Letters – 6 September 2018

September 6, 2018

Privatisation more sensible than mergers

Nick Hillman’s view that “ Ministers are anything but relaxed about university closures ” (Opinion, 16 August) and Roger Brown’s response (“ Breakdown cover ”, Letters, 23 August) both ignore Northern Ireland in talking about collapsing UK universities.

In 1982, the Chilver Committee was set up to review the future of the New University of Ulster, which had not achieved its projected student intake since it was established in 1968. The committee suggested several options: basically, anything but merger with Ulster Polytechnic. On the day that the Chilver Report was published, the Thatcher government published its response: unless there was a merger, funding would be withdrawn and NUU would close. The committee hastily reconvened and, on reflection, thought merger the best strategy.

In resolving Brown’s identified contradiction between two government policies, a third possibility presents itself, by analogy with the school sector. “Sinking” universities could be handed to private providers – “academies” is an ironic term in this context.

Whatever we may think of the privateers in higher education, some have a strong widening participation profile, through which they get some state funding, but at a lower level than those in the state sector, so money will be saved and students will get opportunities. Given that demographic decline among 18-year-olds is predicted to continue for a further four years, as will the rapacious attitude to growth of upper tariff universities, that possibility will become ever more likely.

Ian McNay
Professor emeritus Higher education and management
University of Greenwich

Looking after care

As someone who is committed to widening access to university, I was pleased to read the article “ What’s needed to give care 
leavers a ticket to success? ” (News, 23 August). Acknowledgement was rightly given to the many barriers that care experienced people face while still at school; barriers that do not disappear on entering university and so ongoing support is required. Entry into higher education for care experienced people should not be looked at in isolation from their wider experiences.

The ongoing work in Scotland is of wider interest here, with corporate parenting extending into schools, universities, health boards and other public bodies. The Scottish government’s commitment to Getting It Right for Every Child has been strengthened through the Independent Care Review, launched in 2016, that seeks to transform the care system through listening to care experienced people and involving them in the design of new approaches.

Sandra Cairncross
Assistant principal (widening participation and community)
Edinburgh Napier University

Paranormal activity

Regarding the “persistence and value” of beliefs in the occult (“ Supernatural ‘has hold on scholars ’”, News, 23 August): while a PhD student in chemistry, after years studying the occult and the physical sciences in parallel, it became clear to me that one could in principle explain the other; but not vice versa.

The persistence of occult beliefs after the Enlightenment relies mainly on the ease with which the human mind can simply misinterpret sense data and its own mental states, reinforced by ideas still surviving in popular culture.

The continuing value of beliefs in the occult, as with all religious and quasi-religious beliefs, is a much more complicated and potentially fruitful area for research.

Paul G. Ellis
Business school tutor

Mental machinery

R. E. Rawles wanted to know (“ Head scratcher ”, Letters, 30 August) the purpose of the apparatus used to illustrate the article “Pearson turns AI attention to essay marking ” (News, 9 August).

I hope that some of the 4,000-5,000 psychology students who have sat through my lectures on localisation of function will recognise Lavery’s Electric Automatic Phrenometer, and maybe even remember me pointing out that it was clearly designed to measure male heads because the female participant was obliged to stand on a box.

Jon May
Professor in psychology
University of Plymouth

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