Staff unready for new age challenges, survey says

February 3, 2006

Age discrimination is "deeply ingrained" in higher education, and most university staff are unaware of forthcoming laws that will protect them from unfair treatment, experts said this week.

Following a recent survey, which found that most university staff were "generally unaware of and unprepared for" the introduction of the laws, the higher education Equality Challenge Unit has issued a new handbook to tackle age stereotyping.

The ECU's handbook outlines the stereotypes common in higher education and the wider workplace. Older staff, widely deemed to be those over 45, are seen as "less flexible and motivated, with outdated skills and poor health and fitness".

Younger staff, usually seen as those under 35, are more likely to be "subjected to teasing and bullying, made to do menial tasks, passed over during recruitment, selection and promotion and excluded from occupational pension schemes".

Legislation, which comes into effect on October 1 and protects both staff and students, is expected to spark a wave of litigation in a sector where 40 per cent of staff are over the age of 45, and where almost three quarters of staff under 35 are on insecure fixed-term contracts.

"Age discrimination... is deeply ingrained in our culture and can affect everyone throughout our working lives," says the ECU handbook New Age Thinking .

"Every one of us is likely to make age-based assumptions, and now is the time to start facing up to our own ageist stereotypes... cultural and attitudinal change are both fundamental in tackling age discrimination in the workplace."

It adds: "There is now an overwhelming case for institutions to actively promote diversity in the workplace."

The new legislation is based on a European Employment Directive.

Research from Cranfield School of Management found recently that 41 per cent of the workforce in general considered that they had experienced age discrimination.

Diane Gilhooley, a partner at the education law specialists Eversheds, said that although she felt that universities were doing their best to prepare for the law, detailed regulations were not expected until March, which would give institutions little time before the rules came into effect.

The Universities and Colleges Employers' Association said it would be distributing guidelines with the ECU "over the coming weeks".

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