contributions on the resource-cost of references (THES, February 6 and 13) seem to miss the obvious question: "By what right do prospective employers expect lecturers to provide unlimited numbers of customised references on demand and free?" Why do not universities and colleges produce for each student a single comprehensive standard-form reference which can be sent out at no charge by referees? A space could be left for the individual referee to add any personal comments provided they had a guarantee that the reference would be read before the interviewing of the candidate and not afterwards.
If a prospective employer requires something different, then they should pay for it accordingly.
This proposal was, I understand, put some time ago and at my behest to the Association of Graduate Recruiters, only to be rejected as unworkable - presumably like standard application forms. As long as lecturers accept this waste of their time for no reward, then the employers (their own as well as the ones demanding the references) will be quite happy to accept their largesse.
A. J. Pointon. Emeritus professor. University of Portsmouth