Readers respond to news that the University of Cambridge is receiving a £100m gift from the financier David Harding
In choosing to contrast Birkbeck with the University of Cambridge, Marthe de Ferrer hits a nail squarely on the head (If you’ve got £100m to spare, don’t give it to Cambridge, 7 February). The decade I spent teaching at Birkbeck taught me more about the spirit and purpose of education than three spent in more conventional universities. Lacking almost all the perquisites now seemingly essential to attract full-timers, without exception Birkbeck’s mature part-timers made up for what they might have lacked in facile sophistication with hard work, a genuine desire to learn, and respect for knowledge. Benefactors can of course do as they wish, but “Matthew principle” (Matthew 25:29) donations to Cambridge, at a time when my old college and others really could use a fraction of the same money to far greater effect, simply offend me.
Emeritus professor in geography, Birkbeck, University of London
• Marthe de Ferrer should not be too surprised about Oxbridge graduates enriching their old universities. Most of the ministers, senior civil servants and national infrastructure commissioners who approved the destructive so-called “Oxford-Cambridge arc” without any consultation graduated there.
The arc plan would dump a million new homes and a 150km motorway on the countryside where we grow our food, yet parts of the UK that actually have housing, workers, public transport, brownfield land and a need for economic regeneration, as well as their own fine universities, are crying out for such investment. But, of course, Oxbridge colleges own vast tracts of land in the arc, now swollen to five whole counties, and could expect huge financial gain from building all over it. Cui bono?
Smart Growth UK
• I suppose it is kind of generous of David Harding to give £100m to Cambridge University and £25m of that to my old college, St Catharine’s. However, if as a hedge fund boss, whose business is not in actually producing goods of tangible worth but in gambling with other people’s businesses or money, he makes so much that £100m is mere pocket money to give away to winners such as Cambridge and Cath’s, isn’t it fair to ask who are the losers?
Hawkswick, North Yorkshire
• Good news or bad news that “the largest single donation to an English university in recent history” is going to the UK’s richest university, where 79% will be spent on research students, 20% on undergraduates, and 1% on attracting disadvantaged students? Will this ameliorate Conservative government plans (University access: Denying loans due to weaker A-levels will ‘penalise poor families’, 5 February)?
Professor Geoff Payne
Newcastle upon Tyne