Letters: Tuition fees

Fees will stunt social mobility
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The Independent Online

The White Paper on Higher Education (leading article, 29 June) continues to present policies designed to create a market in HE based on an implicit view of HE as a commodity to be purchased (at least for the majority of students).

Surely it would be quicker and less painful for the Government to make explicit its position by identifying those universities that it considers should be allowed to charge £9,000, and those that can only charge £6,000. The former group would probably contain most of the pre-1992 institutions, while the latter group would contain the ex-polytechnics. It would make clear the blinkered thinking which appears to exist in those responsible for government policy on HE.

The policy of allowing unrestrained recruitment of students with AAB or equivalent, and the intention to raise the number of places liberated from number controls over time, is the first step towards government setting university-entry standards. This will almost inevitably be linked to access to loans and grants. This policy is likely to ensure more students from independent schools obtain places at "leading universities" while removing places from those institutions with a strong track record in widening access.

If we add the impact of increased fees to the falling numbers of 18-19-year-olds over the next few years, there could be a 30-per-cent reduction in home students at universities by 2015.

Given the likely outcomes of extending the proposed policies further, the Government can then return to a reduced sector of fewer students at fewer universities, at a lower cost.

The overall impact of Government policy on HE appears to be a move to lessen social mobility disguised in language which pretends to promote it.

Geoff Thwaites

Chorley, Lancashire

What is needed among all the controversy about Higher Education funding in this country is a complete change in culture and attitude. The main problem seems to stem from students wishing to use a three-year degree course as a rite of passage, as a chapter in their life where they become independent and throw off the shackles and become true adults, living away from home and making their own decisions. This is noble but a very expensive way to earn one's degree.

Students should be encouraged to attend local universities, more modular and distance-learning courses should be offered and the emphasis on a degree should be on its academic content rather than on the student experience.

The tragedy is not that Higher Education is becoming unaffordable to some young people; it is that there are currently affordable means to gain a degree, but they are barely being embraced, either because a three-year course away from home is considered the normal or expected experience, or because young people are not being properly apprised of their options.

Philip Boshier

Cardiff

Announcements made on 28 and 29 June by the Scottish and UK governments seem to clash with the 1706 Act of Union. Part of Article IV of the act states that all subjects of the United Kingdom should have full freedom of trade; this is a protected enactment under schedule 4 of the 1998 Scotland Act at devolution. This is the constitution under which the UK parliament is obliged to justly and fairly govern its people.

On 28 June David Willetts announced the creation of a competitive financial market in university education, which fairly and squarely places it as a traded commodity. On 29 June the Scottish government announced its intention to charge students from England a different fee for a university degree than would be charged to Scottish students.

Whether this difference is dressed up as loans or fee payments, it will result in the following: if two students, one from England and one from Scotland, were both to start the same course at a Scottish university in 2012, and subsequently both take identical jobs, on identical salaries in the same, or different, parts of the UK, the student from England would be subject to a charge of 9p in the £1 for everything he or she earned over £21,000, and the student of Scottish origin would not. Although this is put forward as a loan repayment it is obvious from the escalating loan interest and early repayment penalties it is not designed to be repaid and is based, as a tax, on salary, therefore there is a strong argument this could be regarded as a tax.

As such it would be a tax on a commodity traded within the kingdoms of the union to which only the English are subjected, and are subjected to neither by ability to pay, nor by local taxation in the locality at which they reside at the time of payment, but purely by whether or not they were deemed citizens of Scotland or England in the three years before entering university education. Therefore there will not be "full freedom and intercourse of trade" in education for English and Scottish citizens as required under article 4 of the union.

It may be, therefore, that the difference set in tuition fees for citizens of Scotland and England is unconstitutional.

Liz Watts

Bradford-on-Avon

I am fascinated to think that Mr Willetts believes that he is introducing competition to the British university system. Fierce competition has been a part of our academic lives since 1209, when Cambridge became the second university on these islands.

Professor Edward James

London N15

David Willetts has already reduced support for the universities. Now he wants to increase control. Surely one does not need two brains (or even a single BA) to realise that this really is the worst of both worlds?

Dr Richard Howells

Arundel, West Sussex

Where are the sporting women?

Women tennis players get equal prize money with the men, but have still not managed to attract the attention of the press. Today's Independent (27 June) has about seven pages on men's tennis and one on women's. As for T20 cricket – you give several columns to the pitiful England men's effort on Saturday, but no mention at all of the excellent and successful England women (not even bothering with a scorecard). Is there any chance that you could raise your game?

David Spiller

Barrow-on-Soar

Leicestershire

For a humane end, see a vet

Michelle Willmott is awaiting the retirement of predecessor doctors who "believe they must save their patients regardless" (Letters, 30 June). I have to tell her there are very few such doctors about. I qualified in 1984, having received the teaching she describes on palliative care, advance directives, treatment withdrawal and euthanasia. The doctors who taught me had, clearly, previously received the same teaching themselves.

Unfortunately, it is rarely possible to make progress towards these ends, in between the pressures of pro-life groups, relatives with unrealistic expectations, ambulance-chasing lawyers, and a GMC that now takes the view that doctors are all guilty and incompetent unless proved otherwise.

Those wishing a humane end at a time and place of their own choosing are best advised to apply for a transfer to become a cat or dog. Vets are struck off, and pet owners jailed, if they do not perform euthanasia when appropriate. Doctors suffer these fates if they do, or even try to.

Martin Sheppard

Haverfordwest, Dyfed

Premier League is second best

Roman Abramovich has clearly lost the plot. Instead of buying a Portuguese coach (report, 30 June) he should be buying into football on the Iberian peninsula. Despite UK TV telling us the Premier League is still the best in Europe, the Premier League Champions were humiliated by Barcelona. Portugal provided both teams in the Europa Cup final. Spain has just won the U21 European Championship and already holds the European Championship and the World Cup. UK teams cannot compete with European rivals, who have clearly learned that if they have the ball the opposition haven't. Our plan is to give it away as early as possible and chase the opposition.

The Premier League ceased to be the top league in Europe several years ago. We just won't accept it.

John Smith

Dorchester, Dorset

Brighton again

As sure as eggs is eggs, The Independent marks the onset of summer by publishing a photo of sun-worshippers near Brighton Pier (27 June); indeed, this is the second so far this year, and I reckon about the eighth year running. As keen as I am to try to spot myself each time, surely you could occasionally make the effort to feature somewhere else?

John Riches

Brighton

Carry on cliché

This may sound over the top but if you don't bring to a close all this cliché business with my letter, I will be quite literally heartbroken!

Rosemarie Harper

Horsham, West Sussex

Perspectives on world population

Family planning plays vital role

Brian Fagan (30 June) is right to draw attention to the looming crisis of catastrophic water shortage; but quite wrong to accept the medium UN forecast of 9.3 billion people by 2050 as a "given", rather than a variable to be tackled. The UN project a range between 8.1 and 10.6 billion – a range of 2.5 billion (the entire population of the planet in 1950), depending on how we manage our future fertility. It would clearly be much easier to supply 8.1 billion people with water (and food, and energy) than 10.6. That is why, as our patron David Attenborough so often says, good family-planning programmes should be an important element in any serious long-term water (or food, energy, climate change, biodiversity etc) policy.

Roger Martin

Chair, Population Matters

Wells, Somerset

The natural world is under threat

News that the UK's population is growing faster than some had predicted comes as no surprise (report, 1 July). It should be a wake-up call to politicians and opinion formers to address an issue which has been ignored and which is the root cause of all our environmental problems, and many of our social and economic ills.

Do the sums: population times consumption equals impact. If the population continues to grow unchecked, and if we fail to curb our thirst for more and more stuff, the technologies and innovations needed to provide enough water, food and energy to meet everyone's needs won't happen fast enough. The social, economic and environmental consequences of failing to launch a public debate on population and consumption will be dire.

The long-awaited government White Paper on the natural environment makes no reference to the negative impact that a growing and growth-fixated urbanised population is having on our ecosystems, ecosystems which are – as the White Paper acknowledges – vital to the economy, to wellbeing, to carbon storage, to biodiversity and to connecting young people with the natural environment.

Ministers have either failed to make, or chosen not to make, the connection between the decline of our natural capital and population growth. They have, therefore, undermined the aspiration to be the "greenest government ever".

Nick Reeves OBE

Executive Director

Chartered Institution of Water and Environmental Management, London WC1

Growth can't go on forever

Anyone who thinks you can have infinite growth in a finite environment is either an idiot or an economist. Sean O'Grady (1 July) says that immigrants should be welcomed because they will have lots of children who will pay all our pensions. But surely even he can see that in 50 years' time we will therefore have an even bigger population reaching retirement who will need an even bigger influx of immigrants producing even more children, who 50 years later will need... can't he?

Roger Plenty

Stroud, Gloucestershire

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