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Tuesday 19 October 2010
Letters: University education
NHS managers need reform
I have just spent a few days in hospital in Derby ("NHS slashes thousands of jobs, despite pledge to protect it from cuts", 18 October). My treatment was excellent.
However, a patient in the same side ward had been admitted on Monday, yet her consultant had not been informed of her admission until Friday and was not due to visit until the next Monday. She was being maintained with painkillers only because no one else understood her recurring symptoms.
Another patient was brought in on Saturday for a replacement knee operation by a consultant who does not normally work on Saturdays, only to be sent home because essential cardiac test results had not been received and it was not safe to operate without knowing them.
In my own case, a special body scan performed at another clinic several months earlier because it was not available in Derby had not been received. Fortunately this did not affect my treatment, but it was nevertheless a waste of resources. On discharge I was given a supply of three painkillers: paracetamol, codeine and diclofenac. When I said that I did not take codeine or need the diclofenac the nurse said they had been prescribed by the doctor so she had to give them to me. Another waste of resources.
The food was intolerable; half the quantity and twice the quality would result in much less waste.
The problems seem to be at managerial level. Perhaps fewer managers but managing properly would produce the necessary savings without compromising the health needs of the population.
Rich students will take over
Listening to Vince Cable, I fully understood for the first time the meaning of "bleeding-heart liberal". Cable claimed to regret that his grandchildren, unlike him, will have to pay tuition fees, though I suspect their grandad might give them a helping hand. The rest of us, on low or middle incomes, will have the worry of seeing our children burdened with lifelong debt, if they are not deterred from going to university altogether.
The removal of the cap on tuition fees gives a whole new meaning to the concept of "social engineering". Students from public schools and wealthy backgrounds are already over-represented at the elite universities. Efforts have been made by elite universities to increase access for state school students from lower and middle income families.
There was a recognition that bright pupils, who did not have the advantages of public-school education and private tuition, but who nevertheless achieved top grades, were likely to thrive when the playing field was level. A healthy social mix was starting to materialise.
The current proposals are regressive and seek to extend the public-school ethos into higher education. This deliberate and perverse act of social engineering will ensure that only the wealthy will be able to fund a place for their children at an elite university. These places will then again be occupied not necessarily by the brightest and the best, but by the privileged few, who have always paid for their educational advantage. There will of course be the token gesture of a few bursaries for the "deserving poor", as there used to be at the public schools.
Will anyone ever believe a liberal again?
Tony Blair made it quite clear in his 1997 "Education, education, education" address that his objective was to increase the number of school-leavers going to university in order to come up to the standards of competitive nations.
It was quite clear that he wanted to benefit the country, not the individuals. I have no doubt that he would have expected that the country, not the students, would pay – and in any case it seems only fair.
The resultant increase in the cost per student was, it seems, not expected; certainly our global financial collapse was not. However in no way is it possible to justify placing this huge burden on the students. The proposed further increase can only make things even worse.
Furthermore these students coming out with huge debts are the people whom we normally expect to enter the housing market. This will be greatly delayed as they will have to pay off their university fees before they can start saving for a mortgage. What on earth will happen to this very important market, and will students be forced to remain living with parents even after marriage?
David M Bishop
Unlike your correspondent Michael O'Hare (15 October), I voted Liberal Democrat at the last election despite that party's stated policy of opposition to an increase in university fees, which seemed to me unwise and impracticable. It was a policy for opposition, not for government, as has now been realised.
If institutions worthy to be considered as universities are to continue to exist in this country, they must have money from somewhere, and the larger the proportion of it that does not come from government the better.
D W Budworth
Bonuses: reward or rip-off?
The debate on bonuses that has taken place in these pages over the past few days is welcome. It is right that people express their views on a contentious issue, and right that the City should be sensitive to concerns. However, I hope we do not lose sight of the fact that the Treasury already taxes bonuses far harder than it taxes corporations.
Although easy to blame, bonuses were not a major cause of the financial crisis. To quote Lord Turner: "It is possible to overstate the importance of bonus structures in the origins of the crisis: they were much less important than huge failures in capital adequacy and liquidity regulation."
Many City firms have – nonetheless – already adapted their business practices to reflect concerns that bonuses promote risk-taking behaviour (even though there is little evidence that this was the case) and they now pay bonuses over longer periods and limit the amount of cash.
If the UK is to continue attracting top global talent, we must have the scope to pay employees a globally competitive package, as dictated by the world marketplace. Only then will we foster the kind of international hub that benefits the wider economy through the wealth creation, jobs and taxes that high-earners bring.
Lord Mayor of the City of London, The Mansion House
It used to be the case that the financial institutions used investors' money to assist entrepreneurs to grow their businesses, purchasing buildings, machinery and materials with which they would produce goods that people were prepared to buy. The profits made by the entrepreneurs were then shared with the institutions, which passed on some of the wealth thus generated to their customers in interest and/or bonuses.
In common with many people, my disgust at City bonuses has nothing to do with envy. It is all about arithmetic. Sportsmen and entertainers become extremely rich because they have something that large numbers of individuals are willing to pay relatively small sums to see displayed. Indeed, such people rarely became rich until technology made it possible for their endeavours to reach huge audiences.
The arithmetic that gives a banker an enormous income is much harder to understand. If financial institutions are behaving as I have described above, it is hard to see how they can justify income in excess of that enjoyed by the people running the businesses they support. On the other hand it seems that in recent years they have found ways of generating money from thin air. It is hard to escape the conclusion that when bankers make fortunes someone somewhere is either being robbed or ripped off.
Portlaoise, Co Laois, Ireland
Give palace loot back to China
Monday 18 October was the 150th anniversary of the sacking by British and French troops of the Old Summer Palace, Beijing. This shameful event in the history of the British Empire was carried out on the order of Thomas, 8th Earl of Elgin, son of the infamous looter of the Parthenon Marbles.
The government of the People's Republic of China has embarked on a worldwide inventory to establish the whereabouts of the massive plunder and has also organised a series of events to mark the anniversary of the sacking.
Wouldn't it be nice if some of the pieces looted from the Summer Palace that adorn museums and houses in this country were returned as a gesture of goodwill, to show the Chinese people that we have moved on from our shameful imperial past?
Buried core of mine rescue
In all the reporting of the rescue of the 33 miners, there has been one significant omission. Pundits have been on hand to discuss the medical and psychological impact on the men, the social environment of the region, the commercial and political implications for the mining industry; the men's families, wives, girlfriends, mistresses have all been under the spotlight. Even divine intervention has had its column inches. But what of the engineering involved in this rescue?
There must have been many tense discussions and critical decisions made throughout the two-month project. What sort of rock were they drilling through? Were there any precedents to guide the capsule designers? Did they have a strategy to cope with a possible equipment breakdown during an ascent? There must have been huge pressure on the engineers with all the planning and execution of the rescue conducted under intense, worldwide media attention. There could be no rehearsals; they had to get it right first time.
Couldn't The Independent find a single scribbler to give us the technology of the story? Presumably not, and neither could the rest of the British press. This, of course, is just another example of the cultural deficit that afflicts not just the media, but most of a society that wouldn't have a clue how to mend a fuse or change a tap washer.
Don't turn these children away
Besides the fact that little has been said about how unaccompanied children seeking asylum would be kept safe if they were returned to their own countries, it is deeply worrying that the welfare of children could be jeopardised purely to save the Home Office money ("Child asylum seekers targeted in Home Office budget cuts", 11 October).
We should be proud that in the UK we care for unaccompanied children as children first and asylum-seekers second, and that we protect them as we would any other child in the UK. But in the light of this, the cost of supporting children who have no family here to care for them should be seen as part of the Government's spending on children in care, and should in no way be part of plans to save money in the asylum support budget.
We are well aware cuts are being made across the board, but these are some of the most vulnerable children in our society and we have a responsibility to protect them. They have already faced unimaginable horrors both in their own countries and on their journeys here. Those responsible for their care and recuperation must be appropriately funded in order to help these children recover from their experiences. Children must be returned to o their countries of origin only when it is in that child's best interests, and never as a cost-cutting measure.
Chief Executive Refugee Council
Merkel opens a crucial debate
In a world where politicians are seen as liars and cheats, the German Chancellor Angela Merkel's recent speech is a breath of fresh air.
Multiculturalism has failed in Germany, as it has in many other countries within Europe. The idea of people from different, and perhaps even opposing, social and cultural backgrounds happily living together side-by-side and getting on "just fine" is unrealistic, as Merkel argues.
What is important is that she is opening a debate on the issue of immigration and, more importantly, the issue of integration. In her speech she argued that integration is key and that both Germans and immigrants have to work together to overcome problems in society.
Rather than criticising her for xenophobia or arguing that she is fighting for her political survival, we should be hailing her as a new and honest voice for politicians.
Perhaps the reason for the success of Downton Abbey (report, 18 October) has less to do with nostalgia for Edwardian times and more with nostalgia for great TV of the past. It is well acted, well scripted, has high production values and doesn't begin with warnings about scenes of violence, sex and bad language. Perhaps that is why many of your TV reviewers (mostly male) have been less than totally enthusiastic about it?
Although I am an agnostic, I am annoyed to see that the Royal Mail, for the second year running, will not be offering stamps showing in any way the original reason for Christmas – to celebrate the birth of Christ. I like the Wallace and Gromit stamps, but the origins of Christamas are as a religious feast, with many people still going to church to celebrate it, a thing that we and the Royal Mail should perhaps remember, even briefly, as we start on a week-long booze-up.
Art of money
Did my eyes deceive me? The trailer for a current film trumpeted: "From the executive producer of" some recent successful film. So the bean-counters are now an indication of a film's quality?
REX Cinema, Wareham, Dorset
Perspectives on otters
A welcome but slow revival
The latest Otter Survey of England (report, 18 October) can only be taken as good news, as the Eurasian Otter has been one of the sad casualties of the 20th century, declining by 95 per cent of its range in western Europe.
A lot of hard work has been carried out since the 1980s to improve the quality of our waterways and this is now beginning to pay off. The otter is an ambassador for a healthy environment. As they are at the top of the food chain and use both the land and water environments both habitats have to be in excellent condition.
Another positive aspect of the recovery of the otter is that there is a lot of scientific evidence to show that otters can have a major effect on keeping down populations of American mink.
However we have to take this news with some caution, as the way these surveys are carried out is by looking for spraint (droppings) at a certain number of sites for a distance of up to 600 metres. If spraint is found then the 10km grid square is marked as positive, but this does not give any idea of otter numbers. Furthermore, it does not necessarily mean that otters are resident, as the otter could merely have been passing through, trying to establish a home range.
Numbers are increasing but only slowly and reports that otters are "flooding" back into areas are greatly exaggerated. Otters cannot reproduce quickly: They do not become sexually mature until about two years old and they die at about five to six years old on average. As the young stay with the female for 12-15 months they do not breed every year, so a female may only have two litters in her lifetime.
Dr Paul Yoxon
Head of Operations
International Otter Survival Fund, Broadford, Isle of Skye
New threats to a well-loved animal
It is fantastic news that otters in England and Wales are at their highest numbers for decades. These charismatic animals are a highlight of any visit to a river and they have certainly benefited from historic improvements in the quality of our water.
However, the otter is not the universal indicator of the health of our water environment, as they are threatened mainly by certain specific pesticides and by persecution.
With thousands more chemicals coming on to the market each year, as well as other threats to rivers such as over-abstraction, poor town planning and invasive species, we cannot afford to rest on our laurels.
Our Rivers Campaign
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