Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

There Is an Age Issue, but Asking Old 'Uns to Go Won't Solve It

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

There Is an Age Issue, but Asking Old 'Uns to Go Won't Solve It

Article excerpt

Pushing out senior academics to make room for younger ones would only perpetuate an insidious ageism, says Geoffrey Alderman

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Do "older academics" really need to "make room for the young?" According to a recent opinion article in this publication ("Giving up the post", 13 August), they most certainly do.

Apparently too many of us old 'uns (I am 71), safe in the knowledge that the Equality Act 2010 abolished enforced retirement, are making unseemly but desperate efforts to cling to our posts, and the book-lined offices and stationery cupboards that customarily go with them. And because of this selfishness - because of this delusion that the world cannot carry on without us - we are partly to blame for the "misery, poverty, low self-esteem and unemployment" that face many of our bright young PhD graduates, only 19 per cent of whom are (according to the National Union of Students) employed in any type of academic job.

One remedy put forward in Sally Feldman's article is the creation of part-time positions that older academics can fill - fractional appointments and/or consultancies that free up full-time permanent positions for that misery-laden younger generation of unemployed scholars. I am not necessarily decrying the creation of such part-time posts, for those seniors who genuinely want them. What worries me is that this solution aids and abets the ageism that I believe is rife in the taxpayer-funded higher education sector in the UK. It affects to solve one problem, but in so doing perpetuates another. Moreover, the other problem that it perpetuates is hardly recognised within the sector, and rarely discussed.

Officially, of course, age discrimination cannot and therefore does not exist. Universities advertising or soliciting permanent positions are prohibited from enquiring as to the age of an applicant; those applicants who agree to divulge their dates of birth on equality monitoring forms are assured that this information will not be forwarded to shortlisting committees. This is a joke in very poor taste, because application forms invariably also ask for the dates on which academic qualifications were obtained, and this information is certainly placed before selection panels. "I see that you graduated with an Oxford bachelor's in 1965," one panel member remarked with a smile. …

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