Ask the panel

May 25, 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. Can 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 so as to bring in fresh skills and approaches?'

* A spokesman for the Universities and Colleges Union says: "The Age Discrimination Act requires employers who choose to have a default retirement age to write to employees no more than a year and no less than six months before they reach 65 to see if they wish to request to continue to work. If the individual makes such a request, the institution has to consider it.

"This is a small beginning in challenging the stereotypical approach to ageing staff. It should mean that an institution has to focus on the individual, their skills, expertise and place in the institution rather than on their age. But unfortunately, if the employers refuse the request, they do not have to say why.

"The UCU would like to see this beginning improved on because we believe that older people's skills and value to an organisation are not always recognised.

"The legal challenge to the default retirement age, now waiting to come before the European Court of Justice, may make enforced retirement ages illegal. The UCU believes the time has come to jettison fixed retirement ages and for institutions to focus on what staff can contribute, not what age they are."

* A spokesperson for the Equality Challenge Unit says: "A main aim of human resource staff is to secure the best talent, regardless of age, gender, disability, race, sexual orientation, religion or belief.

"An effective support function that they can provide for this purpose is to give accurate departmental information on skill profiles and projected skill requirements. In this way, each manager can plan the balance between recruiting fresh skills and retaining valued employees when recruiting and 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 light of the Heyday challenge, which may yet see the retirement age scrapped.

In finding the balance between the injection of new skills and retaining valued staff, it's important to consider training and development. All employees should be encouraged to improve their skills and knowledge to ensure that they have the wherewithal to continue in their role and develop their careers."

This advice panel includes the University and College Union, the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, 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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