Age law adds to campus burdens

August 2, 2002

New European Union legislation on workplace discrimination could keep ageing, expensive and underproductive lecturers in post, causing universities serious staffing problems by further skewing their already ageing staff profile, writes Alan Thomson.

Directive 2000/78 , on establishing a general framework for equal treatment in employment and occupation, seeks to outlaw discrimination on grounds of age, sexual orientation, religion, race and disability.

All the regulations except those relating to age discrimination are due to enter UK statute books in December next year. The government has won a three-year delay on implementing the age discrimination regulations, which will come into effect in 2006.

In the interim, universities will lobby the government to ensure that the age discrimination regulations do not make it impossible for universities to get rid of older, underproductive staff.

The directive could also affect those at the other end of the age range by, potentially, making it illegal for academic awards and competitions for young academics to set upper age limits.

Joyce Hill, director of the Equality Challenge Unit, which promotes equal opportunities in higher education, said: "We want universities to be intellectual powerhouses, and there is great value in maintaining a steady influx of new staff. The legislation has the potential to work against this healthy turnover."

She said there could be big financial implications if older staff, who will tend to be at the top of the salary scale, used legislation to work up to retirement age and possibly beyond.

Higher Education Statistics Agency data show that 48 per cent of the non-clinical staff employed directly by higher education institutions are aged over 46, with 14 per cent over 56. Of professors, 79 per cent are over 46.

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