Monday's Letters: Balancing university costs with that of widget production

AM I the only person who finds the question of university funding cuts and student fees difficult to understand?

In private business, in order to remain competitive, you first examine your costs, rank them in order of priority of which are deemed to be unnecessary; then start to remove those costs.

I'll ask the question again: Am I the only person who cannot understand why universities seem incapable of undertaking this task? They seem to believe that they should be immune from the hardships that mere-mortals will start to experience in the near future.

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The length of certain courses needs to be addressed, as does the quality of tuition and the time of year at which courses start. On this latter point it seems logical that a January to December year would be logical so that places can be offered at relative leisure once A-level results are known instead of the mad, headlong rush that happens at present.

There's also the vexed question of the justification of final salary pension schemes when the vast majority of such schemes have been removed from private industry. The standard response is: "I could earn far more in private industry"; well if anyone thinks that they can do that just let them try. The trouble is that they know when they're better-off than their private industry counterparts. Supply and demand strikes a chord to me.

Course options also need to be examined and graduates produced for jobs of the future – do we need all of those media studies graduates? Why are courses developed to meet student numbers when it is obvious that the demand for graduates in that particular specialism is a finite number.

Take the private industry analogy; you don't produce widgets when there is no demand for your particular widget.

The Government also needs to take a real hold on what is happening. Peter Mandleson's old department has told me that university spending is nothing to do with them – this is despite the fact that they provide the funding but give no direction on how it should be spent. I would say that it is yet another case of: "It's not my money so why should I care, I'll get some more from the taxpayer".

Well, this taxpayer is sick and tired of this attitude and it must stop.

From: D Baldwin, Embsay.

From: Arthur Marson, Mountjoy Road, Huddersfield.

WITH regard to Greg Mulholland's column (Yorkshire Post, October 13) on tuition fees, for some time now we have been paying our elected representatives, who consider themselves the sharpest knives in the box, to come up with answers to the problems with which they are confronted, or better still, foresee the consequences before they arise. They all agree that someone should pay, just as long as it is not them. What we have we are going to keep.

Over the years the higher paid have benefited from the abuse of pay increase percentages and the majority from university education, they are the people who should be the first targets for a levy of some sort to raise needed funds, perhaps starting at 50,000 and increasing at similar intervals. Past students paying, rather than future ones.

Pay, tax and pensions all need fairly drastic revision, as does the system by which we elect our MPs and councillors.

I do wish people would stop referring to the amount someone is paid, as what they earn, especially the silly numbers.

Hydrogen future for windfarms

From: David F Chambers, Sladeburn Drive, Northallerton.

I READ the letter from D Holland (Yorkshire Post, October 9) with interest and noted his view that the previous letters from D Wood and myself were very short-sighted.

I wonder. Mr Holland assures us that the shortcomings of the windmills are "factored into the overall economics". It does not come cheap though, even before "factoring in" the building of stand-by power stations, the maintenance (particularly off-shore) and the occasions when the windmills are called upon to shut down because their contribution is not required.

That said, I wholly agree with Mr Holland that power obtained from windmills should be used to produce hydrogen, and have gone so far as to suggest that existing wind farms should be disconnected from the grid and their product devoted entirely to this end.

Hydrogen, I agree, could be stored and used to fuel gas turbine generators when the wind is "wrong", but additionally I hope I'm not being "very short-sighted" in envisaging motor vehicles powered by hydrogen, an aim being pursued by ITM Power based at Sheffield.

Electric cars, I suggest, carry no less a footprint than conventional ones in terms of manufacture, in particular the materials, weight and disposal problems involved with their batteries. And their electricity has to come from somewhere. Hydrogen powered vehicles will of course need exhaust condensers – we can't have them emitting water vapour and adding to the greenhouse effect. Finally, will Energy Secretary Chris Huhne accept that the renewable energy targets agreed with the EU are farcical, unattainable, unnecessary and unaffordable?

Please, no more wind turbines than we already have.

Hit and miss tax bandings

From: Bob Crowther, High Street, Crigglestone, Wakefield.

I am writing in reply to the statements by Leeds City Council warning the people of Leeds who are being targeted by companies, claiming that they can reduce their council tax bandings (Yorkshire Post, December 12).

The council, rightly claim that with the push of a button on your keyboard, you can confirm your tax band, but what they fail to disclose is the fact that these companies are also notifying residents that they may have been assigned an incorrect banding in the first place.

When the tax banding was carried out in the early 1990s, the bandings were assessed by the simple and haphazard method of employing students and other unemployed people to drive up and down areas and assess the property values ad-hoc.

This hit and miss method led to properties being overvalued and obviously undervalued. Councils willingly accepted these assessments at face value which has resulted in unfair tax bandings in many cases. People are now taking the government to task over the issue and many thousands of pounds have already been refunded.

I have no connection with any such company but just wish to clarify the situation.

Quango ripe for plucking

From: R C Curry, Adel Grange Close, Leeds.

I SEE that a considerable number of quangos are being culled. One which should have been dispensed with is the Sentencing Council (Yorkshire Post, October 15).

It, and its predecessors, are the cause of so many seemingly bad decisions in court which raise cries of indignation in the media. In future it seems that the very questionable rules must be obeyed, thus taking little or no account of the individual facts and submissions heard in court.

The whole court process is becoming more and more tied to out-of-court administrators and accountants, a process which was embarked upon by the last government, and which is a direct cause of the sentencing chaos which now reigns throughout the system.

Judges and magistrates now do not have to be concerned with details of sentences, they can just take them "out of the book".

That is not justice, and it is very disappointing that Kenneth Clarke is not showing some strength and courage to rid the courts of this baggage.

Well-behaved and disciplined match behind bars

From: William Snowden, Butterbowl Gardens, Leeds.

BARRIE Frost's letter about the "sloppy and ill-disciplined regimes" in British prisons (Yorkshire Post, October 8) certainly didn't pertain in 1970, when I represented West Yorkshire in a friendly football match against Wakefield prisoners (home games only!)

The prisoners crowded round the perimeter of the fine, cinder ash pitch. I was struck by the way in which the white prisoners and the black prisoners voluntarily gathered in segregated groups. But they were all remarkably well-behaved and disciplined.

The match was played at a furious pace; the prisoners were exceptionally fit.

I showed off my ball-juggling skills and indulged in long dribbling runs, overhead scissor kicks, diving headers etc.

"You always have to make everything look spectacular," was my team-mates' refrain. "Football should be fun," was my frivolous response. Well, it was only a friendly and I was just 18. And the spectators seemed to appreciate the entertainment.

Someone in the crowd shouted: "Give the ball to Jairzinho!" to general merriment. I was flattered to be compared to the brilliant Brazilian World Cup winning striker.

It was a very physical game, but even-tempered. I remember vying for a high ball, and being sent flying. I didn't complain. I believed then, and now, that football is a man's game. But the referee awarded me a free kick. The powerfully-built prisoner who had fouled me grinned and shook my hand.

After the match, he came into our dressing room, and we had a very amiable conversation. When he left, I asked the prison officer, who had refereed the match, what the young man was in prison for. "He's serving a life sentence," he revealed. "He killed a man in a pub fight."

On the coach journey home, I quietly and soberly reflected that, in other circumstances, we might have become friends.