Fears of a demographic crisis in English universities have been dispelled by a staff survey released this week.
The figures contained in the report from the Higher Education Funding Council for England underpin its decision, taken earlier this year, not to implement a "new blood" scheme along the lines of that operated during the 1980s.
The survey found that the profession is ageing gently - with 34 per cent of old universities' staff over the age of 50 in 1993, compared with 31 per cent in 1989 and 26 per cent in 1982. The percentage of those between 35 and 49 has shrunk from 57 per cent in 1982 to 53 per cent in 1989 and 48 per cent in 1993. New universities have younger staff, with only per cent over 50 and 56 per cent in the 35 to 49 age group, and the balance is shifting marginally from the middle-aged group to those under 35.
But it found "no apparent grounds for concern about an imminent bulge in leavers".
The report says: "Staff leave the former UFC-funded universities at all ages and, although the bulk of those retiring do so at 65, they are outnumbered by younger staff leaving for other reasons." The peak leavers group is in the 25-34 age range.
Paralleling this is the finding that new academics enter the profession across a wide age range. Of the 1,686 new full-time nonclinical university-funded staff appointed in 1993 - up 200 on four years earlier - approximately a quarter are 40 or over. "There is a healthy number of young people coming in, but the whole market is more complex and dynamic than we supposed," said Bahram Bekhradnia, head of policy for HEFCE.
The survey pointed to the existence of a large pool of young academics, many in the 25 to 29 age range, employed in non-university funded posts. Most are on short-term contracts.
While the report notes "a problem of providing this group with career prospects for the future", this group is seen as further insurance against serious recruitment difficulties.