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Eventually I was forced to replace all 21 strings. Mixing the old and new strings simply did not work, as they were very different in thickness and in tension. It took about a week of what felt like fulltime tuning to get it to the point where the strings were all compatible lengths and tensions, so it could be tuned correctly. Each adjustment of one string would require detuning all the shorter strings, and tuning them back up again. The whole process started to feel like the Towers of Hanoi! (I’m exaggerating, of course, it was more like n^2 retunings rather than 2^n.)

The new strings are a lot heavier than the old ones, and so have a much higher tension. Several of the tail loops broke and I had to make new ones out of the old strings. Anyway, to cut a long story short, the strings are now tuned up to F major, and I’ve learnt a few tunes. Kelefa Ba is the one traditionally taught first to beginners, and I reckon I can give a fairly accurate rendition of the basic version by now. No frills yet. That comes later, I suppose. I’ve been working on some more difficult ones, Kuruntu Kelefa and Alla La Ke.

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Dear Sir,

Have we learnt nothing in the past six years about the difference between mathematical models and the real world? If you put garbage into a mathematical model, you will get garbage out. If you model the long-term viability of the USS on the ludicrous assumption that all UK universities go out of business tomorrow, why should anyone listen to you? Unfortunately, this is exactly what the USS is doing. This is pure mathematics, not economics, and the USS should leave pure mathematics to us pure mathematicians.

As a Trustee for several years of the London Mathematical Society, which celebrates its 150th anniversary next year, and hopes to keep going for another 150 years, I learned something about long-term viability. Of course you have to keep the nightmare scenario in the back of your mind, but you do not build your entire business model on it. Your business model must be built on prudent but reasonable assumptions, or else your business will not survive in the long term.

Ironically, the proposed changes to USS might actually bring about the nightmare scenario that the USS seem so concerned about. If, as seems likely, the scheme becomes so unattractive to new members that it becomes viable to set up a rival scheme, then this will eventually happen, and the USS will have dug its own grave.

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* teaches students by challenging them, not mollycoddling them;

* researches the fundamental questions about life, the universe and everything, not superficial questions about how to make money;

* administers itself to support teaching and research, not the other way around.

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http://www.lrb.co.uk/v33/n10/howard-hotson/dont-look-to-the-ivy-league

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Talking to employers, it is clear that what they chiefly expect from graduates are an ability and willingness to learn, and flexibility. The actual topic of the degree is in most cases largely irrelevant, but a `difficult’ subject, like mathematics, is generally preferred.

Unfortunately, pressures on universities from outside, and therefore pressures on academics from university managers, tend to push in the opposite direction from the real interests of the students. Directives to provide detailed printed lecture notes, model solutions to all exercises, sample exams, etc etc all militate against our aim to teach students how to learn.

If we bow to the pressure to spoon-feed our students in this way, we let both them and society down. We may improve some largely meaningless statistics, and thereby our position in league tables, by so doing, but we will produce graduates who cannot think for themsleves, who cannot deal with a new situation they have not seen before, and who therefore cannot get the job they want, and think they deserve.

So, a plea to university managers: please stop interfering in things you don’t understand, like how to teach mathematics, and let us, the professionals, get on with the job the way we know works best.

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