Letters: University places

Lack of a university place is no cause for despair
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I sympathise with Margot Lawrence ("My bright daughter can't get into university", 8 April). But as a (now retired) sixth-form tutor, and having had two children go through the university-application process, I would always advise any student, however bright, to make one of their choices a "back-up" choice, to a university with slightly less prestige in the subject area of choice.

There are thousands and thousands of A and A* students applying for places. To stand out from the rest, applicants must write a personal statement that proves they are more than just a brainy young thing, but have talents and interests above and beyond the academic.

What have you given back to your school? Have you helped with paired reading or mentoring? Been a keen sportsman or woman? What have you done in your community? Have you been a volunteer for a charity? What part-time work have you done and why is it important (ie not just: "I work on the tills at Homebase", but "I work on the tills at Homebase and achieved 100 per cent in my customer-service skills appraisal")?

It may well be that she has done all this. If so, she will stand a great chance of gaining a good place through the clearing process. Alternatively, she could take a year out and do something really worthwhile – volunteering abroad or at home for example – and reapply next year, with an improved personal statement and some real-life experiences.

Above all don't let your daughter think that all is lost and don't dwell on past rejections. If she is so bright she will go to university in the end and will do well there. Don't get her worried about how you will have to work for longer to see her through. Instead, make sure she applies for every grant possible and if she has to get a part-time job to make ends meet, that won't do her any harm either. My son did and thoroughly enjoyed it! Stay positive and it will all work out in the end.

Paula Saunders

St Albans, Hertfordshire

Lib Dems vote Labour? Dream on

Lord Adonis (front page & Opinion, 9 April) argues that there is a "fundamental Labour-Lib Dem identity of interest."

How about support for an all-intrusive ID-card database, the Contact Point children's database, illegal retention of the DNA of innocent people, illegal detaining of British passport-holders in foreign camps and collusion in torture and the Iraq war, among other issues? Are these not "major" areas of policy? No Liberal Democrat in his right mind could support Andrew Adonis's Labour party, and I would urge them not to if they value civil liberties.

Christopher Anton


This coming general election seems likely to result in a hung parliament. Judging by what has happened previously, the party getting into "power" will call another election fairly soon afterwards, hoping to get a "real" majority.

At the first election, a lot of the electorate will face this puzzle. Should they vote for the party whom they would really like to represent them in parliament (but for which it might be unlikely that sufficient other people would vote); or vote tactically for a candidate with a better chance of getting elected, so as to try to avoid getting an MP they might dislike even more?

Then, at the second election, they would face the same dilemma again – unless, in the meanwhile, a change to the election system allowed them to vote realistically to select whichever candidate or party they really wanted, avoiding the need for tactical voting.

It is most unlikely that either a Conservative or Labour government would by themselves choose to bring in such a measure. However, the Liberal Democrats have made such a move a condition of any support they might give to either of those other parties. If there were a relatively large number of Liberal Democrat MPs, that measure could be introduced during that short parliament, allowing the electorate as a whole to choose the members it wanted at the second general election.

At this "first" election, then, the best tactical vote would be for the Liberal Democrat candidate, to ensure that, at all subsequent elections, voters would have a real choice of candidates and parties, and need never again waste their vote.

Sir Reginald E W Harland

Bury St Edmunds, Suffolk

Your 6 April report claims that the Liberal Democrat candidate in Oxford East, Steve Goddard, has an increased chance of winning because of "the withdrawal of the Green Party candidate, the human-rights campaigner Peter Tatchell". This may lead some people to conclude that the Greens now have no candidate in Oxford East, which is untrue.

Local campaigner Sushila Dhall has been selected to replace me. She is committed to a fairer, greener society, including a Green New Deal to both create jobs and improve the environment. The passionate, wonderful Ms Dhall would be a feisty, fresh voice in parliament. She would make a very fine MP.

Peter Tatchell

London SE1

Lord Adonis might care to reflect that if a Conservative government is the outcome of the election, then it is he and his colleagues who are responsible.

Their failure over the past 13 years to enact their own manifesto promises to hold a referendum on electoral reform are reason enough for them to deserve everything coming to them on 6 May.

If voters support the principles and policies of the Liberal Democrats, then they should vote for the Liberal Democrats. They certainly won't get anything from illiberal "New" Labour.

Steve Travis


Protests against Jerusalem Quartet

Keep politics out of music (letters, 2 April)? Sound familiar? Oh yes, "Keep politics out of sport" was the rallying cry of supporters of Apartheid South Africa.

Music is political – the Jerusalem Quartet can tell you that; after all, their recent tour to Australia was part-funded by Israel, and they happily played at the Washington celebrations for Israel's 60th birthday, announced by the Israeli ambassador and sponsored by the Israeli Embassy.

Ann Hallam

Hove, East Sussex

If Tony Greenstein and Deborah Fink (letters, 5 April) truly believe that Mishkenot Shaananim in Jerusalem is "a West Bank settlement" they display the most abysmal ignorance of Middle Eastern history. Mishkenot Shaananim, Tranquil Abode in Hebrew, was built in the 1850s by Sir Moses Montefiore as a modern dwelling for the Jews of the overcrowded and unhygienic Jewish Quarter of the walled Old City. By this time the Jews constituted an absolute majority of the city's inhabitants and Mishkenot was the first area built outside the walls. The area is an integral part of West Jerusalem, not the West Bank.

It is sad that Greenstein and Fink, who use their "Jewishness" as a stick to beat Israel, know so little about the history of the area.

Dr Tom Weinberger


Let's ditch this ugly Olympic tower

Tom Sutcliffe describes the proposed ArcelorMittal Olympic tower as "monumentally graceless" and dubs it "the Pig's Ear" (6 April). I would wholeheartedly agree. But there is an alternative which has already been tried out and tested on the public. I am referring to the Skylon which was erected for the Festival of Britain in 1951, alongside the Dome of Discovery, and which was shamefully demolished after the end of the Festival. It was an architectural and engineering marvel, elegant and universally popular, equally attractive and impressive by day and by night, when it was illuminated both without and within.

There is a campaign to have the Skylon rebuilt and re-erected; the Olympic park provides an ideal site and opportunity.

Paul Priestley-Leach

Swanland, East Yorkshire

What is slightly worrying about the ghastly ArcelorMittal Orbit is that it was judged to be better than other designs. What on earth did it surpass?

Arvind Kumar


How is the proposed Olympic Tower to be painted? Perhaps Mr Mittal can produce permanently coloured red steel but if not, the Forth Bridge painters will have to be brought in. Have the Health and Safety people been consulted? The complexity of the scaffolding needed boggles the mind.

David Butler

Kennington, Oxfordshire

The problem with phonetic spelling

If, as Masha Bell argues (Podium, 7 April), spelling should be phonetic, a standard pronunciation must be chosen. To residents of the Home Counties, the thing on the shoulders is the "hed", to a laddie from Scotland it's the "heed", and to a lassie from Essex it's "ed"? How do you spell either? Eye-ther and ee-ther are both commonly heard.

Spelling phonetically would alienate most of the UK; would make a huge body of literature unreadable and do nothing to help illiteracy levels. Functional literacy is a long way short of being able to spell infallibly.

Perhaps the reason so many children fail to learn to spell is that they read less than their more successful peers – there are so many ways to find entertainment now and sitting reading a book must look rather dull. And texting, a very popular method of communicating, has a quite different orthography.

David Gould

Andover, Hampshire

In recent years it has become impossible to use my preferred British spelling of words like "realize" and "organize" without being told by misinformed pedants that these are vulgar Americanisms. Ironically the most powerful force in the propagation of this misapprehension is an American word-processing package that refuses to accept these spellings.

Many of your correspondents want to change illogical British spellings. But rather than simply adopting such a revised spelling scheme themselves, they appear be to waiting around for permission to do so from some non-existent ruling body. Instead of writing letters to newspapers, perhaps their time would be better spent writing to Bill Gates.

Dave Woods


Hamish Dowlen (letter, 31 March) compares repairing our spelling to falsifying the teaching of history by ignoring key facts.

There is a big difference. History is a valid subject, taught for its own sake. Spelling is not; it is simply a tool. There is nothing sacred about it; it should be upgraded when possible to make it work more efficiently.

Allan Campbell

Christchurch, New Zealand

Masha Bell picks Finland as an example of phonetic spelling. But Finland is also host to speakers of Suomi and Swedish. The closely related languages of Norwegian, Swedish and Danish are far from phonetic. Indeed, the Danes considered changing their spelling, but desisted on the grounds that new generations would be cut off from their cultural heritage.

John Henderson


Reality cheque?

It's time OAPs and those without computers were told how they are to pay their bills if cheques are done away with. Many are worried sick about how they will manage.

George Appleby


Egalitarian Eton

It's been fashionable for some time to knock Eton, but Liz Hoggard (8 April) takes the biscuit. My father had a shop in a Hertfordshire village. Thanks to the generosity of the county council, I went to Eton. Believe me, I felt entirely at home. Moreover I was not alone – some 20 per cent of Etonians have help with the fees. Unaware of modest family backgrounds? Deaf to "the quieter voices"? Only ever comfortable with fellow old Etonians? I think not.

Richard Castle


Raven maven

I can assure Ludmila Chard (letters, 8 April) that ravens have arrived in Devon and probably never left their traditional moorland habitat. It is certainly the case that numbers have increased markedly in recent years and they are now quite common. One regularly overflies our garden, getting mobbed by the resident crows in the process. Apart from their size and diamond-shaped tail, they are most easily identified by their distinctive call, an unmistakable "kronk".

Howard Lyne

Honiton, Devon

Tax confusion

Yesterday I received four separate letters from three separate tax offices advising me of four different tax codes: 22 T, 125 L, 131 L and 492 L. Beam me up, Scotty!

David McLaren

London SE10

Admit nothing

Last week you carried a story about the singer Ricky Martin "admitting" he was gay. This week we have a headline in which Martina Navratilova "admits" she has breast cancer. Surely it is time to adopt a more blame-free stance to these announcements.

Ed Thompson