Allow us to work past 65

April 24, 2008

An open letter to Bill Rammell

As academics, mostly in our sixties, we consider ourselves active in research, teaching and administration. We have made, and can continue to make, a contribution to the resounding success of universities in the UK. We ask for your help in stopping universities making us redundant on the grounds of retirement at 65, against our will. The Government has interpreted in a narrow way the European Council Directive 2000/78/EC, explicitly intended to bring age discrimination into line with sex discrimination (prohibited by the European Council in 1976). It requires member states to prohibit age discrimination, which the UK Government did by enacting the Employment Equality (Age) Regulations 2006 on 1 October 2006.

One can request to stay on after 65, but the indications are that this is hard to do and the process is demoralising and, arguably, no matter how carefully handled, insulting. Many universities are requiring members of staff to be, literally, interviewed for their own jobs. This does not seem to be in accordance with the spirit or word of the regulations that outlines clearly the process to be followed.

We wish to convince you that the current attitude of university administrations is narrow-minded, wasteful and - set against a progressive attitude against age discrimination, to which we hope you subscribe - ageist.

In addition to the arguments based on discrimination, there are pressing issues for those facing redundancy at 65. One concerns research. Research-active staff want to continue to apply for grant applications, but if grants take them past 65 then unless they can continue in their jobs they must essentially administer the grants and carry out research unpaid. There is evidence that this "grant application blight" is forcing academics to go the US, where age discrimination was banned properly years ago.

The greater waste will arise from redundancy itself. To scythe people like us, who have many years active work ahead, is a terrible waste. We are stressed by it, we are angry about it and in some cases it is causing tensions, for example with heads of department who are given a role in the decision-making but who may not have the authority to implement their decision.

We have set up a group, UKACE: UK Academics for Continuing Employment. We have a growing membership from a number of universities, and we hope to win the debate with fair, just and logical argument.

Higher education in the UK has an opportunity to be forward-thinking, non-ageist and proactive in anti-age discrimination and we ask you to take this opportunity to take the points raised forward.

Henry Wynn professor of statistics, London School of Economics; Joanna Bornat professor of oral history, The Open University; Dan Cohn-Sherbok professor of Judaism, University of Wales, Lampeter; Andrew Colman professor of psychology, University of Leicester; George Macdonald Ross senior lecturer in philosophy, University of Leeds

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