How outsourcing will help to bring global prosperity
Sir: Whilst Deborah Orr's article "What business really wants is cheap workers" (Opinion, 18 November) raised some interesting points, it failed to mention that sending business processes offshore to India, for example, should actually benefit the UK economy.
First of all, offshore outsourcing is playing an important immediate role in maintaining UK plc's competitiveness in an increasingly global market. By cutting costs and improving productivity, it gives UK companies the competitive edge they need to survive in this tough economic climate.
Further, Ms Orr seems to believe that international trade or globalisation is about wealth being created at someone else's expense. However, history tells us that for those countries that have shut themselves off to international trade this path has ultimately led to economic bankruptcy and widespread poverty.
If it is considered cynical for UK businesses to claim the higher moral ground through creating jobs and wealth in India, perhaps Ms Orr would find the following argument more palatable. A positive attitude to international trade will ultimately lead to increased prosperity for larger numbers of people both in this country and elsewhere. Countries such as India and China, through trade in goods and services, are creating relatively well paid jobs for many people. This is a huge opportunity for the UK, since, with a combined population of over 2 billion, these are our export markets of the future. We need to invest our energy working out how to exploit that opportunity rather than worrying about how best to protect our own markets.
Patricia Hewitt is right - protectionism can only harm the UK economy and it is wrong to take a short-term view of this issue.
Regional Director Europe, ICICI OneSource
Dobson recipe for two-tier universities
Sir: Frank Dobson says "parents who have been paying for the private education of their children should have to pay the same amount for them to go to university as they paid in school fees" (Opinion, 25 November). One wonders if he has given any thought at all to the practical consequences of his proposals.
If parents can afford to go on paying the equivalent of full school fees in the form of university fees they will want full value for money. This will mean that they will not want to lose money subsidising parents who could not afford or decided not to make the sacrifice to pay school fees. Why should a parent pay £20,000 to £30,000 per child per year in university fees when much of that will not contribute to the education of his or her child but to that of somebody else?
Just as the abolition of grammar and direct-grant schools resulted in a huge growth in private education so Mr Dobson's proposal will result in a massive expansion of an élite private university sector. This will accept only the very brightest of state school children on its own terms.
Mr Dobson's proposals are a perfect recipe for a two-tier university system. What he should be thinking about - as with school education - is how to keep the better-off in the state university system, not how to drive them out.
Sir: As a parent who sent his children to private schools I would like to point out to Frank Dobson that there are vast numbers of us who are by no means wealthy but are proud to feel that our earnings were more responsibly spent on a broad education for the future of our children than on holidays, cars and consumerism. It is idiotic for Mr Dobson to suggest that any more than a small proportion of parents could afford to follow this expense with the full cost of a university education.
The current generation of politicians and educationists were fortunate enough to be born into a "window of opportunity" where they received not only top-quality schooling and entirely free university tuition but lavish student subsistence grants as well. Unlike the pampered Mr Dobson I left school to start work at the age of 15.
Our universities are desperate for funds now, so if we are to have a graduate tax it must logically be imposed immediately upon those who are best able to afford it. Unless they are complete hypocrites, politicians such as Dobson and Charles Clarke, together with our university heads, should show an example by being the first to promote the imposition of an immediate graduate tax upon their own pampered generation.
Sir: Frank Dobson makes an interesting suggestion on funding for universities, but it is too broad-brush for the real world.
I live in the London borough of Southwark, in a middle-class enclave. People like me can choose either to pay for their children's education or move house, because the state of the borough's schools has been so deplorable.
I only paid because the state no longer provided the education that I benefited from in the 1960s. I don't think that I should have been forced into that position. Private education is not necessarily a demonstration of wealth; in my case, it has been done at the expense of my own pension provision, family holidays and gadgets around the home that others take for granted.
Sir: It strikes me as ironic that, while your leading article recognises that a disproportionate number of members of the England rugby squad benefited from an independent school education with all its attendant sporting advantages, Frank Dobson on the opposite page suggests that these schools are no more than crammers.
For many pupils and parents, the independent sector's strong emphasis on the whole extra-curricular arena is among the most attractive components on offer, encouraging confidence and expertise way beyond that which a purely academic programme can secure.
Sir: I would like to correct the mistaken impression that you gave in your leader "The state should not choose mortgages for us", (17 November), that the European Mortgage Finance Agency (EMFA) proposal is about underwriting fixed-rate mortgages. EMFA would create a unified European capital market for funding residential mortgages of all kinds, but in so doing, it would make available long-term fixed rate loans without redemption penalties, which banks have found difficult to offer because they are hard to fund through bank balance sheets.
Offering consumers the option of long-term fixed-rate loans is not just about taking us into the euro. It is about creating a more stable framework in which people can put a roof over their head with security, which is surely in the national interest.
You suggest that membership of the euro would, in itself, bring UK and European housing markets closer together by driving convergence in long-term interest rates. This ignores two key facts: that virtually no UK mortgage borrowers are on long-term fixed rates of interest and that UK and euro long-term interest rates have already converged.
To take Britain into the euro without a mechanism to address our entirely different interest rate structure (most UK borrowers are on variable rate, in France and Germany the majority are on fixed-rate) risks membership becoming unpopular when euro monetary policy is found to have a far greater impact here than on the Continent.
Finally, you point out that variable or fixed-rate loans should be a matter of choice for the consumer. This is precisely our point - the consumer currently does not have the choice of a long-term fixed-rate loan without redemption penalties.
European Mortgage Finance Agency Project
Sir: I'm sorry to read that Keith Gilmour (letter, 25 November) struggled to find beauty in the latest demonstration against the policies of Messrs Bush and Blair.
I didn't recognise myself in the list of naive, unkempt skivers he apparently saw. Consider me, Mr Gilmour. I'm a hard-working writer and researcher, who chose to leave a heavily laden desk for a few hours to join the march. This enabled me to express my passionately held views.
While a connoisseur of female beauty might have found my red nose unappealing (filthy cold, sorry) my 53-year-old legs were still up to their usual spectacular standard. Happy to send a photo if it will cheer you up!
People who move
Sir: You have reported how expats around the world watched the rugby World Cup final. Why are Englishmen and Australians, or people from any "Western" country, who move abroad called expats, while others are immigrants? We never seem to hear about the influx of illegal Albanian or Romanian expats to the UK. I am an Irishman living happily in the UK. We used to be immigrants as well, but recently we seem to have become expats.Could it be that at a certain level of wealth or status, immigrant becomes a dirty word?
Example to football
Sir: While joining in the euphoria of England's success in the Rugby World Cup, I would like to express my admiration for the behaviour of the supporters who went to Australia. From all I have read, supported by my son who lives in Australia, all of these fans enjoyed themselves without the violence that has so often marred the efforts of the English soccer team. It would be splendid if this example had some effect in improving the behaviour of that tiny minority of fans of the "beautiful game" who seem to enjoy bringing shame on us when travelling abroad.
Children in peril
Sir: Schools and parents are understandably obsessed by league table results and the quality of teaching, but even more important must be our children's safety on the roads. It beggars believe that, in an age when every delivery man's jacket is covered with reflective strips, we enforce upon pupils dark uniforms and shoes without any reflective or illuminative materials. So camouflaged, we send our children out on dark winter mornings and afternoons into roads treacherous with school-run traffic. Parents and schools need urgently to get together with uniform manufacturers to address this issue.
Royal home life
Sir: Tupperware and a "tranny" on the breakfast table? So the Queen does know how the rest of us live after all!
Bradford on Avon,