V-cs criticised for inaction over retirement age

August 5, 2010

Government plans to scrap the fixed retirement age in the UK have been welcomed as a transformative change for higher education staff - but prompted criticism of vice-chancellors for not acting sooner.

The proposal, scheduled for introduction in October 2011, would mean employers could no longer dismiss staff because they had reached the age of 65.

Henry Wynn, a professor of statistics at the London School of Economics and founder of the campaign group UK Academics for Continuing Employment, welcomed the plans. But he also argued that higher education employers could have anticipated the change, given a series of court cases over the country's default retirement age. That would have helped those at risk of forced retirement before the law changes - including him.

Professor Wynn said: "A number of people (in higher education) were retired last year, and more are being retired this year. It is a wonderful victory, but it is rather tragic, it is rather a shame, that vice- chancellors did not jump the gun. They could easily have put the default retirement age up from 65 to 67."

He predicted that the end of the default retirement age would have a big impact in higher education, as older academics often remain "passionate about their research and very active".

"It is not uncommon for academics to publish 50 papers after the age of 65," he added.

In 2008, prominent literary critic Terry Eagleton was forced to retire as a lecturer at the University of Manchester after losing an appeal to remain past his retirement date.

A spokesman for the University and College Union said: "The UCU has campaigned to remove the default retirement age because we believe that doing so is in the best interests of our members, students and further and higher education in general."

Potential negative impacts of an increased number of older staff in higher education could include a reduction in the number of posts for younger people trying to enter the sector.

john.morgan@tsleducation.com.

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