Ask the panel

February 23, 2007

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

'I am a director of human resources at a university. Could you explain how the new "Right to Request" to continue working beyond retirement age sits with the need of our university to retain an element of turnover to enable it to bring in fresh skills and approaches?'

* Our panellist from the Equality Challenge Unit says: "One of the main aims of human resources staff is to secure the best talent pool, regardless of age, gender, disability, race, sexual orientation, religion or belief.

"An effective way of doing this is for the HR department to give accurate information on skill profiles and projected skill requirements in each department. In this way, each manager can plan the balance between recruiting people with fresh skills and retaining valued employees when recruiting new staff or considering requests to continue working.

"It is important, however, to challenge the link between age and skills.

Skills and knowledge may become degraded or irrelevant at any age, and assuming that the retirement process will resolve this problem is not necessarily the most effective method of workforce planning.

"This becomes even more important in the light of the Heyday challenge, which may yet result in the scrapping of the retirement age. (The Heyday group, backed by the charity Age Concern, is challenging new age discrimination legislation under which employees will be able to request to work beyond the age of 65, but employers do not have to give a reason for refusal. The group says that the law contravenes European equal rights legislation and argues that employers should have to give a reason for refusal.) "In finding the balance between the injection of new skills and approaches and retaining valued staff, it is important to consider the role of training and development. All employees should be encouraged to upgrade their skills and knowledge, whatever their age, to ensure that they have the appropriate skills to continue in their role and develop their careers."

* Our panellist from the Universities and Colleges Employers Association says: "Your concern is one that was expressed by several other employers during the Government's consultation on the draft Age Regulations.

"In response, the Government decided to retain a default retirement age of 65 years in the final regulations, but at the same time to introduce the 'Right to Request' procedures to facilitate working beyond the normal retirement age.

"It is important to remember, however, that the 'Right to Request' procedures are just that - they only give the employee the right to request to continue working beyond normal retirement age. Employers are under an obligation to consider any such requests, but they do not have to agree to them. They are entitled to balance the needs of the individual against those of the institution in assessing the request.

"The procedures could also be used to discuss and agree an alternative to the request, which could be accommodated without any detrimental impact on the business. For example, alternatives such as reduced hours, job sharing or a move to a different role could be considered and offered.

"The Ucea/Equality Challenge Unit joint working group on age discrimination has recently produced a guidance note that provides further information on retirement procedures and flexible approaches to retirement (see: Guidance Note 6: Retirement, Pensions and Redundancy - available at under Publications)."

This advice panel includes the University and College Union, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, Research Councils UK and Rachel Flecker, an academic who sits on Bristol University's contract research working party. Send questions to

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