We're not all Sir Harry

September 17, 2004

A fortnight ago you reported the departure of Sir Harry Kroto to the United States because he fears that he will no longer be able to work in UK universities after his 65th birthday. This is clearly a loss to British science and an unfortunate effect of current retirement law.

What you failed to mention is that in two years' time, age discrimination in the workplace will be outlawed throughout the European Union, and that this will make it more difficult for anyone to be forced out of work because of their age. Indeed, it may become impossible if retirement ages become illegal altogether. There will be clear benefits for people such as Sir Harry and for universities, which face an ageing academic workforce, but there may be a downside.

We are not all Harry Krotos, and when universities can no longer simply wait for Dr Piercemuller's 65th birthday, or buy him out with a golden handshake (which may be deemed discriminatory), they will need more robust systems of appraisal and more sophisticated approaches to negotiating retirement with dignity than many seem to have at present.

Stephen McNair
Centre for Research into the Older Workforce
Surrey University

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