Ask the panel

February 3, 2006

Worried about your employment, maternity, pension rights? Send your questions to The Times Higher advice panel.

I am in my 50s but new to academia. I fear that I am going to be left out of the 2008 research assessment exercise because staff of my age are expected to have produced a far greater volume of research than I have. RAE guidance seems to say that only young academics will receive acknowledgement of the short time they've had to build up a portfolio of work.

* The Universities and Colleges Employers' Association panellist says: "RAE guidelines encourage higher education institutions to submit the work of all excellent researchers - including those whose volume of research output has been limited because of personal circumstances - and specifically state that this includes 'mature staff who were new entrants to the profession during the period January 1, 2001, to October 31, 2007'.

"Whether or not you are selected will depend on the standard of your research, and not on your age."

* The Equality Challenge Unit panellist replies: "For the first time, RAE guidance specifically requires panels and higher education institutions to produce an equality code of practice to frame decision-making in relation to the 2008 research assessment exercise.

"Age discrimination legislation is about to come into force.

From October 1, 2006, it will be illegal for institutions to discriminate against anyone in their employment on age grounds."

She adds: In its code of practice each institution is required to take account of mature staff, and any other early-career researchers, who were new entrants to the profession on or after August 1, 2003. Assessment for established staff runs from January 1, 2001.

"The Equality Challenge Unit produced guidance for institutions on drawing up that code of practice (Annex G, RAE 03/0005). It prepared an equality briefing (RAE 02/2005) that requires panels to adhere to a statement that takes account of staff new to the profession irrespective of age.

"The unit has published a briefing paper on draft age regulations that outlines provisions of the forthcoming law ( www.ecu.ac.uk/publications/pamphlets/ ). Final government regulations are expected by Easter this year.

* Our Association of University Teachers panellist says: "This week's guidance from the Higher Education Funding Council for England on the research assessment exercise makes reference to early-career researchers but not in an age-specific way - it states that early-career researchers are individuals of any age who entered the academic profession on employment terms that qualified them for submission to RAE 2008 on or after August 1, 2003.

"You should point this out to the head of department and ask about the institution's code of practice on RAE submissions. This is supposed to ensure that RAE submissions across the university are 'equality-proofed'. Excluding you on the grounds of age would be contrary to Hefce guidance and is likely to breach the university's own code of practice.

"From October 2006, there will be legal protection against age discrimination. If you do not get satisfactory responses from your employer, contact your trade union for advice."

* The Research Councils UK panellist says: "The RAE guidance on submissions has a separate Annex G guidance from the Equality Challenge Unit to aid institutions in ensuring that the maximum number of staff conducting excellent research have their work included in submissions.

"The guidance includes details of personal circumstances that panels will take into account, which may have a bearing on the volume of research undertaken. One such circumstance is: 'Early career researchers.

These are individuals of any age who first entered the academic profession on employment terms that qualified them for submission to RAE 2008 as Category A staff on or after August 1, 2003.' A decision about whether to include your research should not be based on your age."

This advice panel includes the Association of University Teachers, Natfhe, the Universities and Colleges Employers' Association, Research Councils UK, the Equality Challenge Unit and Rachel Flecker, an academic who sits on Bristol University's contract research working party.

Send questions to advicepanel@thes.co.uk

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