Letters: University application reform

Reform would take some of the strain out of applying for university
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The Independent Online

Your leading article of 30 July makes the case for post-qualification application to university, and we, as parents and, indeed, grandparents, ask why is this still unresolved, so many years after it was first floated more than 25 years ago?

It makes total sense, but the universities and exam boards continue to sabotage this move for reasons that you charitably describe as reluctance.

We were with a group of young people yesterday and this issue came up, not in the context of Oxbridge and A*s but in that of applying to any university, and there was unanimous support for this move to post-qualification application.

Year after year, one hears of yet another cohort of students who have not gained the grades required and, as you point out, huge pressure is then put on individuals and the universities in not only trying to identify students qualified to fill those missed places, but also, in "clearing", to find a place for students who missed the required grades. A change would, once and for all, ease many of these pressures on students at this crucially important stage in their lives.

However, it is to be hoped that David Willetts' White Paper will also open the door to rethinking the importance of interviewing applicants and the recognition of potential based not just on exam performance but on the type of schooling an applicant has had and the context of their achievements to date. Sadly, we could not find any reference to this, the real challenge here.

George Smerdon

Dee Smerdon

St Ives


I very narrowly met my AAA offer for Oxford in 2003, leading to six happy years at Corpus Christi College reading medicine. I think a strength of the rigorous interview process is that the dons are able to spot potential in students from "bog-standard" comprehensives such as me.

I would hate to think that the admission requirements would escalate to a point that prevents future students from a similar background being considered for interview.

Dr James K Betteridge



Might it be possible to imagine a world in which the university academic year started in January, rather than September? Then the university application, selection and admission process might be able to be carried out after all the relevant A-level, IB and Highers results have been published, so addressing the problem at the heart of the continuing fuss over the current application system.

Certainly, there are other features of this strange-looking world which would probably be regarded as problems rather than benefits. To identify just two: what would all those young people do during those extra months, and how would the universities be able to restructure their programmes?

But all these have solutions, and the benefits might outweigh the issues to be managed.

Dennis Sherwood



Who needs the Poetry Society?

Christina Patterson (Opinion, 30 July) seems to think that if the Poetry Society in London is an irrelevant mess, or even a silly joke, this may lead some to think that poetry is in itself a joke. Why should we think that? We're not stupid. Poetry matters; of course it matters; this doesn't mean the Poetry Society in London matters.

Perhaps it does. But then Patterson herself, when looking for examples where poetry itself does matter, keeps well away from the London Poetry Society.

Gloria Moreno-Castillo

New Malden, Surrey

The Poetry Society is a misleading light in the literary firmament. And it seems that now, deservedly perhaps, it is imploding.

For some years I have, as a member of the society, been trying to obtain from successive directors and "chairs" of its trustees our simple, working definitions of "poetry" and "poem". The society cannot provide such. The nearest that I could obtain was this from one of its trustees in 2006: "There is poetry in everything we say and do and if something is presented to me as a poem by its creator, or by an observer, I accept that something as a poem."

The Poetry Society's magazine, Poetry Review, publishes precious little true poetry and regales us with vast essays replete with gobbledegook.

The society does not deserve any public funding, and were it to disappear into its own "black hole" our literary and cultural life would be none the poorer.

Michael George Gibson

Knutsford, Cheshire

Care inspections with no teeth

There can't be a single inspector within Care Quality Commission, the regulatory body responsible for adult care homes, who is surprised in the slightest by the news about Castlebeck homes ("Scandal of abuse at Irish tycoons' care homes", 29 July). As a one-time inspector, I can say we saw the writing on the wall years ago.

Although we gave homes too much notice of inspections, we started with a thorough inspection regime and methodology – time-consuming but able to yield the reality behind the appearance. We also started with proper business-team back-up, so that inspectors could get on with the job they were supposed to do. But with each passing year more and more cuts and restructuring led to too few inspectors, remote business support, a pathetic inspection regime and, critically, no way for the public to complain directly to the Commission.

You get what you pay for. If the public and Government genuinely wish to protect those in care homes, then they need to stump up enough cash for an inspectorate with teeth.

Merry Wahogo


Green ratings for new homes

David Spittles is to be congratulated on pointing out the great advances being made in reducing the energy consumption in new homes ("The green house effect", 29 July). Without doubt, they are much more energy-efficient than most of the existing building stock. However, there are a few points that need clarifying.

First, the Code for Sustainable Homes is not mandatory for all new-built homes. It was introduced in May 2008 and as of March 2011 fewer than 60,000 new-build homes had been certified under this scheme. Of these, only 22 per cent were in the private sector. Only 0.5 per cent were certified at the highest rating.

Second, David Spittles uses as his example a small development in Highbury, north London. Costing from £2.25m, these homes are twice the floor area of more typical family homes. Although they may achieve an excellent energy rating on paper, this rating has been calculated as consumption per unit floor area and so gives a misleading indication of actual energy efficiency.

If people chose to live in large houses they will use more energy than those of us opting to live in more modest homes. Perhaps we should adopt an energy rating based on consumption per occupant.

Martin Ratcliffe

Maidenhead, Berkshire

Murdoch and the US debt

The Murdoch media empire, through its US news channel Fox News, is an avid supporter of the Tea Party movement in the US. This movement, through its members in the US House of Representatives refusing to support the increase in the US national debt, is presenting the world with the possibility of a US debt default and world recession. The impact of Fox News's support of the Tea Party movement on the US body politic makes the UK phone scandal look like small beer.

What is happening in the US should be a lesson to those who believe that Murdoch media outlets don't push political agendas and aren't a threat to the political process in the UK.

The national rage as the identities of the thousands of phone-hacking victims are made public will require the Government to review whether Murdoch's News Corp is a fit owner of any UK paper and whether the Murdochs should be allowed to retain their stake in BSkyB. If the review is negative, it must take the firm actions required to save the UK body politic from the Murdochs' negative influences.

George D Lewis

Brackley, Northamptonshire

I note that there were numerous meetings between representatives of the Tories and News International held before the last election, and over 100 meetings involving ministers and NI since. I wonder if, at any of those meetings, the issue of funding the BBC was mentioned?

And I wonder if the suggestion was made that the BBC's ability to operate would be reduced by freezing its licence fee for six years and loading it with the additional £340m of costs of funding the World Service, S4C and BBC Monitoring. And I wonder if anyone at any of those meetings pondered on how such cuts would reduce the state broadcaster's ability to compete against other companies, such as BSkyB, when it came to major sporting events, such as Formula One?

Colin Burke


We have heard much from the Conservative Party about the evils of letting the unelected etc, etc, in Brussels decide our affairs. Now that David Cameron's ambitious plan to be Leader of a new Political Wing of Murdoch News is in tatters, who do we think should now lead us? Would an election help?

Jo Mumford

Martock, Somerset

If Murdoch Jnr carries the can for all this, does that mean that it was the son that done it?

Steven Calrow


Sad passing of a great talent

Edward Pearce's letter of 28 July about Amy Winehouse is distasteful in tone and incorrect in content. Real talent like Amy's transcends the generations and her sad passing is of concern to many of us. The Independent did a magnificent job.

Amy did not do self-pity; she did music. I am 63 and have spent a joyous lifetime listening to the likes of Billie Holiday and the great New Orleans RnB singer/pianists. Amy in her much shorter life had listened to the same material. The difference between us is that she was then able to convert her musical tastes into her own very individual and talented delivery. She wrote all her own material.

A girl of just 27 has died, a tragedy in itself, but a girl of immense talent, so that the country is shocked as well as her nearest and dearest. I guess Mr Pearce is in some overall Voltairean way entitled to his opinion, but in this instance it would have been better to have kept it to himself.

Ian Craine

London N15

Next in line for a cull

Liz Pearce (letter, 27 July) asks what creatures will be killed next after a cull of badgers. Well, although they do not spread TB, can I suggest drastic action to curb the growing menace of urban gulls, which are plaguing towns and cities many miles inland from the coast?A brief visit to Bath, Cheltenham or Gloucester will immediately indicate the scale of the problem. The squawking of gulls is now the dominant sound in these cities from April to September.

From dawn to dusk, their screeching is ear-piercing (imagine someone right outside your window permanently screaming as loudly as they can), they attack people and pets, rip open bin bags and leave the contents strewn all over the pavement, swoop and take the food from people sitting outside cafés, damage roofs by pecking away at masonry for their nests or build nests in gutters, thereby causing blockages and water damage to homes, and cover windows, paths and cars in their copious, foul-smelling, corrosive excrement.

With no natural enemies, protected by the 1981 Countryside and Wildlife Act, living for up to 30 years, and with each pair hatching up to three chicks every year and then returning to the same nesting site, urban gulls have become the loud, anti-social, yobs of the bird world.

I generally consider myself to be an animal lover, but only a cull will reduce their escalating number.

Pete Dorey


Killer was no Christian

I object most strongly to your news report of 28 July describing Anders Breivik as a "Christian fundamentalist". I am a Christian fundamentalist and along with millions of others decry his terrible crimes. What is more important is that our Saviour said , as most people know: "Blessed are the peacemakers..." not the killers.

John Holwell

Seahouses, Northumberland

John Redresser (letter, 28 July) seems unsure how to tell a "moderate" Christian (ie. a real one) from a terrorist claiming to be a Christian. A genuine Christian will practice what Jesus tells us to do – love our enemies. They will also take seriously what St Paul says, that we do not fight against flesh and blood.

A genuine believer in Jesus Christ will follow in the footsteps of those who built schools, created hospitals, pushed the abolition of slavery, worked hard for fair employment laws, and who continue to support and work for charitable concerns in the UK and all over the world. And who nursed Aids sufferers when they were ostracised by society.

And "adapt to our secular culture"? Like the Murdochs? No thanks!

Finally, as for Mr Redresser knowing who and where I am – he's welcome to know where I am any time.

The Rev Jim Crompton

Rainham, Kent

Violent days out

After reading Peter van den Dungen's letter (28 July) about warlike museums, I checked the "Events" pages in the most recent issue of English Heritage's magazine Heritage Today. Out of 22 pictures on these pages, 10 showed some form of military activity. In addition, there was an advertisement for a "gruesome weekend" at Whitby Abbey: "Discover the head-chopping antics of Henry VIII with light-hearted performances of Top of the Chops!" It is not only the Royal Armouries Museum that glorifies violence for pleasure.

Nick Chadwick


Don't try this

I note from your article on the potential shortage of Durex condoms (25 July) that there is a "dispute over pricing and distribution rights with Dulux's owner, Reckitt Benkiser". Is this another example of a major company attempting to gloss over the facts?

David Hill

Elsenham, Essex

Pavement law

Can someone explain why a Segway is defined as a motor vehicle under the law (news report, 30 July ) yet mobility scooters can be driven on the pavement with impunity? The law seems to be a ass.

Patrick Cleary

Honiton, Devon

Perspectives on the symbols of English identity

Sympathy from a Scot for a sadly misused flag

As a Scot, I feel somewhat diffident about trespassing upon the correspondence about the St George's Flag. However, Peter Dryden's letter (29 July) raised an interesting point about the flag to be flown from Church of England churches.

I understand that the flag should be the St George's Cross, "and in the first quarter the escutcheon of the Arms of the See in which the church is ecclesiastically situated". This, I understand, comes from a warrant of the Earl Marshal of England from as long ago as 9 February 1938. "In simple words, the flag of St George with the diocesan arms in the top corner nearest to the mast."

That may clarify the situation as regards the Church of England. However, I have very considerable sympathy with those who find offensive the use of St George's flag by right-wing extremists – as a Scot (and a Brit), I respect both the St Andrew's Cross and the Union flag, and I am relieved that the St Andrew's Cross has not been quite so politicised as the flag of England.

J Douglas Anderson


Now what about a proper national anthem?

I am delighted that the issue of the St George Flag for England has been raised. I think that the debate should be widened to include an English national anthem.

At the Rugby World Cup in a few weeks' time all of the teams will line up before their games while their national anthems are being played. All teams, that is, except for England. England will be the only side that does not have a national anthem of its own. We still use "God Save the Queen", which is the British national anthem. It is also a dreadful, boring dirge and not at all inspirational.

Scotland and Wales have their own anthems: so should England. My choice would be "Jerusalem", as it does mention England and is a very rousing piece of music.

I have a St George Flag and it should be flown with pride by English people for patriotic reasons and to rescue it from the lunatic fringe racists who do England no favours whatsoever.

J W Wright

Calne, Wiltshire