Funding cut, fees up and higher education for sale

Friday 15 October 2010 00:00 BST

The proposals in the Browne report would profoundly change not only the economy but also the philosophy of higher education. If students will now perforce select and purchase their education with a view to their personal financial reward, universities will package and deliver education to prioritise its financial benefit to the student.

Call me naive, but I thought I was teaching students so they could make a contribution to the common good; now they will owe money to the Loan Company, and nothing to society. So much for the "Big Society".

Professor John Barclay, University of Durham

We are prospective university students who will be some of the first affected by the higher fees. With three years to go until we leave secondary education, already a massive barrier has been put in our way.

Our parents cannot afford to help us through university and so we would leave with a tremendous debt; if fees were to increase to the proposed levels, it would be close to unfeasible for us and the majority of children from middle-income families to consider attending university.

Lower-income families receive bursary funding, and it seems that university will only be available to the highest and lowest bands of income, leaving the majority of middle-income homes stuck. We could see a lack of skilled workers in the future, which could have a profound effect on our country's economy.

It could be considered far fairer to means-test university fees, so that our most intelligent students from all walks of life have the option of higher education at a genuinely affordable level.

Universities which have historically relied on pupils from middle-to-low income households, may be pushed to breaking point attempting to balance a loss of government funding and a loss of students who are unable to meet rising costs. It appears that the only universities which are going to benefit from the proposals are those with a generally higher-earning student base, such as Oxford and Cambridge.

This is yet another in a string of Conservative policies which do not affect the better-off and benefit the worse-off who traditionally do not vote for them, while pushing the middle class to breaking point.

Lewis Scott, Tia Wake, Lincoln

It seems the Welfare State is finally drawing to a close and those who most opposed its inception have won the long battle to destroy it.

Throughout the 65-year window of opportunity afforded to the children of the less well-off such as myself, the wealthy strove to retain or regain their schools, their clubs, their hospitals, their pensions. Successful in this enterprise, they have at last now managed to win back their universities as well. A two-tier system of university education can be the only possible outcome from the latest proposals to free universities to increase tuition fees to all but the poorest applicants.

The notion that higher education is open to all, regardless of class, has become a quaint, amusing, historic fiction. The idea that it is possible for children of intelligence and imagination to compete with the offspring of the wealthy on an even vaguely level playing field has finally been buried.

Roy Mitchell, Brentford, Middlesex

D J Powell (letter, 14 October) criticises your support for the Browne report on the future of higher educational funding as "perverse" and "muddle-headed". This view is based on the claim that "our education policy should not be based on the supposed advantages to individual graduates but should be viewed as a social and economic benefit to the whole nation".

However, this is undermined when the letter asks: "Why do you suppose that firms and institutions are often prepared to pay graduates and other qualified workers higher salaries?" The reason is that, to the extent that the benefits of degrees and other skills are captured by individual firms and employees in the form of higher profits and wages, they represent the private, as well as the wider economic and social benefits, of education.

And, to the extent that they are private benefits, it is wholly appropriate for society to expect the beneficiaries to meet some, if not all, of the costs of providing them.

The case for the public subsidy of education arises where the benefits are not fully captured in wages and profits. Courses which yield such positive externalities (such as teaching and medicine) should continue to receive some public subsidy, as should students from lower income households.

Dr Andrew Meads, Reigate, Surrey

Vince Cable's embrace of Lord Browne's review of higher education funding ahead of the Comprehensive Spending Review next week raises a series of alarming questions.

At the heart of Lord Browne's review is an implied cut in the public funding of teaching in universities of 80 per cent and an effective end of public funding for the majority of university courses. This represents the biggest cut to publicly funded universities that we have ever seen.

Universities are fundamental to the future of the economy. The knowledge-based industries of the future in manufacturing, advanced engineering, life sciences, green jobs etc depend on Britain's universities teaching our brightest and best.

Cutting the funding of university teaching by such a large amount at a time when our competitors around the world are investing in higher education as a key driver of economic growth and new jobs, is a surprising choice, to put it mildly.

As Million+, the leading university think tank, highlighted, these plans too mean that those graduates on average incomes, for example those teaching or working as police officers or engineers, are likely to pay more than those on higher earnings.

In addition, if Vince Cable does lift the cap on university fees, then the chance of would-be students being deterred from going to the university to do the course they think is best for them is likely to increase.

Gareth Thomas MP, Labour's Higher Education and Science Shadow Minister, House of Commons

Access to tertiary education is not, as your leader writer (11 October) put it, a "privilege", but a right. It doesn't say that much for our values if we can fund Trident but not decent universities.

The prospect of universities aping private schools and offering the best education only to the offspring of the wealthy is preposterous: intellect is not confined to the rich. If we are to make the most of what all Britons can offer, we must ensure that the best education is available to all.

That way we might even begin to attain the condition of other European countries such as Germany, where a sound economy, civilised values and properly funded education go hand in hand. Admittedly, this ideal would probably be anathema to a nation of shopkeepers.

Michael Rosenthal, Banbury, Oxfordshire

Universities should be thoroughly scrutinised to assess what they do and how they do it. Many students do not feel well taught, and would say that a good proportion of what they are subjected to is a waste of time and the balance between research and teaching is often wrong.

I went to a high-ranking university very many years ago and although I enjoyed myself I remain convinced that some (not all) of the teaching was no more than fact-cramming and has served no educational purpose let alone been of any use in the jobs I have done.

So let's put the onus on universities to improve their act and this will not happen if we allow them to charge whatever fees they like. Let's also put pressure on large companies and rich businessmen to share some of their wealth in helping provide a good higher education, since many benefit from the graduates they employ.

Nigel Jones, Newcastle-under-Lyme, Staffordshire

How long will it be before this ghastly government tells us that we can no longer afford secondary education, without introducing top-up fees. After all, why should people without children pay for free education for millionaires' children? And think of the extra earnings pupils can expect when they can read for themselves.

Steve Powell, Brockworth, Gloucestershire

This is the end of politics for me

Steve Richards (Opinion, 14 October) writes of the Liberal Democrats' backtracking on university tuition fees that "they do not have a mandate to vote for a rise". Marjorie Harris (letter, 14 October) adds that "if electors don't believe that Lib Dems will carry out their manifesto policies when in government, why should they bother to vote Lib Dem next time?"

I am one of those voters. I foolishly believed that the Liberal Democrats might be different and do what they said they would do. There were going to have to be compromises in a coalition government, but what I didn't expect was that a solemn, written promise would be flung aside for the sake of expediency.

What next? All I can say is that like so many before me – hence the falling turnout at general elections – I have finally come to the conclusion that no politician will actually do what he or she says they will do, however much they may tell you beforehand that they will. The party political system of government is inherently flawed and cannot deliver what voters want of it.

I now have a lifetime of political cynicism ahead of me. I only hope that come general election time I can muster the enthusiasm to visit the polling station to scribble "None of the above" on my ballot paper.

Michael O'Hare, Northwood, Middlesex

Islam doesn't tolerate rape

I was appalled by the assertion by Sheikh Maulana Abu Sayeed, president of the Islamic Sharia Council in Britain, that rape within marriage is "impossible" and that men who rape their wives should not be prosecuted because "sex is part of marriage". Sex is indeed a part of marriage, but rape is not. Rape is a type of violence expressed through sexual assault; it has nothing to do with sex, love or intimacy.

Prophet Mohammed (PBUH) said: "The best amongst you are those who are best to their wives." How this cleric believes his assertions fit with the preceding statement is unfathomable. Rape within marriage constitutes domestic violence and should be treated with the same severity.

Allegations that many rape victims are lying betray a most cavalier attitude to this serious and heinous crime.

His statement that "in Islamic Sharia, rape is adultery by force" is misleading. The Sharia is a body of law which can be interpreted in differing ways, much like any other body of law. This is not the "Sharia" position on this issue, but Sheikh Maulana Abu Sayeed's. This not an issue of Sharia law being in contradiction with British law, but rather of the Sheikh's interpretation of Sharia being in contradiction with universal principles of justice and fairness.

Until Muslim scholars wake up to the reality that rape is not and never will be adultery (which is voluntary sexual intercourse between a married person and a partner other than the lawful spouse), we will continue to let women down and betray the fundamental ideals of our noble faith.

Myriam Francois-Cerrah, Oxford University Islamic Society

What the Jewish state means

Adrian Hamilton ("Israel has not future as purely Jewish state", 14 October) misrepresents the argument that Israel is a Jewish state by suggesting that this would mean Israel would become a purely "ethnically homogeneous nation".

Israel's neighbour Egypt describes itself as an "Arab" republic, despite large minorities of Nubians, Berbers and others. The use of the terms Arab and Jewish in this context denotes cultural affinities, historical memory and a particular calendar, not ethnic exclusivity.

The Middle East is far more multi-cultural than Hamilton thinks and has room for both Arab and Jewish national identities.

John Strawson, Reader in Law, University of East London

With reference to Adrian Hamilton's article, I have lived in Israel. I know people who are the children of "illegal" immigrants at the time of the British Mandate, ejected from Germany for having a Jewish father, and another a Jewish grandfather. These people and their children, according to the Law of Return, are not Jewish.

I know also a mother and daughter in Jordan, Muslims living an Islamic life. But the mother's parents were a Zionist settler and a Palestinian boxer, married in 1947, put in prison in 1948 at the time of Israel's independence and then let out on condition that they left Israel. By The Law of Return, both mother and daughter are Jewish.

What is Jewishness? Is it a race or a religion? And would either be enough to fairly demarcate a state?

Clare Shepherd, Blandford, Dorset


If Susie Rushton (Notebook, 13 October) finds it difficult to sit through Hamlet without a trip to the lavatory, let us hope that she never tries Die Meistersinger von Nurnberg. For Wagnerians three and a half hours is just a warm-up before the main event.

Gordon Elliot, Burford, Oxfordshire

After the quango

Equangos – Extinct Quasi-Autonomous Non-Governmental Organisations – are being created in large numbers ("Cull of quangos", 14 October). An equango quango could safeguard the prized cultural artefacts they leave behind.

Ivor Morgan, Lincoln

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