‘The Not-So-Open University Lets Down Older Employees’

The Open University – which has nearly 5,000 students over 65 – has today been attacked by Age Concern for its discriminatory practices against its employees.

The University has a mandatory retirement age that forces employees to retire at the age of 65, regardless of their need or desire to work – and regardless of their level of competence.

The impact on lecturers is particularly devastating as research contracts tend to be planned three years in advance and post-graduate students need long-term arrangements with sponsoring lecturers. It can mean that from the age of 62 lecturers cannot complete their work – even if the University would consider allowing them to stay on in the future.

To add further evidence of hypocrisy within the Open University, it has just finished its Research into Age Discrimination Project. This, according to the University, “investigated how age discrimination is experienced by older people, and how it affects all our lives”.

Andrew Harrop, Head of Policy at Age Concern and an expert in age discrimination, said: “Mandatory retirement ages are immoral, unfair and completely senseless. It is outrageous to base employment policies on misplaced stereotypes and prejudice. For a place of learning not to allow people over 65 to continue working is unacceptable.

“Mandatory retirement ages should not be used to hide bad HR practices. Academics should be employed on the basis of their skills and regardless of their age. We hope students and academics alike will make their feelings known to university leaders.”

Since the law on age discrimination came into effect on 1 October 2006, many public sector organisations in particular have kept or introduced mandatory retirement ages, including many universities. Age Concern with its membership organisation Heyday has challenged the Government’s decision to allow forced retirement and the case is going to the European Court of

Andrew Harrop explained: “The new legislation categorically does not require employers to introduce mandatory retirement ages. Employers with good performance management practices do not need to rely on discriminatory and clumsy mandatory retirement ages. HR procedures can actually be simplified by removing a policy of compulsory retirement.

“Our challenge over mandatory retirement ages also has important implications for employers. If we win our case, employers could have to pay compensation to any workers who have been forced to retire over age 65 and who have brought claims in the Employment Tribunal within three months of their dismissal. Employees who are forced to retire should seek advice as soon as possible.”