OU staff criticise 'unfair' age rules

November 9, 2006

The Open University, which enjoys an unparalleled reputation as the institution of choice for the older learner, this week found itself accused of age discrimination against staff.

A letter in The Times Higher , written on behalf of nearly 200 Open University academics, calls on Brenda Gourley, the vice-chancellor, to abandon new rules that they say are prejudiced against the over-65s.

From last month, associate lecturers aged 65 and over will be granted only a two-year extension to teach in "exceptional circumstances".

The OU rules were introduced in response to laws banning age discrimination. But the problem is that, previously, associate lecturers were allowed to continue working beyond retirement automatically so long as enough students wanted to attend their courses.

John James, an associate lecturer in history and social science, said:

"This is just what the age discrimination laws are meant to have put a stop to. We think the management should be ashamed of themselves."

At least 900 of the OU's 8,000 associate lecturers are aged over 64.

Some 88 per cent of the OU's 180,000 students are aged over 21, making it the most age-friendly of any UK university.

An OU spokesman said: "The university recognises that there are special issues relating to associate lecturers. However, the university is unable, save in exceptional circumstances, to employ staff who are over retirement age and who have never been, or who are not currently, employed by us."

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