Shame on OU for ageist policy

November 9, 2006

The Open University, an institution that quite rightly celebrates the achievements of its older learners, has introduced age discrimination rules. But its response to age discrimination regulations will actually worsen the situation for many of its over 65-year-old part-time associate lecturers.

The OU has 8,000 associate lecturers who not only tutor its 200,000 students at face-to-face tutorials and via telephone and internet but also grade and comment on assignments and exam scripts and so much more besides. Of these, about 900 are aged over 65 and they bring great scholarship, experience and gravitas to the job.

Up to October this year, those associate lecturers wishing to continue tutoring after the official retirement age could obtain regular single presentation contracts, provided student numbers in the local area held up.

But under the OU's new policy, they will be granted a two-year extension only in "exceptional circumstances". Those tutoring on a course due to end in the near future will be "retired" whether they wish to go or not, as their employment will be deemed to have ceased with their current contract. From now on, the OU's employment website states, people over 64 years will not be allowed to apply for any job at the university. Thus, many experienced, dedicated tutors will no longer be employed, and other potentially skilled people will not even be considered for a job.

The OU's new policy of age discrimination does not fit an institution that offers a huge range of undergraduate and postgraduate degree courses, open to all, and that proudly commits itself to lifelong learning. The OU could quite legally declare a policy of employing over 65-year-old applicants provided they meet the usual job specifications. This would be in keeping with the aim of the European legislation and in the spirit of a truly open university. If studying beyond 65 is to be applauded, why shouldn't teaching beyond 65?

The undersigned think the senior managers of The Open University should be ashamed of themselves. We demand that they reverse this discriminatory policy.

Guinevere Lohneis, John James and 189 associate lecturers
Open University

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