21 OCTOBER 1972, Page 26

Educational values

Sir: I suppose one should really be prompted into throes of violent demonstration and attendance at a wholerash of endless committees' folowing an exceptionally stimulating article by Dr Rhodes Boyson (October 14). However I ask one or two questions. I am puzzled by one or two statements.

He puts forward the idea of further education as a 'religion substitute '. Great! Bu#. does not the comparison go too far in the wrong direction? Religions can become oppressive because it's unusual for them to be based upon hard, easily accessible facts. I hope the universities in some way diminish ignorance scientifically. Does he advocate an educated elite to replace his mass religion substitute? That would be a retrograde step. We've been there before. He goes further in describing the student population than even "oppressive priesthood" to "spurned by all and yet ever expanded in numbers because the community has no alternative faith." Strong stuff, but I wonder that he should be so hard up for argument.

However, if he does really wish to encourage us to further education at heart, should he not back his own loan scheme? I quote "many would first work for a year or two to put money aside and many would take alternative courses which were likely to be of economic advantage." Familiar economic situation — 200,000 students per annum seek employment in the predominantly working class sector, x per cent save, y per cent subsist and z per cent drop out. Fit in your own percentage figures and consider which of the students and which from the working class become dole financed. That is circular motion.

Does it also mean that potential archaeologists should study engineering because the payoff is better? That is the biggest mistake of all which Mr Boyson, as an obviously participating member of a consumer-orientated society, falls into. Is he not trying single-handed to value students by their economic usefulness, implied in the word ' real ' in the remark, " . . . assessed on real and not vague social demands " ? Does that mean that society values me more if I navvy on a construction site for many, many times the subsistence I get if I wish to navvy on the research excavation which precedes it? The Department of the Environment seems to think so. Perhaps Mr Boyson will construct for us a handy scale of real social values. I can only presume that a sudden hard sell urge fell upon the man as he rose from his bed one morning to put pen to paper. I trust no vague social demand was involved; anyway I wish he had overslept.

John Burton University College, Durham