Letters: University places

Alternatives to university

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Having read yet another article outlining the shortage of university places this year, I can’t help but think there might be a silver lining to this cloudy time.

The push from politicians to get more young people in university education has devalued the resulting qualification, and a degree from a mediocre university is usually awaste of three or more years and tens of thousands of pounds.

Furthermore, the romanticisation of graduate prospects has led to further disappointment as, until recent media coverage, young people were led to believe that a degree was a free pass to any job. As a result, many recent graduates are unemployed, as they refuse to accept any job that does not fulfil the dream.

As a recent first-class graduate from Manchester University, I am perfectly content for the time being in a stop-gap role which pays off the overdraft and adds something to the CV. Perhaps the squeeze on university places will lead more young people to consider other options, such a training in employment.

A 21-year-old friend of mine has recently bought his own house, with no help from parents, having saved up his £35,000 salary. He left school at 16. For many young people, this route to the dream job and salary would be far cheaper and quicker thanwasting several years obtaining sub-standard A-levels and degrees, and further months and years waiting for employers to approach with open arms.

June Kent,

Oxford

When filling in my UCAS form a couple of years ago, I made sure that I applied to a spread of universities, despite being a “straight A” sixth former. While I received an offer from my top choice, I did not think myself automatically entitled to it, even though I had worked hard to achieve my A-level results. Iwould have been happy with any of my five offers.

Not every prospective student can get into their top choice and although this may be disappointing, for the universities lower down the league tables it is a clear bonus that they can hope to attract better candidates and thereby improve their standing.

The annual media stories about perfect candidates who fail to secure an offer do a disservice to the many excellent universities across the UK which are frequently dismissed as “less competitive”. I would encourage the coming year’s applicants to apply to a spread of universities, not because they have to “aim lower”, but because universities across Britain are aiming higher.

Edmund Woodfield,

Tunbridge Wells, Kent

David Blunkett and I clearly agree about the value of apprenticeships (letter, 19 August), although we disagree about the effect of his policies.

Rather than continue to revisit what is now pretty ancient history, I hope that he and I would agree that there is now an opportunity to build something positive out of what is currently being reported as the disaster of missed university places by able 18-year-olds.

It seems just possible that by accident, as the result of a funding crisis, a structural shift could take place in the design of career pathways for young people. Instead of automatically taking up the higher education places to which (predominantly middle-class) young people have become to feel entitled, they are now reluctantly being forced to consider workbased options.

If two things happen quickly, great benefits could accrue. First, the further and higher education sectors need to work together to ensure that by September 2011 there are sufficient part-time courses leading to diploma, foundation degree or full degree standard that will support however many employers are willing to participate.

Second, government needs to ensure that policy and funding underpin careers advice, delivered by well qualified, independent advisers, that will guide many more young people into these courses, irrespective of their social class, their sector of education (private or state), their parents’ and their sixthform tutors’ expectations, and their potential for an A* or not.

By strongly emphasising that the combination of work and good-quality continued learning is a valid route for any capable 18-year-old, expectations are less likely to be dashed, the economy will benefit, government expenditure will fall, as will personal debt. Furthermore, social mobility could be stimulated if full-time first degree courses become less a middle-class rite of passage and more the right places for the right people.

Patrick Cosgrove,

Chapel Lawn, Shropshire

Life doesn’t end at 60

“Benefits for the elderly,” begins your news story, “are being targeted.” (“Ministers consider cuts to winter fuel allowance”, 17 August). There is no way that a bus pass or a cash-handout “fuel allowance” to a 60-year-old person in fulltime employment is a “benefit for the elderly”.

If you want older people to work longer, then you have to stop encouraging them to hang up their boots at 60. If you are a woman, then at 60 you currently qualify for your state pension, for an end to National Insurance contributions and for all the freebies – even if you continue to work.

There is no reason why the state should pay a person’s bus fares or pretend to pay their fuel bills just because they have hit 60. It takes away older people’s dignity to choose their pattern of consumption for them. Out of a decent state pension kicking in at 65, 66 or 67 for men and women alike, people should be free to choose the bus, a taxi or a bike. They should be free to choose a holiday on the Costa del Sol, as many do, to avoid fuel bills. All the freebies created by New Labour reek of an old-fashioned paternalism: Take sixpence, my man, and vote for the man from the Manse.

Worst of all, we now have affluent, educated middleclass 60-plus benefits scroungers writing indignant letters to The Independent

Trevor Pateman (63),

Brighton

Sir Philip Green’s taxes

David Prosser (Outlook, 20 August) made a logical defence of Sir Philip Green, and David Cameron’s decision to appoint him as adviser to the Coalition Government. He correctly pointed out that Sir Philip and his wife had acted perfectly legally in arranging their tax affairs to escape paying tax on a dividend they earn on their businesses in the UK.

The sums involved are shockingly immense, but he implies that this amount should not affect the principle.

However, perhaps David Prosser could ponder this hypothetical question. Would he be happy to see David Cameron and his wife act in the same perfectly legal way in arranging their tax affairs, and if not, why not? I beg to suggest that most of the public would not accept a person at the highest level of government acting in such an outrageously selfish way.

Stephen Fuller,

London SE11

“What the Greens have done is no more than what the vast majority of us do: they have arranged their family finances so as to pay as little tax as possible while staying within the law,” writes David Prosser.

Really? Have I reached my 82nd year without realising that the vast majority have been hiring experts to advise them on howto avoid paying some, if not the vast majority, of their taxes. If this is the truth, then Philip Green should surely have been asked to advise the Government how to plug up holes which make it legal to avoid taxation.

We who have too little to send members of the family to live in Monaco or other luxury places, are expected to accept responsibility for the public debt and pay by losing our jobs or our holidays or both. The poorer we are, the more ethically we must behave.

Peter Pink,

Aylsham, Norfolk

After an Iranian oil blockade

Sean O’Grady’s comment (18 August) about “an Israeli bombing raid on Iran pushing the price of a barrel of oil to $250” was most appropriate.

But this is over-optimistic. Iran has made it clear that it would retaliate by blockading the Strait of Hormuz. I believe they would probably mine it. The channel would be cut off for years and, considering that one third of the world’s oil goes through this channel, oil at $250 a barrel would start to look cheap.

The economy of America would be in tatters and the US would rapidly become incapable of conducting any war anywhere. The other economies of western capitalism would also deteriorate rapidly.

It appears that Israel is very close to launching an attack and the US is incapable of restraining it – even though Israel depends on the US to arm it.

We in Europe can do nothing to prevent any of this, so it is vital we position ourselves wisely. We should cure ourselves of our insane love affair with the US and take a more neutral stance in the squabbling between it and Iran. It is most likely that the “free market” in commodities organised in dollars would cease to operate and it will then depend on who will talk to us as to whether we survive.

John Day,

Port Solent, Hampshire

Let's drop the visa barriers

UK citizens do need to apply for Russian visas and go through necessary paperwork (Mary Dejevsky, 17 August). However this “nuisance” is dwarfed by the procedures theRussians who wish to visit Britain have to follow. The UK visa application form is five times as lengthy, and has to be completed in English only.

Despite all this some 240,000 British visitors go to Russia every year. This is even more than the number of Russians coming to the UK annually. It is in our mutual interest to see these figures grow higher. A visa facilitation agreement between Russia and Britain is long overdue. We have such an agreement with the EU.

Some countries, such as Israel, have gone even further and agreed with us visa-free entry regimes. Contrary to sceptics’ expectations, this has not created any problem with illegal migration or crime, but rather boosted the tourist industries in countries involved.

In our view, enabling people from our countries to travel and get to know each other with fewer bureaucratic formalities would foster cultural and economic contacts and ultimately serve the best interest of the two nations.

Alexander Sternik,

Chargé d’Affaires, Embassy of the Russian Federation,

London W8

Women can be surgeons

It is true that over 90 per cent of surgeons are male, as Edwin Webb (letter, 17 August) suggests. However, 60 per cent of doctors graduating are female. If we continue to pick from the minority of doctors who are male, we will not have the best surgeons for the future.

The problems are twofold. First, the decade of training coincides with child-rearing, but this is much easier with shorter working hours and new planned training programmes. Second, no one realises this and only 13 per cent of the junior doctors who apply are female.

The Women in Surgery committee has data showing thatwomen who do apply have a significantly greater chance of being appointed.

The job of consultant surgeon fits well around children, but those advising women doctors cannot see beyond the stereotype and the training phase.

Scarlett McNally,

Consultant Orthopaedic Surgeon,

Eastbourne, East Sussex

Enemies of ‘Mme la Présidente

I do not know what Anthony North (letter, 18 August) is a professor of, but it cannot be French. Not only does the “writ of the French Academy” not run in Brussels, it does not run in Paris either.

As early as March 1986, the then Prime Minister, Laurent Fabius, instructed the civil service to use, among other feminisations, the term “présidente” for a female president/chairperson.

Even the French government has more sense than to listen to the maunderings of the self appointed bunch of crusty old wrinklies that constitute the Académie Française, preferring to take the advice of professionals in the field such as the Institut National de la Langue Française.

Peter Norman,

Brussels

Iraq: don't say you weren't told

Beth Stange (letter, 20 August) is entitled to air her view about the invasion of Iraq, but she is not entitled to say that the results are “far worse than anyone predicted”.

Very many of us predicted that the outcome would be disastrous. It does not need a soothsayer to divine these things. It takes a knowledge of history, of geography and of current world affairs to make a reasonable prediction.

Sadly this knowledge is also lacking in many of our politicians, who allowed Tony Blair to proceed with what “he thought was right” even when contrary to the advice of the majority of those experts paid to advise our government.

Charles Brown,

Chesterfield, Derbyshire

Bypass Blair

Rather than buy a copy of Tony Blair’s book, I am giving its cover price to a charity. I encourage everyone else to do the same. Instead of buying the book, send your £25 to a charity of your choice. In this way, charities will receive far more money than they would otherwise have done from Blair’s royalties alone.

Michael Horan,

Turners Hill, West Sussex

Perspectives on Islam

All worship the same God

I would like to make three comments on recent articles if I may. First, you suggest that many Americans are “at a loss to say just what kind of God Mr Obama worships” (“One in five Americans believe Obama is a Muslim”, 20 August). You should know that both Muslims and Christians worship the same God, the God of Abraham, Noah,Moses and Jesus (peace be upon them) all of whomare accorded great respect in the Holy Qur’an.

Secondly, you refer to Dr Tim Winter, aka Abdul-Hakim Murad, as hitherto unnoticed (“Timothy Winter : Britain’s most influential Muslim”, 20August). He may indeed be unnoticed among the mainstream media, which prefers to focus on DIY muftis who give instant opinions with very little insight, but Dr Winter is very much respected and in great demand as a speaker among the Muslim community. Perhaps The Independent could redress the balance by offering Dr Winter a column in your pages as a representation of the mainstream moderate Islam which so struggles to find a voice in the media.

Finally, you cite the third Test match between England and Pakistan in relation to the particular hardship cricketers can face when fasting during Ramadan, given the long periods of play involved (“No fasting, no football,” 16 August). Whether individual players are fasting or not, the start of Ramadan seems to have done wonders for Pakistan’s performance.

Muhammad Waraqah Williams,

London, E12

Not the western society I know

Timothy Winter expresses the view that Asian Muslim youths in the UK struggle to assimilate with society because they see such things as binge drinking, gambling and drug addiction. This is a depiction of a society I would struggle to assimilate into, but it certainly is not the society I live in.

Most people do not live like this, and I, as neither a drug-user nor an alcoholic nor a gambler, resent the implication that this is a fair description of our society. The majority of people in Britain are able to enjoy the freedoms of access to alcohol and even gambling in a responsible and even sociable fashion.

Our society strives to allow people to live their lives as they see fit, provided they do not pose a risk to others around them. Surely this is the key to assimilation: live and let live.

Ben Littler,

Derby

Sexuality in the Garden of Eden

Timothy Winter manages to cram several errors into a single sentence, when he states that “in a Christian context, sexuality is seen as a consequence of the Fall, but for Muslims, it is an anticipation of paradise.”

In Christian belief, God creates sexuality as a part of paradise, and before the fall. When he creates Adam and Eve: “Male and female created he them. And God blessed them, and God said unto them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and replenish the earth.’ ” Before the fall, Adam and Eve get to walk happily naked in the garden with God. It is their shame that is the consequence of the fall, not their sexuality.

Emma Wilson,

Birmingham

***

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