Letters: A welcome dose of realism from the Prime Minister on the purpose of university

graduates wearing mortar boards
graduates wearing mortar boards

SIR – Rishi Sunak has recently started talking good sense. Scrapping “Mickey Mouse” university courses (report, May 29) and investing in apprenticeships is a great idea.

If the Prime Minister is looking for other great ideas, he simply needs to propose reversing whatever Tony Blair did.

Mick Ferrie
Mawnan Smith, Cornwall

SIR – I attended Faversham Grammar School and left after my A-levels in 1972, while the majority of my peers went on to university.

Being more practically minded, I looked into Higher National Diploma courses in agriculture, and successfully applied to Aberystwyth Agriculture College. (I was dressed down by my headmaster for choosing this route.)

It was compulsory to work on a farm for 12 months before starting the course. What a joy to have my own income, and to learn about life and work ethics before attending college.Being involved in agriculture meant there was never a shortage of holiday jobs. It was the best education I could have wished for.

Jeff Smith
Abergavenny, Monmouthshire

SIR – Michael Deacon (Features, May 30) goes a tad too far in suggesting that all universities should become vocational.

Just as GCSEs may be viewed as preparation for further learning – be it an apprenticeship or A-levels – degrees should ideally be regarded as preparation for further advancement and qualifications, providing training in how to think and solve problems, not least by exposing young minds to better minds than theirs.

There is an argument for raising the bar for university entry and reviewing certain courses, but to focus entirely on the job market would lead to intellectual impoverishment. And while I am not suggesting we should all become Renaissance men and women, we should at least aim for a breadth of knowledge.

Incidentally, I have two daughters who read for “useless” degrees (English and French respectively) but went on to gain other professional qualifications and achieve considerable personal and financial success.

Michael Turner 
Winchester, Hampshire

SIR – I tend to agree with Rishi Sunak and Michael Deacon about “Mickey Mouse” degrees.

However, some time ago, feeling ready for a mid-life change, I decided to study for a self-funded qualification at a red-brick university.

At a subsequent interview for a job with a local authority, I was asked why I had applied, as I didn’t seem to have any appropriate experience. I replied that, as the interviewer had my application in front of him, there must have been something that had caught his attention. He replied that anyone leaving a perfectly good job to take a degree in industrial history must be a little eccentric, and that was probably what they were looking for.

I was offered the job on the same day.

Geoff Pursglove
Swadlincote, Derbyshire

Trump’s ranting

SIR – Listening to 34 guilty verdicts should have been an extremely humbling experience for Donald Trump (report, May 31), returning him to planet Earth.

Alas, this was not the case. Instead, he embarked on a ranting soliloquy, claiming his innocence and that the trial was “rigged” and “a disgrace”.

God help America.

Chris Learmont-Hughes
Caldy, Wirral

SIR – Would it be a smart move for Joe Biden to pardon Donald Trump ahead of his sentencing or will Mr Trump pardon himself after being elected president?

Derek Scott
Fernhurst, West Sussex

SIR – Many years ago I heard an American describe the 1972 election contest between Richard Nixon and George McGovern as a choice between a competent crook and an honest idiot. Things don’t change much, do they?

John Ralph
Henley-on-Thames, Oxfordshire

Tory defections

SIR – The numbers of Tory MPs crossing the floor to join Labour (report, May 31) are a clear indication of the extent to which the Parliamentary Conservative Party has been infiltrated by Blairites. It also explains why the party has lost the support of its grassroots members and voters.

Why vote for a Left-wing Conservative when they neither represent nor respect your views?

Phil Coutie
Exeter, Devon

SIR – Until such time as the phrase “Young Conservative” ceases to be an oxymoron, the Conservative Party will not be the natural party of government.

Tuition fees, National Service, maths up to A-level, smoking ban, housing – need I go on?

Nicholas Hedley
Heytesbury, Wiltshire

SIR – It is entirely possible that, in the near future, Prime Minister Keir Starmer will be woken up at 4am and informed that Russian land forces have invaded Poland, Estonia, Latvia, Lithuania or Finland, then asked: “What is your response?”

Having seen him dither and obfuscate over whether Diane Abbott can or can’t be a Labour candidate (“Diane Abbott can stand as Labour candidate, says Keir Starmer”, telegraph.co.uk, May 31), I don’t hold up much hope for a speedy or meaningful reaction to more important matters.

David Logan 
Spilsby, Lincolnshire

SIR – While I agree with Jennifer Cooney (Letters, May 31) about having no one viable to vote for, I would plead with her to go to the polling station and invalidate her paper.

We are lucky to live in a country where we are able to vote. Judging by recent conversations, my friends and I all feel the same and will be exercising our right to spoil our ballot papers.

Does anyone know what would happen if there were more spoiled papers than actual votes? I’d love to find out.

Margaret Humphreys
Wadebridge, Cornwall

Reckless doctor strikes

SIR – As a retired physician, having worked for 40 years at the sharp end of hospital medicine, I feel ashamed of my profession and the behaviour of our junior doctors in proposing strike action at such a politically sensitive time (report, May 30).

We all know that junior doctors work hard. They always have. But their ridiculous demands are now contrary to the views of the majority of the rest of the profession, as well as their patients.

Sadly, the British Medical Association is spawning a politically motivated action group.

Peter Toghill
Whatton, Nottinghamshire

SIR – I can do better than Alisdair Keats-Rawling’s 12-week wait for an echocardiogram (Letters, May 29). I have just received a letter from Bedford Hospital stating that “due to the current situation, the waiting time for your routine appointment [an echocardiogram] is approximately 95 weeks”.

I suppose that waiting for patients to die before they are seen is one way of clearing the backlog.

Julie Findlay
Cardington, Bedfordshire

SIR – NHS waiting lists will be one of the key battlegrounds of the upcoming general election. People face unacceptable delays to their care, and this puts both their immediate and long-term health at risk.

The needs of people waiting for mental-health support are often neglected when this issue is covered. There were 6.8 million referrals to mental-health services in England in the last year, up from 5.5 million in 2019-20. Around 1.5 million people with a suspected mental illness are also still waiting to start treatment.

People coping with a mental illness alone run the risk of their condition worsening and may fall out of work, lose their home and struggle to maintain relationships with family and friends. As well as being bad for individuals, this is terrible for the UK economy.

It is therefore in the best interest of every political party to make the prevention of mental illness a top priority in this election. Whoever wins must ensure people have access to timely and effective care.

Dr Lade Smith
President, Royal College of Psychiatrists
London E1

France’s flawless roads

SIR – I drove virtually the length of France, from north to south, then turned left along the Côte d’Azur, keeping a wary eye open for any potholes (Letters, May 30).

At last I spotted one and started to swerve. But I was mistaken: it was only a shadow of a palm tree.

David Allen
Portsmouth, Hampshire

SIR – In 1971 we lived in Nova Scotia, Canada. The fierce winters took their toll on the road surfaces, leaving them in a horrific state.

This would never happen in Britain, we thought. How wrong we were.

Shelagh Parry
Farnham, Surrey

Salcombe blues

SIR – There are so many holiday homes in Salcombe (Letters, May 31) that local working people cannot afford to live there. Pay a visit in the winter and you will find all the lights are out. Very sad.

Ian Franklin
Totnes, Devon

The cardigan era

SIR – I am delighted to see that, after 45 years of wearing cardigans, I am finally on trend, thanks to Gareth Southgate (report, May 29).

Tony Endfield
Bowdon, Cheshire

Travels with Tolstoy

SIR – At the age of 19, I set out for Brazil alone after my girlfriend let me down at the last minute. War and Peace came with me (Letters, May 31) and proved to be the greatest friend in my solitude.

Sarah Strutt
Ipswich, Suffolk

SIR – As Tim Wright (May 31) intimates, one’s choice of translated novels in foreign languages matters.

While my first attempt at The Brothers Karamazov, in a 1912 translation by Constance Garnett, failed terribly, my second attempt, in a 1993 translation by David McDuff, paid off handsomely. Although Garnett is still held in great esteem, translators of old were more concerned with word-for-word exactitude, while modern translation is typically looser and seeks foremost to convey the meaning and the spirit of novels.

Patrick West
Deal, Kent

Rock-a-by baby

SIR – After a day out with Granny and Grandad we take our three-year-old granddaughter back to her parents, a journey of about 20 miles. With Absolute Rock on the car radio, she is always asleep within five minutes (report, May 30).

Les Bratt
Cleeve Prior, Worcestershire

The secret to the perfect home-brewed coffee

Start your day right: an advertisement for coffee in Turin, northern Italy
Start your day right: an advertisement for coffee in Turin, northern Italy - Alamy

SIR – I was a coffee merchant in the City of London for more than 40 years (“Bulk buy and weigh your beans: the ground rules for café-quality coffee”, Features, May 28).

Most of the coffee sold by the high-street coffee bars is of poor quality, with one exception – Costa. Coffee drinkers should buy beans online from a specialist and invest in a small grinder. Coffee only keeps fresh for about 10 days, so buy little and often. Not all supermarket coffee is bad, and some brands are excellent value: experiment. Coffee should never be stored in the freezer; use an airtight tin or jar.

Duncan Rayner
Sunningdale, Berkshire

Letters to the Editor

We accept letters by email and post. Please include name, address, work and home telephone numbers.  
ADDRESS: 111 Buckingham Palace Road, London, SW1W 0DT   
EMAIL: dtletters@telegraph.co.uk   
FOLLOW: Telegraph Letters @LettersDesk 
NEWSLETTER: sign up to receive Letters to the Editor here