Monday, 31 December 2018

Britain is no country for old professors at Oxford and Cambridge Universities

A change in the law in 2011 ended 'default retirement ages' in Britain, but companies and institutions were allowed to keep them if they could make the case that it was necessary and Oxford and Cambridge claim that they must be able to remove scarce old professors over the age of 67 'to help younger academics', despite its abolition by all other leading universities.

One sixty-nine year old ex-Cambridge Professor, speaking anonymously because he was still affiliated to a college, said after being forced to retire : “As one high official of the University told me when the policy was adopted, "We know the policy is probably not in compliance with the law, but we have to hold on to it as long as we can go unchallenged". It’s bankrupt moral leadership. It’s about convenience, for as long as they can get away with it. They don’t have a convenient way to terminate the employment of people who aren’t productive." In other words, the University, like Oxford, is relying on compulsory retirement because their antiquated employment policies mean that it is almost impossible otherwise to remove failing staff.

He went on : “There just hasn’t been the intestinal fortitude to do what many universities in Britain have done - institute a performance review based on standard criteria not to do with age. Cambridge finds that awkward so they’re taking the path of least resistance. Their view is that the only energy is with young people. That’s very out of date. I can identify lots of people right now in their thirties who should leave. A lot of us are running five miles a day, and could go on working until 100."

Seventy year old Sir John Ball, said that he had left Oxford for a position at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh, because he did not want to apply for a rare contract extension and in relation to the default retirement age : “I decided that life was too short to fight it.”

Sir John was :

* Sedleian Professor of Natural Philosophy at the University
*  President of the International Mathematical Union, an international non-governmental organization devoted to international cooperation in the field of mathematics across the world, from 2003–06
* a Fellow of Queen's College, Oxford.
* knighted in the New Year Honours list for 2006 for 'Services to Science'

He said that he was not bitter but felt that the University was going to suffer if it maintained the policy : “I think in the higher reaches of the administration they realise the legal situation is dodgy. Whatever you think of the morality of the situation it doesn’t make any sense to have less good employment conditions than your competitors. If you’re in your late fifties or early sixties and at Oxford with the capacity to move, why wouldn’t you? And how can Oxford attract such people if they realise they can work longer somewhere else? We already know of cases where this is happening.”

On its part, Oxford said that the policy helped to “refresh” the workforce and promote equality and diversity. Cambridge said that the age limit was “important to ensure intergenerational fairness”. A colleague of Professor Ball’s, still working at Oxford and speaking anonymously, said that it was an unambiguously ageist policy and impossible to justify given that only Cambridge kept the same rules. Referring to the collection of leading research universities he said : “The question needs to be strongly put — ‘Why is Oxford different from the rest of the Russell Group?’ ”

Eighty-six year old Sir John Meurig Thomas, said that, while based in Cambridge he gave about 40 lectures a year around the world but was "saddened not to be asked to teach at the University", where he had been Master of a College and Head of the Department of Physical Chemistry from 1978 to '86.

This Sir John was

* from 1986 to 1991, Director of the Royal Institution of Great Britain
* in 1987 televised by the BBC televised giving his 'Royal Institution Christmas Lectures' on crystals, continuing the tradition of lectures for children started by Faraday in 1826
* knighted in 1991 for 'Services to Chemistry and the Popularisation of Science'
* from 1993 to 2002, Master of Peterhouse, the oldest college at Cambridge and Honorary Distinguished Research Associate in the Department of Material Science
* given twenty honorary degrees from Australian, British, Canadian, Chinese, Dutch, Egyptian, French, Italian, Japanese, Spanish and U.S. universities
* was joined in celebration of  his 75th birthday, by Angela Merkel at Cambridge

A colleague of Sir John said: “Many very good, over-67 people in Cambridge are no longer ‘allowed’ to give lectures and influence enthusiastic undergraduates, while at the same time being asked, and paid, to give well- received lectures all over the world.”

No comments:

Post a Comment