Something has to give

December 19, 1997

I READ recently that the words in the Bible "an eye for an eye" did not necessarily provide support for capital punishment. The writer's argument was that the expression was conceived in a time when there were no prisons, and that the Bible must be interpreted in line with present-day circumstances.

This would be good advice for those concerned about loss of autonomy for universities as a result of the recent bill, which you covered in some detail (THES December 5). The papal bulls and royal charters which determine the level of independence for some universities were conceived up to five centuries ago in some cases.

The problems faced by universities are the result of favourable changes in society. More people than ever attend university, people no longer conveniently die off before they become a cost on the state, and populations are making ever-increasing demands in areas of health, leisure and employment rights while simultaneously demanding lower taxes.

Something has to give. Charles Dickens first told us what it means when outgoings are less than income, heaven knows what he would have made of a deficit of Pounds 800 million (THES, December 5).

Times have changed. The lecturer who put a sign on his door informing his students that he had lost interest in the subject and would not be teaching it any longer belongs to a different age. A dilution of autonomy seems to me a small price for the higher education sector to pay in return for more or less continuing in its present form. There are some more obvious and ruthless alternatives.

Tom McAra Barbeth Place, Cumbernauld

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