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Friday 19 March 2010
Letters: University fees
Universities turned into technical colleges
Where your leading article (18 March) accepts and defends budget cuts in higher education, it positively flaunts the notion of making their institutions more like technical colleges than universities: "If, as is forecast, the number of university places overall is set to fall, it is right that students are gently channelled into areas where skills are most needed."
So the army of "gently channelled" graduates would then be "better tailored to the country's future requirements"; that is science and technology. This will diminish the essential universality of the university, boiling down its broad scope to training for whichever sector is short of manpower and big on cash.
It is one thing to say that higher education in a market economy must face the reality of a recession, and quite another to treat its distinguishing feature as some kind of superfluous luxury.
I suspect Lord Patten's proposal for unlimited fees for universities is based on his experience of Oxford's lecture and tutorial system.
Tutorials are expensive, but highly diagnostic, while lectures are seen as cheaper, but necessary to transmit knowledge. Having been through it myself, at Oxford, I feel a far more effective way to educate is to run more seminars. They combine the advantages of tutorials and lectures, and will probably cost less than the current system at Oxford.
West Bromwich, West Midlands
I see that the London School of Economics is to have a cut of 6 per cent and the London Business School a cut of 12 per cent. Given the economic hole we are in, this ignorant layman might be tempted to suggest that we should either quadruple the funds to these institutions or close them down altogether.
No room on the housing ladder
Tim Walker's article (16 March) is an indication of the British obsession with houses as more than places to live. We see them as an extension of our characters or reflecting our tastes, class and success. This is nothing new, but has increased since the explosion in property prices in the early 1970s, and as a result too many of our national resources are sucked in to these overvalued ornaments.
How often do we hear the mantra "We must get on the housing ladder" – so much so that we have convinced ourselves that it is not whether to buy a house, but how soon. We have lost sight of the purpose of home ownership and confuse it with a pension or a short- to medium-term investment.
As we have lost sight of the purpose of houses we have difficulty in objectively valuing them. An example of this is when we are persuaded to pay more for older "character" properties, which can be unsuitable for contemporary living, more expensive to maintain and costly to adapt to eco-friendly requirements. It will be interesting to see whether there will be support for the eco-friendly modular homes which are the subject of Ginetta Vedrickas's article (17 March) or if they will they fall at the first hurdle – the perceived potential to appreciate as an investment.
We need to build low-cost eco-friendly houses instead of wasting resources on our old stock of houses. A whiff of nostalgia yes, but you can choke on it.
Baildon, West Yorkshire
Tim Walker's idea that baby boomers stole his future is a little simplistic – especially so when the premise used is that postulated by the Thatcherite David Willetts.
It was the Tories who started the idea that council houses could be sold, thus causing a massive shortage of affordable housing. As the prices climbed the middle classes gleefully counted their supposed profits and fell for the illusion that because the selling price of a house had doubled or tripled they actually possessed that money.
The idea of the home morphed into an asset. No longer a place to live and enjoy, but a cross between an investment and a show home. Of course, the prices climbed to the sorry position where now young couples cannot afford to buy a home. People must find other ways of living. This can only be by renting.
The baby boomers stole nothing. The loss of Mr Walker's ability to buy a house was down to the greed and foolishness of house owners who could not see the big lie behind the property myth. The solution? Build more houses; the prices will fall and jobs will be created. Oh, and stop blaming anyone else for your difficulties.
Zionism before the Holocaust
Mark Elf (letter, 16 March) shoots himself in the foot, like all Israel-bashers. He correctly points out that the Holocaust played no part in the Balfour Declaration of 1917, which promised the Jews a return to statehood (centring on the large remnant that has always lived in Israel for 4,500 years).
This gives the lie to those who claim that it was only sympathy for the Jews after the Holocaust, that was the reason for the UN declaring the partition of the Palestine mandate to create a Jewish and an Arab state. The Holocaust merely brought the inevitable independence for Israel rapidly forward.
Equally, Elf's remark that Israel uses the Holocaust as some kind of propaganda blackmail ignores the fact that the fair partition of the Mandate into a Jewish and Arab state was openly proposed by the British Peel Commission of 1936, long before the Holocaust. For Zionists and their millions of supporters worldwide, the Holocaust is merely the final example of what happens to a people – the Jews – whose land was stolen by invaders, leaving us stateless for centuries and ever at the whims of other governments.
Johann Hari is right that Israel, with its announcement of plans to build 1,600 new homes in East Jerusalem, appears to have abandoned even the pretence of wanting to negotiate with the Palestinians (Opinion 12 March).
If economic pressure is not brought to bear, two things will happen: a reassured Israel will continue its creeping expansion, probably until all of the West Bank is taken; and the Palestinians will resort to ever more desperate and unacceptable means of resistance.
Surely our government should, at the very least, be calling on America to withhold its annual subsidy of several billion dollars to Israel, and for the withholding of arms sales. Diplomacy is not enough.
A coalition with the right to rule
Before we start in earnest the dialogue of the deaf that is a British general election, I would like to make one point about a potentially fatal flaw in our first-past-the-post system.
At the moment we are in a phoney war period, but if the economics are as bad as they seem, and if the political measures needed are as drastic as predicted, no governing party with less than 50 per cent electoral support will have the capacity (or legitimacy) to carry out its programme.
Our political leaders tell us that we are facing the worst crisis since wartime. If the country is to remain governable we are going to need a de facto coalition of at least two parties to govern with some measure of popular support. Although many bankers and businessmen don't seem to get it, a wafer-thin majority for either of the two main parties is the surest recipe for the political uncertainty they claim to be afraid of.
Dr John Butterworth
William Hague splutters as he tries to explain away his obfuscation about that Ashcroft man (he is not my lord) and Gordon Brown "corrects" part of his evidence to the Chilcot enquiry. Do ordinary people need much more proof that you can tell when politicians lie because their lips move?
Why are strikers always wrong?
It was refreshing and amusing to read Mark Steel's commentary on the BA cabin crews' dispute ("The anti-union brigade are just a bunch of hypocrites", 17 March). Democracy is the right to have your say at your place of work: is that too much to ask? It seems so. Unions, it appears, are OK as long as they agree with the boss. Disagree and you become something else.
There has been an investment strike in the UK these last 12 months with private investment down 24 per cent. Not a word said, yet workers strike and the political class are disturbed. Was there ever a strike that was justified? Never, it would seem from following the UK media.
Democracy at work, like all democracy, can be messy and complicated. It is still a good test of the vibrancy of trade unions.
General Secretary, Communication Workers Union
Jim Madge pleads the case for BA cabin crew (letter, 17 March). But he totally lost me when he mentioned their "smiles". Those rictus grins mean just one thing: "Don't you dare ask for a blanket!"
Clapham, London SW
Unite is trying to elicit support from unions abroad for its industrial action against British Airways. These wouldn't be flying pickets would they?
West Wittering, West Sussex
Nanny state set to ban another drug
Another drug is about to be banned by a nanny government ("Ministers set to back mephredone ban", 18 March). Something else will replace it and be banned in its turn. Could we not instead start to teach something called personal judgement and responsibility?
Individuals will always find stupid ways to destroy themselves. Governments should only legislate against those who seek to harm others, be it by assault, robbery, people trafficking or whatever.
I started out as a rock climber, became a hang glider pilot, and at 75, I continue to fly paragliders. If I kill myself I do not want to see the sale of climbing equipment, hang gliders or paragliders banned. I make a personal choice, as do those who take excessive drugs or alcohol.
I feel sorry for those who can find excitement or fulfilment only by mixing lethal cocktails of drugs, but it is their own and their families' affair.
I was most delighted to read about how the Advertising Standards Authority had received total of 939 complaints about the Government's "Act on CO2" campaign. Ed Miliband and the Department of Energy and Climate Change clearly got people's attention, which is the hallmark of a very successful campaign.
Fair Oak, Hampshire
Your article (18 March) on the importance of gender in food advertising reminded me of the one occasion that my frail, elderly mother succumbed to a television advertisement. Indignant about the Yorkie slogan "It's not for girls", she bought one for the first (and last) time. She had to admit defeat when she failed to break off a single piece.
Tuesday, a cover picture and a full-page report. Wednesday, another page in the news section and a half-page opinion column. What mega event triggered this? Two people separating after seven years of marriage. According to Geoffrey Macnab, "there has been dismay – alongside prurient curiosity" among the British about the Mendes-Winslet separation. Journalists frequently refer to the public's interest in a topic when really they are talking about their own – because as Liz Hoggard pointed out in her article, the media didn't know.
Over the past 20 years numerous public-sector projects have come in massively over budget and shrouded in fiasco. Lord Adonis seems extremely confident with his dates and budget forecast for the new high-speed rail network. Why does he think his plan will be any different from the Channel Tunnel, Millennium Dome, Scottish Parliament and more recently the national NHS computer system? Perhaps he should triple the £30bn he has budgeted and switch the last two digits around on the completion date of 2026.
A headline in The Independent on 18 March reads: "Businessmen lack faith in Labour, new poll shows." Are we to assume from this that businesswomen still favour Labour?
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