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Tuesday 7 December 2010
Letters: Tuition fees
Students already pay enough back
As I approach the latter part of my working life I reflect on the impact of the £300 grant and no fees that allowed this working-class boy to go to university in the 1960s.
The knowledge and skills I gained helped me into a successful career in management training and development, for which I'm obviously grateful. The payback, however, has been the satisfaction that, over the course of my working life, I've helped thousands of individuals, including some of the very MPs who will vote on student fees on Thursday, to develop their skills and businesses. I'm also proud that I've paid well over a third of a million pounds in income tax.
In Thursday's commons vote on fees I hope that all MPs remember that higher education is an investment, not a cost, and vote down the proposed increase.
The Lib Dems are seen as weak, vacillating and dishonest and are heading for political extinction for at least the next quarter-century. One bold stroke would correct all this.
Nick Clegg, Vince Cable and all Lib Dem government ministers must place their resignations in the hands of David Cameron for his decision and every Lib Dem member of parliament must vote against the increase in tuition fees. The reputation of Liberal Democrats would be restored and the fate of the Coalition Government would be in Cameron's hands; and Clegg would discover whether Cameron is really as friendly as he seems.
The limited social composition of the Coalition seems to be partly responsible for some of the Government's initial errors: few, if any, members have lived in council housing; a similarly low proportion has suffered from genuine unemployment; and the impression is given of them sleep-walking through life without direct involvement with anybody outside their class.
They appear not to have noticed that their parents' generation funded university students by providing grants and fee-free tuition.
The Government is now continuing the atrocious policy of New Labour which removed the financial responsibility for university education from parents and placed it on children. Perhaps the many multi-millionaires in this Government never noticed that their university education came via grants topped up by parental contributions.
Perhaps they are also unaware that many of today's financial problems result from the behaviour of people they probably knew at university and who chose to become bankers instead of politicians. The multi-millionaires from Oxbridge seem to be blaming those they have never known – the unemployed and council tenants – for the problems facing the country.
It was always interesting at Oxford to observe those students intent on political futures as they mixed solely with their own kind and failed to display any form of empathy with others.
Skewen, West Glamorgan
The hike in tuition fees has rightly been challenged by young people, union leaders, academics, heads of secondary schools and colleges, parents and others who see this as an unfair burden on the shoulders of students alone. Vice-chancellors, on the whole, have kept quiet.
Yet at the turn of the year, when the Labour government intimated that the universities would have to take a share in the projected cuts, there was uproar; VCs were accused of hyperbole as their exaggerated claims of the damage to be wreaked on the sector were published in the quality press.
So now is it OK by them that students pay exorbitant tuition fees? Certainly it is the easiest option – a block grant from Higher Education Funding Council plus a predictable sum payable from the student body. It's hard work attempting to extract philanthropic sums from alumni and wealthy financiers, but a cause where VCs should expend more effort.
At the time, Alistair Darling floated the idea of an increase in National Insurance tax so that public services such as health, police and education might be ring-fenced. This seems still to be worthy of consideration. Society benefits from the education of young people. And in particular, trade, industry and commerce benefit from the recruitment of bright young things from our universities, though seemingly without feeling any ethical, social or moral responsibility for supporting this sector.
It is not simply that the Lib Dems have let young people down nor that the Conservatives have swung the axe too fasty. There is an alternative.
Professor Elizabeth Chell
Wikileaks shows up fear and greed
The US diplomatic correspondence that has been published so far makes depressing reading, as it confirms that diplomatic correspondence is shallow and selfish. It reveals the fears and greed underlying international relationships, without showing any serious attempt to understand and respect the needs of others. It is embarrassing not because of the slights on others but because it shows naivety by all the parties concerned.
Let's have no secrets, they only encourage selfishness and suspicion.
It is right, as Andrew Watson points out (letter, 3 December), that "the Coalition deserves praise for dismantling some of the previous Government's ill-judged central databases." I too hope that the Wikileaks saga will hasten the demise of this "all eggs in one basket" approach to storing personal data.
May I add to Mr Watson's list the NHS Summary Care Record scheme? Huge amounts of the most sensitive personal information are being made available to tens of thousands of people. How can we be sure that each one of them is 100 per cent reliable?
There is an added twist here: like many others I have opted out of the scheme, but I remain unconvinced that my medical details will not have found their way into the central database, albeit marked with a red asterisk. Control freaks do not allow opt-outs.
Colin V Smith
St Helens, Merseyside
With the frantic attempts of the US to stop the Wikileaks disclosures, I wonder just what the real secrets are they do not want us to find out.
Could it be thate 9/11 was an inside job. Could it be that the 7/7 British attacks were also orchestrated? Or could it be the biggest secret of the lot: UFOs and aliens are real?
Enniskillen, Co Fermanagh
Quit Fifa after this insult
James Corrigan (3 December) is right that we were "prostituting ourselves" to Fifa but naive in seeing not too much perverse in the award of the World Cup to Russia. Putin's kleptocracy is not just a "virtual mafia state" as Wikileaks quotes from US diplomats – it is a murderous mafia state. The decision by Fifa's greedy gerontocracy is spitting on the grave of Anna Politkovskaya and in the face of honesty in journalism.
The decision for Qatar shows equal contempt for the football tradition and for concerns about our world environment. Since Blatter, Warner and their cronies have shown themselves incapable of heeding the least criticism, the FA should lead a world movement to quit Fifa and set up a responsible and transparent alternative world body for the sport – hopefully in time to deprive Russia and Qatar of any ill-gotten gain.
So England didn't win the 2018 World Cup. A shame, yes, but why is everyone acting like an outraged victim of a corrupt selection body and process?
Blatter was quite open in saying the World Cup would be going to two parts of the world it had never been before. Football is a global sport and Fifa is its governing body. Russia and Qatar may have been seen as "higher risk" than England but isn't it just possible the delegates believed the opportunity to take the tournament to new regions was worth the risk?
I would love to see a World Cup in England in my lifetime, but we have no more right than any other country to host it. I look forward to Russia 2018 and Qatar 2022.
In a sport where millions regularly see blatant cheating and rule-breaking (deliberate handball, ball over the line, diving etc), it is not surprising that the award of the World Cup competition left us feeling "we was robbed". However, gutted as the Zurich team were, the real fans will worry only about winning the World Cup – not where it is played.
What made anyone think we could expect to get both the Olympics and the World Cup?
Force-fed with a diet of Mozart
The decision to dedicate BBC Radio 3 to wall-to-wall Mozart for the first 12 days of January (report, 3 December) is questionable for two reasons. It does little honour to the composer to force-feed listeners with his music over such an extended period. One can have too much of a good thing – even Mozart.
It also suggests that Radio 3 is being run as a kind of hobby by those leading it. The listener is no longer a customer, but someone who has to tolerate the self-indulgent behaviour of the station's management.
Both in cultural terms and from the perspective of customer relations, saturation by Mozart sends devotees of Radio 3 all the wrong signals. Time to put the CDs back into the car!
Professor David Head
Faculty of Business and Law
University of Lincoln
Once again the tyrants of Radio 3 are to subject its audience to an unbroken period of a single composer, on this occasion Mozart, thus depriving us of the variety which should be one of its key features.
Of course one's pleasure in Radio 3 has been diminished by the inane prattle that goes on between "presenters" and those members of the audience who have nothing better to do than email or telephone their normally quite uninteresting comments on composers and pieces of music.
Bad experience of Pompeii
The problems at Pompeii (report, 4 December) are no surprise. When we visited in July 2009 we found that the ticket desk demanded cash, not plastic – money going astray?
Inside, there was no selling of guide books – only by freelance vendors outside the gates; who gets the money? There was no gift shop selling all the things that could bring them money. The toilets were too few and dirty. The signage of the buildings and their function was very poor.
We learnt more about the site from reading Wikipedia than on the day. The site was beautiful and memorable but a wasted opportunity.
Leaving home in the dark
Your leading article "Let there be summertime all year" (5 December) seems to indicate that journalists and politicians are able to drift into work mid-morning, unlike everyone else.
In the real world work commences between 8am and 9am, which means leaving home between 7am and 8am. For your information, at that time it is very dark in winter and changing the clocks to make it darker for longer is not a welcome idea. Since most schoolchildren seem to be out of school by 3pm, when it is not dark, extending the hours of light at the end of the day won't make a great deal of difference.
We live in the country which has Greenwich; we should be proud to stick to Greenwich Mean Time, not do away with it. After all, it's only for five months of the year.
Russian in the Commons
It almost beggars belief that a Russian is given a visa at all in our current circumstances; that she should be employed by an MP for a naval-base constituency, Mike Hancock, as a researcher in the House of Commons makes one despair. He should be well aware that for the Kremlin the Cold War is not over.
He has the nerve to demand that the security services "prove their point". No, in a case like this it is he who should prove her innocence; and even if she is innocent, her employment should cease forthwith. Can one imagine an MP in the Duma for Kaliningrad, Sevastopol or Vladivostock employing a Briton in such a position?
Mr Hancock is an ass and his Portsmouth Lib Dem association should deselect him.
St Andrews, Fife
Illustrating Robert Fisk's "History" feature (4 December) was a photograph captioned "German soldiers inspect a map in Caen", from which one might have assumed the uniformed individuals pictured to be a couple of Third Reich squaddies. The man on the right is indeed a German soldier; he also happens to be Field Marshal Erwin Rommel, the "Desert Fox" of Tobruk and El Alamein. I shall now be watching out for a picture of Montgomery described in the caption as "a British tommy".
Unfair on sharks
Sharks are highly intelligent creatures which have roamed our oceans for over 400 million years. They are slaughtered and abused in huge numbers by human beings who have invaded their environment ("Shark kills tourist after all-clear signal", 6 December). Leave these wonderful creatures alone; they were here long before us and our ghastly "tourist industry" and if there is any justice they will be swimming in our oceans long after our species has sent itself to oblivion.
Perspectives on winter weather
What happened to shovels?
The almost complete stoppage of national life occasioned by the current spattering of snow is scarcely believable. When I was a child, our schools were kept open by every janitor and able-bodied teacher and even the school dinner ladies being set to the task of digging out the playground with old-fashioned shovels. The same "all hands on deck" attitude applied to airports, where the general manager was to be seen setting an example with his spade alongside ground and cabin staff as well as pilots and navigators.
Not only are we now far too reliant on often inadequate mechanical means of snow removal, but the adoption of the SI system of units has brought a touch of fatalism to how Britons regard low temperatures. Zero degrees Celsius is seen as a sign that civilisation as we know it must be suspended, whereas 32 degrees Fahrenheit never had that effect.
John Eoin Douglas
Drive like the Canadians
The present Arctic weather, and the ensuing severe disruption to road traffic, is becoming an annual norm. It appears to me that the mentality and ethos of the Scandinavians and Canadians needs to be adopted, forthwith.
Heavy transport clearly needs to do what "ice-road truckers" do: carry snow chains in order to maintain forward progress over hills, and difficult terrain. Snow chains enable ice-road drivers to traverse hilly and dangerous sections of mountain road, without need of outside assistance, or recovery.
All drivers would benefit from Arctic driving courses or rally driving school tuition, in order to learn the necessary confidence and techniques of gaining and maintaining momentum; to use common sense; to be bold and forward-thinking; not to be frightened of making their own wheel tracks in the snow; and to treat wheel-spin as simply the opening of negotiations, rather than a cue for abject surrender.
Beverley, East Yorkshire
Society not big enough?
The snow and ice have retreated, in the South of England at least, but are certain to return. However, is there a reason why the Transport Secretary, Philip Hammond, did not tell the population to Big Society itself out of the Big Freeze?
Why did he not take the opportunity of exciting the populace with the suggestion that scraping the snow off roads of all sizes and gritting them, all personally funded from their own pockets, was a superb exemplar of the Big Society in action?
Or was that a Big Society too far?
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