Letters: Universities’ skewed admissions priorities will leave the country poorer

A record number of 18-year-olds in the UK from the most disadvantaged backgrounds have applied to the most selective universities and courses - PA/David Cheskin
A record number of 18-year-olds in the UK from the most disadvantaged backgrounds have applied to the most selective universities and courses - PA/David Cheskin

SIR – The folly of Britain’s myopic drive for “diversity” and equality is well illustrated by the discrimination against hard-working, high-achieving, middle-class pupils in favour of “disadvantaged” students and those from overseas (report, August 16).

Excellence should be the sole criterion for admission to university. By ignoring this and favouring foreign applicants, in particular, our top universities betray their function: to bring on Britain’s best to become tomorrow’s leaders in the public sector, the private sector and academia.

“Disadvantaged” students should be put neither first nor last but judged on their exam performance, like everybody else. If they are not, the exam system loses legitimacy.

Picking winners on social or economic grounds is a very poor idea. It does not lead to a socialist nirvana – but, like all forms of positive discrimination, will simply lower the bar. All nations are led by elites, whose education is of huge importance. In a competitive world, Britain’s elites must be drawn from the best performers, not at the whim of some Left-wing don.

Gregory Shenkman
London SW7

SIR – Sherelle Jacobs (Comment, August 16) may be right that those A-level students who have achieved poorer results than anticipated will have their “dreams crushed”, but it is hardly fair to argue that universities should be “put down” as a result.

I have spent my working life supporting research in modern universities, and seen how successive governments’ higher-education policies have not always had the intended results.

However, to argue that universities have been engaged in an “elaborate con trick” is an insult. I have witnessed the dedication of my academic colleagues, working extraordinarily long hours to provide high-quality education and pastoral support – not least during the pandemic – along with the pride of students, their families and tutors when degrees are awarded. Many of these students have come from the less privileged backgrounds that Tony Blair’s 50 per cent target was intended to reach. They have been given opportunities that they would never have thought possible.

The outcomes of the Research Excellence Framework 2021, assessing the quality of research in universities across Britain, demonstrate countless examples of academics delivering world-class research and independent thought, which have brought real benefits to society at large.

Universities are life-changing – not “hideous monsters”. We would all be the poorer without them.

Dr Tim Brooks
London E11

SIR – I have thought for some time that we are moving towards a situation where only every second generation in any family goes to university.

I fear we are finally there.

Anthony Walters
Coulsdon, Surrey

‘Wonky’ blueberries

SIR – I don’t understand why supermarkets would have a problem in selling crops that are not up to their usual standard because of the drought (Letters, August 17). But it would certainly explain why there are so many empty spaces on the shelves at the moment. Surely all they have to do is label the produce in question as “wonky”.

I recently bought “wonky” blueberries and raspberries from Aldi. I can’t see anything wrong with them and have no idea how blueberries can be wonky in the first place.

Rosemary J Wells
Chickerell, Dorset

SIR – Alex Lyle (Letters, August 17) calls for retail spaces in towns where producers can sell their vegetables. These already exist. They are called market places (or market halls).

They are used particularly on market days. The space, and day allotted for their use, is often established by ancient charter. I’m sure Shaftesbury has one.

Brian Slater
Ellesmere, Shropshire

Cycling speed limits

SIR – What a wonderful idea to impose speed limits on cyclists in urban areas (report, August 17). I suppose the new laws will be enforced by the same police forces that do such a good job enforcing the existing laws for cyclists stopping at red lights (not to mention those for bicycle theft).

Bernard Kerrison
London SW4

Albert Hall reforms

SIR – You report (August 13) that proposed reforms to the Albert Hall’s constitution may mean fewer seats for the public. The reverse is the case. Our aim is to put on to a proper legal footing a basis for members of the hall to relinquish their privately owned seats on more occasions than the current limit allows.

Ian McCulloch
President, Royal Albert Hall
London SW7

Itch-free labels

SIR – All you need to solve the problem of scratchy clothes labels (Letters, August 17) is an emery board. File very gently the offending area – often a corner – until it is no longer a nuisance.

Jean Martin
Cranleigh, Surrey

Gift of the graft

SIR – Having worked extensively in the Far East, including Hong Kong, I support Liz Truss’s comments about Chinese “graft” (report, August 17).

Chinese people are hard workers and gain satisfaction from a job well done, which they see as beneficial to one’s reputation and standing.

In Britain, the attitude of workers is often influenced by management. In order to get the best out of staff, you need to make them proud of what they do and compliment them when they have done a great job.

John Firrell
Litton Cheney, Dorset

SIR – Clearly many people in Britain work as hard as they can. But there must be a reason for the present unfilled vacancies. Why is it that we relied on EU labour for fruit and vegetable-picking, cleaning and waiting in restaurants?

Perhaps there are some who are too choosy – or cosy – to apply themselves.

Stephen Howey
Woodford Green, Essex

SIR – When I left my job, I was required to work out my notice.

If I left at once, it would (understandably) mean no pay. So why is Boris Johnson not at his desk?

Marina Marshall
Barnet, Hertfordshire

RAF recruitment

SIR – The Chief of the Air Staff seems determined to expose the RAF to criticism and ridicule.

He is planning to ditch the mandatory fitness test for “digital specialists” who do not have frontline combat roles (in which case, they should be civilians); the Red Arrows are two aircraft down due to a pilot being sacked and another resigning; the pilot- training pipeline is in crisis; and one of the top priorities of the RAF is to achieve its diversity targets (report, August 17).

All of this suggests that the RAF is not getting the military-style leadership it needs to focus on its ability to fight and win – which is what the public expect and pay for.

Rear Admiral Philip Mathias (retd)
Southsea, Hampshire

In praise of Paxman

SIR – Irascible, sometimes downright cantankerous, yet charming, engaging, vastly knowledgeable and always masterful: University Challenge won’t be the same without Jeremy Paxman (report, August 17). I thank him.

Rev Scott Watts
Evesham, Worcestershire

SIR – Gloomy at the prospect of the acerbic but excellent Jeremy Paxman departing from his role as inquisitor for University Challenge, with all sorts of dire predictions of a “woke” replacement, I was suddenly hit by with an unexpected wave of optimism.

They (whoever they are) replaced John Humphrys, on Mastermind, with the equally superb Clive Myrie. There’s hope yet.

Andrew C Pierce
Barnstaple, Devon

SIR – Many years ago, my eldest son was in a restaurant in London, and Jeremy Paxman was on the next table.

When the time came to pay, for some reason the restaurant’s machine would not accept my son’s credit card. Mr Paxman heard what was going on, leaned over and said: “I’ve had similar problems in the past. Here’s my card.” He added: “You know where I work – send me the cash when you get sorted.”

What a kind thing to do. My son duly paid him back.

John Dakin
St Buryan, Cornwall

How dining rooms grew to be places apart

Girl with Peaches (1887) by Valentin Serov, now in the Tretyakov gallery, Moscow - Bridgeman Images
Girl with Peaches (1887) by Valentin Serov, now in the Tretyakov gallery, Moscow - Bridgeman Images

SIR – William Sitwell (Features, August 13) laments the demise of the dining room.

Some years ago our young grandchildren, when visiting in the summer, sought more space to do their homework. When it was suggested that they use the dining room table, they looked aghast and exclaimed: “We can’t go in there – it isn’t Christmas.”

John Nelson
Hitchin, Hertfordshire

Mapping out a new generation of reservoirs

SIR – My wife and I recently spent a most enjoyable day visiting the Wildfowl and Wetlands Trust centre in Barnes, south-west London – a fascinating place and a great monument to the vision of its founder, the late Peter Scott.

It was interesting to learn that the centre was built in 1995, on the site of four former reservoirs, which were decommissioned having been deemed surplus to requirements.

Kevin Richardson
London SE13

SIR – Allison Pearson (Features, August 12) is wrong to accuse water company bosses of failure.

They have done their jobs magnificently, maximising their shareholders’ profits by minimising their companies’ expenditure.

It is Ofwat – along with our pusillanimous politicians – who should carry the blame, for taking their eye off the ball and failing to prevent such profiteering.

Rupert Tickner
Bordon, Hampshire

SIR – Our council house – one of those put up by the thousands immediately after the Second World War – was not only the best (and cheapest) we ever occupied (open fires, lavatories up and downstairs, rudimentary central heating), but it also had as standard a galvanised metal tank in the backyard to collect and store rainwater (Letters, August 15).

How come the post-war government saw the wisdom of water conservation years before the mass immigration that put such heavy demand on our infrastructure began in earnest? Sir Keir Starmer should act more like that old-style Labour government.

Richard Lennox
Langholm, Dumfriesshire

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