Policy debate needs considered questions (3 of 4)

May 26, 2011

For once, I find myself in disagreement with Ann Mroz ("Since when is debate a bad thing?", Leader, 19 May). While I agree that debate is something that should be protected against the "anti-intellectualism" that dogs David Willetts and others who stick their necks out, she could not have chosen a weaker set of opinions - or a weaker opinion maker - to defend.

I don't believe, even after consideration and debate, that Willetts' ideas regarding upfront tuition-fee payments or late price reductions are defensible. As much as the sector is being forced into a market mindset, allowing the wealthy to purchase places surely would do more harm than good.

In many institutions, there are more considerations regarding student numbers than the affordability to the government of student loans. To take the example of my home city, Bangor, any significant increase in student numbers would bring unsustainable pressure to bear on local housing stocks.

If Willetts could present a model of higher education funding that was sustainable and accessible, such musings would not need to be considered. Yes, let us defend open debate and take a stand against those who would stifle it, but the sector also has a duty to make clear that there are times when thinking can become so "blue sky" that it drifts off into the cold, dark reaches of space.

Jez Harvey, Bangor University

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