts do have throwbacks to a bygone age when the working classes piled off trains and into the various attractions that proliferated in the first decades after the Second World War. But many have moved on.
Morecambe itself has diversified in recent years, with art galleries and new independent shops and cafes. If Ms Smith is looking for fine restaurants, what about Fowey or Padstow? If she's after sea trips and fishing, why not try Cromer or Hunstanton? If she's after a relationship with the sea, try Southwold or Whitstable (the latter recently found to be the least "cloned" town centre in the country).
Fine architecture is apparent in Littlehampton and Bexhill. The natural setting of places enhances the experience in Whitby or Cromer. Piers remain a key part of the pleasure in Southport and Weston, where they're resolved to rebuild what was damaged.
I'm sorry that your columnist has had a bad experience in a small number of coastal towns, but it's time she widened her experience and got out a bit more. The sea air would do her good.
Tax benefits for the super-rich
The Coalition Government talks a lot about fairness in its efforts to close the public-sector deficit, and yet it has chosen to ignore the generous tax benefits which the world's super-rich are obtaining from buying UK property.
The system of council tax favours the super-rich because it taxes larger properties much more lightly than it does smaller properties. For example, the council tax on a small studio flat in London covering 361 sq ft is £688 per annum (£1.9 per square foot), whereas the council tax on an 11-bedroom house costing £10.5m arranged over six floors and covering 7,581 sq ft is only £1,375 (18p per square foot).
It is less well known that the only UK tax that non-UK-resident property investors pay is council tax. Non-UK residents are not subject to capital gains tax in relation to their UK property holdings, and with the assistance of a good accountant, they are able to avoid paying any tax on the rental income they receive.
Czechs show us the future
Just back from visiting friends in Czech Republic, where the cheapest and slowest domestic broadband available was in excess of 8Mb, and yes I did check it with the same laptop and software that back here in UK struggles to reach 1.4Mb. When will we catch up?
In the hospital, a patient awaiting appendix surgery, and also recovering after surgery, was able to use a mobile phone with internet access and their laptop with free wi-fi available as a matter of course. Magically it would seem that their hospital equipment is not disturbed. Or is it more a question of honesty on the part of UK hospital administrators who use this excuse to exploit financially those in their care. When will we catch up?
If a child is not on the school register in the morning, automatically the parents receive a text message. Appointment systems for hospitals, doctors and other administrations automatically send out reminder text messages on the day before . Optionally the use of a credit or debit card, over a pre-agreed amount, can generate a text message to the user – a positive step forward in prevention of identity theft. When will we catch up?
Still the best
Rosie Boycott asks "Is French cuisine dead?" (6 October). Last week I was shopping in the central market at Nîmes, which knocked London's Borough Market into a cocked hat. What's more, it was crowded with ordinary people and not just affluent middle-class foodies. I also shopped in a supermarket in a working-class quarter of the city. The cheese, delicatessen and patisserie counters were as good as anything I have encountered in a Waitrose store.
Don't mention ...
Julie Burchill's reference to Germans "walking into other people's countries as if they owned them" is true enough, alas (6 October). However, as the regimes responsible ceased to exist long before present generations reached adult understanding, her reproach smacks somewhat of Basil Fawlty.
Perspectives on children
Benefits and the size of families
There has been precious little mention of the environment thus far from the "vote blue, go green" Conservatives, but at least there is a beneficial if unintended consequence of their desire to see us all taking responsibility for the number of children we decide to have. Any step towards encouraging smaller families has to be a good move in a world where overpopulation is the root cause of the monumental environmental problems we now face.
Research from the Optimum Population Trust puts a figure of between 17 million and 27 million as a sustainable UK population. Perhaps the Tories and their even greener Liberal chums would like to consider further taxation measures aimed at achieving such a figure.
Taking away child allowance from the rich and putting a cap on benefits for the poor could be just the start. May I propose tax breaks for those who choose to have one or no children?
It is time to challenge the concept of child benefit payments.
The global human population has increased fourfold in the past hundred years. It now stands at 6.8 billion and is forecast to grow to 9.2 billion by 2050 – an increase equivalent to the combined current populations of China and India. According to the UN, the explosion in the number of our species is responsible for "the sixth major extinction event in the history of earth, and the greatest since the dinosaurs disappeared, 65 million years ago".
We now live in a world where the size of one's family is a matter of choice. Why do we expect others to subsidise us in the number of children we choose to have?
If we wish our children to inherit a world with any kind of sustainable future, it is vital that we restrain and then reverse the present growth in global population. Harsh though it may seem, we must swiftly come to realise that the planet itself simply cannot afford for families to have more than two children.
To pay subsidies to families in respect of children beyond their first two is to give an unwarranted social "stamp of approval" to a lifestyle choice that is globally disastrous.
All in this together
An argument in defence of child benefit for all is that it is the state's recognition of each child's equal value as a member of its society.
By withdrawing it from the better-off the state invites the emergence of a disenfranchised and disaffected middle class (those also most likely to home-educate and not receive other benefits). Not entirely a bad thing from a libertarian perspective, but a headache surely for those who wish to govern a United Kingdom.
Honour thy father
Katherine Schofield (letter, 7 October) believes that the idea that children are of themselves an economic benefit to society needs to be challenged.
Well, when she reaches her old age I will make sure I tell my children that their labour should go only towards supporting the pensions, health and welfare of me and other parents. Clearly the childless will have made other provision.
West Bridgford, Nottinghamshire