PhD: D is for discrimination

March 3, 2011

The decision by City University London and Birkbeck, University of London to make PhDs a standard job requirement ("Doctor yes: the rise and rise of PhDs as standard", 17 February) may well amount to indirect discrimination according to the Equality Act 2010.

This is because indirect discrimination is said to occur when a condition, for example in employment, disadvantages people of a particular group (defined by sex, race, disability, sexual orientation, religious belief or age) who are less able to meet that condition unless this can be shown to be justified as a proportionate response to achieve a legitimate aim of the organisation. It is irrelevant whether one did or did not intend to discriminate.

Paul Curran, vice-chancellor of City, says that since all the institution's lecturers are required to engage in high-quality research, all new lecturers must have a doctorate or be about to obtain one. It is obviously a legitimate aim for City to encourage high-quality research, but is this proportionate practice? As women receive proportionately fewer doctorates than men, this may amount to indirect discrimination. Can this be justified?

What are we to make of the many distinguished academics who worked at City and Birkbeck in the past but who did not have doctorates as this was not required? Are we now to understand that the research they were doing was not "high quality"?

Kenneth Smith, Senior lecturer in criminology, Bucks New University

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