Age-old problem

May 7, 1999

Kate Purcell's research uncovered the appalling level of discrimination practised against older candidates ("Bright young things only need apply", THES, April 9).

Universities are one of the biggest recruiters in the country, yet they seem to have a split personality when it comes to age discrimination. They seek mature students and offer retraining schemes to older adults, presumably to gain employment. But they do not offer protection against age discrimination when mature candidates apply for positions in their own departments. Age not being considered as a principal category for possible discrimination in many equal opportunity codes of practice means selection committees can implicitly discriminate against older applicants.

It is generally assumed, for example, that for a first lectureship after completion of a PhD an "ideal" candidate should be under 30. What is not commonly known is that selection committees implicitly operate an age cut-off: those over 45 applying for their first position are not even considered. Apparently they "lack the necessary energy to deal with the demands of the job".

Are funding bodies aware that, while they are awarding research grants to mature postgraduates to gain professional qualifications to enter academia, selection committees may be discriminating against them? If you are a new PhD and mature, that glass ceiling is triple glazed.

Ironically, my doctoral thesis is nearing completion but, according to some, I am too old to teach my specialised subject - "The meaning of ageing for the individual and society". Legislation is needed now.

Geraldine Littler University of Liverpool

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