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Monday 6 December 2010
Letters: University fees will hit the best workers hardest
I heard with deep despair of the proposal to pay university fees for a year for the poorest students. What a lesson that if families stop struggling and cut hours or give up work their children will have less debt. What a shocking message! What about all those who struggle to do the right thing but never get well off? They are crushed again.
The current fees repayment system does not hit the poor hardest: it hits those who work in the vital but not tremendously well-paid jobs which fuel our economy and maintain and strengthen our social fabric, such as teaching and engineering. It discourages people from taking these demanding jobs, as it imposes a huge marginal tax burden on them, and can prevent them buying a home or founding families.
This leads to the potential loss of able people to the public sector and other employment of national importance. Ed Miliband is right to say this could kill social mobility.
In squirming around trying to justify his party's disgraceful betrayal of students, Nick Clegg seeks to place the tuition fees issue within the wider context of deficit reduction. I'm neither a maths nor economics graduate, so forgive me if I struggle with this.
The Liberal Democrats have signed up to the Conservatives' four-year deficit reduction strategy. If the huge rise in fees is voted through then they will be introduced in two years, before students embark on three years or more of study. The debts those students incur will then be payable if they are lucky enough to find a reasonably paid job on graduation. How then can these proposals contribute to the four-year plan?
The cynical among us might be inclined to think that the deficit is being used as a smokescreen to push through an ideological agenda which the Liberal Democrat leadership has all too quickly subscribed to. I hope the party rank and file, local councillors and those MPs who signed the pre-election pledge to abolish fees remember just who and what they represent. They might recall too that they offered us a "new politics". Thus far, the old is preferable.
Bury, Greater Manchester
Thank goodness that Ray Jennings (Letters, 17 November) is so bravely politically incorrect as to condemn those jumped-up former polytechnics and their "Mickey Mouse degrees". But does he go far enough? Surely these so-called "graduates" of the past 18 years should be retrospectively stripped of their certificates and of any employment gained thereby?
Any subject not studied since Mr Jennings obtained his degree, if any, and any university created since that time, would be automatically condemned.
We should throw in those former Colleges of Advanced Technology – Bradford, Salford and Brunel – which allowed unscholarly types to become plumbers and such but which were absurdly granted university status shortly after my own graduation from the former University College of the South West.
Professor Chris Barton
I know of a young woman who recently obtained a Media Studies BA in Michael Jackson. Possibly not taxpayers' money well spent. If only those degrees for which there is a national need were funded perhaps there might be more maths, science and engineering students. They could even get totally free tuition, leaving the Michael Jackson fans to pay their own.
No doubt that, with regard to tuition fees, the Liberal Democrats would agree with the Victorian prime minister Lord Salisbury that the greatest mistake made by politicians is clinging to the carcasses of dead policies. I wonder if they make a distinction between the carcass of the creature that died of natural causes and that of the one hunted down by your coalition partners.
Why we gamble on the weather
Every time we get severe wintery weather people complain how everything goes to pot, in contrast to other countries such as Canada and Switzerland.
They forget that such nations expect much snow and ice every year, and thus it is worth their while planning for these conditions. Here, by contrast, bad spells of the kind we've had two winters running are the exception rather than the rule. If we prepared fully for them there would be a backlash from people who in each mild winter would wonder why we needed so many gritting lorries lying idle and stockpiles of salt taking up valuable space. In Britain it has to be a case of gambling with the forecast, and being prepared to sometimes get it wrong.
As someone who lives on London's southern fringes, where the North Downs start and the snow falls heavily, I would like to say a warm thank you to the unsung heroes of the last week – the drivers of the local buses. When there were no trains and the trams were bursting at the seams, the buses trundled a lot of us to work and back.
US should thank Wikileaks
Although the level of invective from the US government towards Wikileaks and its founder is understandable, it is puzzling why this appears to be matched by similar sentiments from the public in that country and elsewhere. Few genuine surprises have been unveiled and in general the information disclosed so far has painted the US in a more favourable light than hitherto.
The content may be disturbing or uncomfortable for the likes of the sycophants in New Labour and the Tory party, as well as many self-aggrandising leaders around the world. However the diplomatic cables have provided, for the most part, an insight on a government machine far more in tune with global events and their significance than the statements issued for public and foreign government consumption. The cables thus far have also uncovered the gross dishonesty and corruption endemic in certain governments around the world, not least in the cauldron of the Middle East. And if this exposure helps to shift the discussion towards some just solutions to resolve the turmoil it can be no bad thing.
Jonathan M S Pearce (letter, 30 November) has it wrong when he says that "the brains of society are being laid bare". Innermost thoughts are exactly that. The comments made about other countries' leaders by the US government did not remain private thoughts, but were recorded and thus became susceptible to public scrutiny.
King Abdullah's remarks about Iran, as reported on Wikileaks, put me in mind of Kenny Everett's infamous outburst at the Young Conservatives' rally in 1983, when, in the presence of Margaret Thatcher, he yelled "Let's bomb Russia!" However, I think Kenny Everett was joking.
Global attack on Aids and TB
It is encouraging to read that the fight against HIV/Aids may receive a boost following DFID's aid review ("Britain pledges funding boost for poor countries", 1 December). In the fight against HIV it is also vital that diagnosis, treatment and research for tuberculosis, the leading cause of death of people living with HIV, is prioritised.
TB accounts for nearly one quarter of all Aids-related deaths, yet only 5 per cent of people with HIV are tested for it. If we are seeking to save lives the Government must integrate its response to the two deadly diseases.
Andrew George MP
Chair, All Party Parliamentary Group on Global Tuberculosis,
House of Commons
The news that the Government is likely to increase its funding to the Global Fund to fight Aids, TB and malaria following the Government's aid review is extremely welcome (report, 1 December). The Global Fund is an innovative, effective, results-driven organisation which is responsible for 3 million of the 5.2 million people currently on life-saving Aids drugs. The UK could have no better ally in this fight and we look forward to giving our fair share to maintain and accelerate progress against this terrible disease.
Executive Director, Results UK
What school sport is for
Having read recent correspondence about the pros and cons of school sports I feel strongly that the purpose and scope of school sports partnerships is not fully understood.
The partnerships were set up by the last government as a collaboration between secondary and primary schools, where the secondary school acted as a "hub", developing sports activities both within its own curriculum and with the curricula of a varying number of primary schools.
One very important, and seemingly ignored, purpose of the partnerships was to encourage those children who disliked, or were turned off by, sports to engage in physical activity. To that end a wide variety of sports was offered, depending on schools' facilities and those of the local area. As well as the "traditional" ones, sports such as archery, golf, riding, basketball and so on were available.
Another important aspect was the development of leadership skills in primary school children. Older children were encouraged to become sports leaders in their schools, organising and overseeing sports (with teacher supervision) for their younger schoolmates.
The removal of funding for the partnerships and their replacement with a return to the "good old days" of competitive sports is at the expense of making all children healthier, and it is a travesty.
Abbots Langley, Hertfordshire
None of your recent correspondents about school sport has mentioned self-control (letters, 30 November), which is the basis of sportsmanship. Where else but on the sports field can one so quickly create conditions where one has to control oneself under pressure?
One gets hot, tired, frustrated, dirty, even hurt, but one has to control one's aggressive feelings towards team-mates and opposition alike. At the end of the game, one is expected to be gracious, whether in victory or defeat.
That is the key reason why sport should be central to any educational curriculum, leaving fitness and the creation of future international competitors far behind.
Middle Handley, Derbyshire
Show up or lose benefits
I was startled by the letter from Kenneth Moss (27 November) in which he suggested that people should perhaps not be penalised by losing their Jobseeker's benefits if they fail to turn up for work placements. Apparently losing their benefits would lead to their stealing from the rest of us, mugging us, or stealing our wives' handbags.
They could always choose to show up for their placements. That's what people in work do; they show up for work. Or they lose their jobs – and their salaries. Is every one who loses a job going to walk the streets mugging those of us with jobs? I don't think so.
Whether job or work placement – if you fail to show up, you lose money. It seems fairly simple to me.
I read with disappointment, but sadly no surprise, that Yasmin Alibhai-Brown has been receiving unpleasant mail (Opinion, 29 November). She may take some comfort from the fact that people who rely on insults do so because they don't actually have a good argument. All those people are really saying is that she has offended them by making them question their dogma, and they cannot explain why they believe what they do. Perhaps it is the flicker of doubt within that makes them so angry.
Perspectives on the World Cup
Qatar deserves this honour
The overwhelming media reaction to the failure of England's bid to host the 2012 World Cup has been one of horror. James Lawton states in his article (4 December) that Qatar has a poor sporting tradition and little right to host the World Cup ahead of Australia. N F Edwards asserts in his letter of the same date that Qatar has no football heritage.
My family lived in Qatar between 1973 and 1986 and I can tell you that Qatar absolutely does have a strong football heritage and a long sporting tradition. The Khalifa Football Stadium was completed in 1976.
The enthusiasm for football in Qatar is amazing, as our TV viewers might have witnessed had any of our news stations broadcast scenes from there on hearing the results of the bids, instead of wallowing for hours in interviews with men who felt we had a God-given right to host the event.
Qatar has been hosting the Qatar Open Tennis Tournament for 18 years, an event in which the world's top tennis stars participate. There are also long traditions of golf, horse-racing, sailing, water ski, badminton, table tennis, basketball, handball and motor rallying. My husband played hockey, football and fencing when he attended school there, and I can tell you that Qatari women played a mean game of netball and volley-ball.
So congratulations to Fifa on their decision. With the wealth of sporting heritage Qatar has maybe it should be bidding to host future Olympic Games.
Xenophobic rants fail to convince
The failed FA bid for the World Cup cannot be dismissed as the work of dastardly foreigners. The Football Association knew how Fifa worked and clearly expected to win. If they thought malpractice was at work, why did they not pull out? Did they think it would work in their favour?
For the acting head of the FA to pull out because he can't trust the foreigners is to hand a poisoned chalice to his successor, who will have to work with Fifa.
We need to know why the FA failed where the Olympic committee was triumphantly successful. If England do not learn the lessons of this failure, then they will repeat it. Xenophobic rantings about the rest of the world will not do. Independent investigation is now essential.
What about winning on the field?
I'll go along with James Lawton's somewhat cynical view of the World Cup tournaments being awarded to Russia and Qatar, but it came as no surprise; after all Fifa has said in the past that it wanted to take football to new territories.
We must move on and concentrate on the quality of our own national football team. English football does not need more money; it needs to spread the wealth and invest more in the young English players. They are the future of our progress in World Cup tournaments to come.
We are starting to see this. In the English premiership there are some brilliant young English players who have come out of the academies and are in the starting line-ups for their clubs.
We can live without holding the World Cup tournament, but do we have to go through another humiliating early exit?
Congratulations to Russia
Can the press please stop feeding the public sour grapes over Fifa's decision? It's not only unseemly but boring. I am delighted for Russia.
During the bid process, a curious claim was made that England was "football-mad". It may be true that more people watch football on television than ever before, but watching sport cannot by any stretch of the imagination be termed a sporting activity.
Which country would you rather live in: one which wins the staging of the World Cup through a dodgy (to say the least) process, or one where journalists revealing uncomfortable facts about corruption do not have to fear being killed?
England send a member of the Royal Family to argue the case for staging the World Cup, and Fifa award the competition to a country which shot theirs. A lesson there perhaps?
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