Surf's up 1

August 24, 2007

Popping along to Fistral beach to enrol on a surf science course ("Sun, sea, sand and sexing up clearing"; Opinion, August 17) I encounter Alan Ryan. He tells me not to waste my time and money and get a job in the leisure industry instead. I submit to the superior knowledge of the warden of New College, Oxford.

The money in my leisure industry job is OK, but I wonder if I am missing out on something. Roughly a year later, I pop into a bookshop. I have decided to buy an introductory text on human physiology to find out what my first year of study would have been like. At the till, I again encounter Ryan. He tells me not to waste my time reading the book and do some overtime instead.

Both encounters involve a willing purchaser and willing vendor of knowledge. Ryan's first intervention merits the front page of The Times Higher . My fictional second encounter with Ryan is laughable.

What distinguishes the two cases? The first case has a hidden fourth party. Parliament is willing to vote a subsidy for my surf science course but not for the purchase of my human physiology text. As I failed GCSE mathematics, perhaps I am not worthy of this subsidy.

Anecdotally, a worrying number of 18-year-olds are proposing taking a university course not because of a love of study or to get a better job but because all their friends are. It is expected. We could counter this trend by imposing restrictions on what may be taught or have the Government set entry qualifications. Appalling ideas.

Instead, why not withdraw the subsidy for 18 to 20-year- olds pursuing full time higher education? Perhaps at 21, prospective students would have acquired the level of rationality and life experience to make the quality of choice Ryan considers desirable.

Richard Allanach
Rugby, Warwickshire

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