Source: Polly Hancock
An employment tribunal has heard claims that the University of Kent discriminated against an applicant on the grounds of age by making a PhD an essential criterion for a lecturer position.
Stephen Games, 60, an hourly paid lecturer at the Kent School of Architecture, said the job specification had been tailored towards younger candidates because architectural students of his generation were not encouraged to take doctorates.
He argued that pressure from the research assessment exercise, introduced in 1986, had led to an increase in the number of PhD candidates in the discipline.
Mr Games cited Freedom of Information data from 33 universities showing that just five doctorates were awarded in the subject in 1981, compared with 90 in 2011.
Speaking at the tribunal in Ashford on 19 June, Mr Games said that there were ways of wording the job specification so that “the qualities that the candidate could bring to the job” were emphasised, “not the certificate”.
Barrister Deshpal Panesar, acting for Kent, said that Mr Games had had ample opportunity in his 30-year career to obtain a doctorate, as several peers in his age group had done.
The university argued that even if requiring a PhD in the subject area were discriminatory, it was “material” to the Kent School of Architecture’s future strategy of moving from being a teaching-focused body to “a research and teaching school”. It would therefore be justified under law as a “proportionate means of achieving a legitimate aim”.
Mr Panesar added that although the lack of a PhD was one reason why Mr Games did not get the role, it was not the only one.
The barrister said that Mr Games’ book on the architectural historian Sir Nikolaus Pevsner, which the university acknowledged to be a “strong research output” that might be rated 3* or 4* in the forthcoming research excellence framework, was largely relevant to art history rather than architecture.
Mr Games also lacked the “desirable” criterion of a professional qualification, Mr Panesar added.
Mr Games applied for the role – one of four full-time lecturer posts advertised by the institution alongside a part-time role for which a PhD was not essential – after four months of email correspondence with Don Gray, head of school, and Timothy Brittain-Catlin, director of research at the school.
He had received positive feedback on the courses he provided at the university, Mr Games said.
During the tribunal cross-examination, Professor Gray said that he had been “keen to encourage” Mr Games to apply for any of the full- or part-time posts and had assisted him with efforts to explore whether he could obtain a doctorate under “special regulations”.
Candidates not meeting “essential” criteria at Kent can be appointed if the selection panel deem them exceptional. “Knowing that I had no PhD, he could only have encouraged me to apply on the other condition, which was that he thought I was exceptional in some way…even though he now denies this,” Mr Games told the tribunal.
The tribunal panel is deliberating on the case, with the result to be announced in due course.