Academics Challenge Retirement Rules

1 June 2017, 12:31 | Updated: 1 June 2017, 12:33

Oxford University

Oxford University academics are challenging rules that would force them to retire at the age of 67.

Public debates over the retirement age have been described as a battle between "old white men ... hanging on limpet-like to space and resource'' and "talented young scholars'' trying to get their first job, according to the Times Higher Education (THE) magazine.

It reported that academics have put forward a challenge to Oxford's "employer-justified retirement age'' (EJRA), which was introduced by the university in 2011 after legislation was brought in scrapping the national default retirement age.

Under this law, employers could no longer force workers to retire at 65, but individual employers could still have an compulsory retirement age if they could justify the need for it.

Oxford introduced a rule for all academic and academic-related staff, with an agreement that it would operate initially for 10 years, with a review after five years. That review has recommended that the rule be retained and the retirement age be raised to 68.

A number of the university's academics are appealing against decisions that would force them into retirement, the THE reported.

A motion to scrap the rule was debated by Oxford's congregation - made up of academics and academic-related staff - on May 16, but was rejected by 143 votes to 64.

During an earlier debate on amendments to the EJRA on May 2, Bill Allan, a tutorial fellow in classics at University College, Oxford, said: "It's particularly ironic that most of those who oppose the EJRA seem to come from the gilded generation of the over-60s.''

He described those nearing retirement age as ``perhaps the most privileged generation ever in British academia''.

He added: "How can you look your young post-docs and doctoral students in the eye, when by clinging to your post you are denying them an opportunity that could be a lifeline? Not one of the arguments against the EJRA can stand up to the absolute need for inter-generational fairness in academia.''

Paul Ewart, a physics professor at Oxford's Clarendon Laboratory, said the EJRA has a "detrimental effect'' on "attracting and retaining world-leading academics''.

Prof Ewart, who is approaching his 69th birthday, was given a two-year extension when he was 67 and is appealing against a decision to reject a second extension.

He told the THE that Oxford should allow a more ``tapered'' approach to retirement, such as allowing workers to switch to part-time contracts.

"There is an underlying ageism that says you are over the hill at 67 or 68 when some people are very active at this age - Oxford is behind the curve on this,'' Prof Ewart said.

Campaigners have triggered a postal vote of all members of Oxford's congregation - around 5,000 in total - over the future of the EJRA.

Prof Ewart told the Press Association: "We want to raise awareness of the issue. Most people are not aware of the arguments on either side of the debate. We want people to think about it and come to a reasoned decision.''