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Tuesday 24 November 2009
Letters: University funding
There will be more university funding scandals
It seems that, at long last, the Higher Education Funding Council has woken up to the importance of the effective and proper governance of universities ("University accused of £36m student scam", 23 December). It is just a pity that it has taken a huge scandal to force HEFC to take belated action.
To me, as a former further education college governor, it always seemed a strange anomaly that while the further education sector had sensible selection procedures for all our governors, and inspection teams checked up on these, a number of universities still use their "old pals networks" – and even when there is a pretence of professionalism the reality is that selection procedures are actually still remarkably amateurish. The London Metropolitan scandal is likely to be the tip of a rather large iceberg.
Birchington on Sea, Kent
As one who has taught undergraduates in the UK, and is currently teaching in Australia, I am saddened by the tone of your leading article (23 November), suggesting that students from poorer background are less likely to embrace a university course, and should, therefore, be treated differently from the privileged students.
In my experience, the majority of the students have come from working-class families. These students cheerfully admit that their parents clean the homes of the better off and stack shelves in supermarkets. However, one cannot help but notice their pleasure when they point out that it is their ability, and not access to private schooling, that has gained them a university place. They do not expect, nor do they receive, any special consideration in their assessment.
Visiting Senior Lecturer,
University of New South Wales
Scotland leads the way on climate
It was refreshing to read a more optimistic assessment of the likelihood of success at the forthcoming UN climate change summit in Copenhagen next month (23 November). It was however inaccurate to state that Norway has the world's most ambitious target for cutting CO2 emissions, a 40 per cent cut by 2020 on 1990 levels.
In June of this year the Scottish Parliament unanimously passed the Climate Change (Scotland) Act, committing Scotland to legally binding cuts in greenhouse gas emissions (not just CO2) by at least 42 per cent by 2020 on 1990 levels, and 80 per cent by 2050.
The Act contains a number of other ground-breaking precedents that other countries would do well to follow, such as including emissions from international aviation and shipping from the outset. While Scotland's Act has received little attention from UK-based media outside Scotland, there has been substantial international media and political interest in these early and important precedents.
Recent statements reflecting the dire inertia of the leading industrialised nations including America, Australia and Canada, has left campaigning bodies such as Stop Climate Chaos Scotland deeply concerned that many of the world's industrialised nations have still not woken up to the potentially devastating consequences of climate change.
Other nations must follow the examples set by Scotland and Norway and commit to their own substantial action at Copenhagen before it is too late.
Chair, Stop Climate Chaos Scotland, Perth
As the UN Copenhagen Climate Change conference approaches, it is surely time for us all to think what we can do personally to reduce emissions. It is so easy to point the finger at other countries and do nothing oneself because our individual contributions seem so trivial. It is also "comforting" to question the data, since this doubt might prolong the wasteful status quo.
A little more of the Kennedy mentality is needed: "Think not what your country can do for you but what you can do for your country." Leading by example is so much more effective than pushing with blame.
Acting more sustainably is not invariably painful, since it may save money and be good for communities. We have set up a really simple car-sharing scheme for outpatient appointments and visits at our local Ipswich Hospital which if extended nationally could save over £500m in petrol.
We have pragmatic incentives such as cheaper and guaranteed hospital parking, along with a free coffee or tea while you wait for your car-sharer. If we start with saving money and helping people, then the enviromental benefits will follow.
Dr John Havard
It's not clear if Michael Petek really believes in his suggestion that we bomb China's coal-fired power stations if they don't start reversing their expansion (letter, 23 November). Most of us know China's per capita emissions are still well below those of western Europe, let alone the US and the Anzac countries, and that China's energy demands partly result from rising western imports of Chinese goods.
So how do we tackle our demand for manufactured goods, wherever they are causing emissions?
For one, we should be drawing up accounts of our national emissions footprint including all imports plus aviation and shipping, and have declared goals for reducing it.
With regard to manufactured goods and many raw materials, we must either radically increase VAT or duties on them, with corresponding cuts in income and labour-related tax take, or incorporate them into a national carbon rationing system.
Without a trace of irony, the BBC news shows footage of the "once in a millennium" floods in Cumbria. This is promptly followed by footage of all the other "once in a millennium" floods that have happened this century.
When are we going to wake up and notice that the environment is telling us we've got things dreadfully wrong? Is someone in power going to make some real changes towards tackling climate change or are we going to keep reporting "once in a millennium" events every year and refuse to see what's under our noses?
Blair and the march to war
Bruce Anderson's column on the Iraq inquiry reproaches Robin Cook for not presenting a robust Foreign Office line to Tony Blair ("Iraq is inseparable from the personality of Tony Blair", 23 November).
Cook stopped being Foreign Secretary in May 2001, before 9/11. In 1998 Cook told the House of Commons that Saddam had hidden weapons of mass destruction and he authorised the RAF overflights on northern and southern Iraq, including attacks on Iraqi military targets.
As a minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office from 2001 to 2005 I never heard a senior official or ambassador express doubts or criticisms of the need to confront Saddam. I notice some have expressed their views after retirement. Other than a lawyer at the Foreign Office who resigned in protest at the march to war, no other official did so in order to show disapproval of Blair's policy.
Why do some discover the courage of their opinions only after pensions and retirement jobs are secured? Perhaps the Chilcot team might ask the question.
Denis MacShane MP
House of Commons
Bruce Anderson overstates the case for war with Saddam.
The only reason given to the public was weapons of mass destruction, and Saddam was playing a dangerous game of brinkmanship for reasons best known to himself. Regime change and aiding our US ally were not aired in the days leading up to the time of our attack.
The UN inspectors were on the verge of being allowed back into Iraq, and their subsequent (that is after the conclusion of formal hostilities) inability to find any WMD was later brushed aside as somehow less relevant than ridding Iraq of a tyrant in an attempt to give the war some legitimacy. Nobility be blowed!
Lib Dems in a hung Parliament
You report that the Liberal Democrats "would support whichever party wins the most seats if both the Tories and Labour fail to secure an overall majority after the next election" (news, 23 November). Not so. What Nick Clegg actually said was: "Whichever party has the strongest mandate from the British people . . . has the first right to seek to try and govern, either on their own or with others."
It is quite conceivable that under our ludicrous electoral system one party may have more seats but another may have more votes. Such a result should confer a mandate on the party with the largest number of votes. In any case, it is up to the largest party (however it be defined) to choose whether to seek to govern as a minority or to approach another party for formal or informal coalition.
It is not beyond the bounds of possibility that such a result might produce a Labour-Conservative coalition; the two parties have much in common, and a precedent was set recently in Germany.
West Bridgford, nOTTINGHAMshire
Legal decisions for dementia sufferers
I read with interest your reader's letter titled "Dementia carers must go to court" (23 November). The Justice Secretary has recently agreed to a review of the Court of Protection rules, and we will look carefully at the results of this.
However it is important for me to clarify that attorneys do not apply to the Court of Protection when registering a Lasting Power of Attorney (LPA) or Enduring Power of Attorney (EPA). These powers are normally registered with myself at the Office of the Public Guardian (OPG), and not the Court of Protection.
There are very few instances when the Court of Protection might become involved in the registration of an LPA or EPA – in the main where another party objects to the registration; or where the particular provisions made would make an LPA or EPA inoperable or invalid. In practice, the vast majority of applications to register Enduring and Lasting Powers of Attorney proceed without any involvement from the court.
LPAs provide an effective means to plan for a time when you might not be able to make decisions over your own affairs. Since October 2009, the Office of the Public Guardian has introduced simpler forms and clearer guidance for LPAs.
Before the people of a blighted Cumbria get too excited about the Prime Minister's promise of lavish financial assistance, they might wish to remember that in the first full week of his premiership, terrible floods inundated Hull, Leeds, Sheffield and Doncaster. And what was Gordon Brown's response? Next to nothing.
Godfrey H Holmes
To answer June Helen Rogers' question "Who ever heard of a politician interested in poetry?" (letter, 23 November), Dylan Thomas had two fans among recent American presidents, namely Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton. Ex-President Carter campaigned to have Dylan commemorated at "Poets' Corner" and opened the Dylan Thomas Centre, Swansea in 1995.
Victoria Summerley comments on the discomforts of Clapham Junction (Opinion, 19 November). In the railway boom of the 1850s and 1860s, one railway was refused permission to open since the "public convenience" had not been completed. Why is it that I have found no public loos at Clapham Junction station with its 22 platforms, whereas Templecombe, Somerset, with two platforms only, has a public loo?
Why does Professor Blackshaw (letter, 23 November) not recognise that suspending a game to issue red or yellow cards for deliberate fouls, halting play in response to the agonised rolling playacting of players scarcely touched by an opponent and waiting for a penalty given for some blatant piece of diving in the box are far more disruptive to the "dynamics and flow of the game" than a few moments of occasional video technology could ever be?
Cowling, North Yorkshire
With regard to the BBC ruling excluding the non-religious from the Thought for the Day slot on the Today programme (report, 18 November), I'm pleased to observe that we atheists, secularists and humanists have many more than just one thought in a day.
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