Sector needs young blood to combat ageing profile

The academy is ageing and is not attracting a new generation of talent, according to figures released by the Higher Education Statistics Agency.

May 30, 2009

The agency’s report Resources of Higher Education Institutions 2007-08 shows that the average age of an academic working at a UK university is 43. But over the past four years, the proportion of academic staff aged over 55 has increased from 18.9 per cent to 20.5 per cent. During the same period, the proportion of academics aged under 35 has dropped from 25.9 per cent to 25.2 per cent.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union, said that in tough financial times the sector had to make more effort to sell itself as a potential career to bright young graduates.

“With debt at record levels it is not surprising that, with the extended qualifications required for a career in academe, graduates are considering better-paid alternatives,” she said. “The profession needs to make itself more attractive to appeal to a new generation of staff – something it will not do when the employers are ignoring a jobs crisis and offering miserly pay rises of less than 1 per cent.”

The report also illustrates changing patterns of employment in higher education. The use of fixed-term contracts has dropped from 43 per cent of contracts in 2004-05 to 35 per cent in 2007-08. At the same time, the proportion of staff on part-time contracts has increased from 31 per cent to 33 per cent. There are more women than men on both fixed-term and part-time contracts.


A spokesperson for the Universities and Colleges Employers Association, said: "A recent UCEA survey, titled Recruitment and Retention of Staff in UK Higher Education, confirmed that the sector continues to benefit from few recruitment and retention difficulties. The survey results paint a positive picture of the higher education labour market, and this is in a sector that grew by more than 8,000 employees last year. The combination of Framework Agreement changes and the current three-year pay agreement which delivered increases in excess of 15.9% have clearly helped to make higher education a very attractive sector in which to work."

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