Cambridge University has introduced a compulsory retirement age of 67 for its academics to promote “intergenerational fairness” and enable career progression, PM has learned.
Academics at the university voted in favour of an Employer Justified Retirement Age (EJRA) for themselves last week after an internal consultation had concluded.
The move, which was prompted by the abolition of the default retirement age last October, will not apply to any non-academic staff employed by the organisation.
Indi Seehra, HR director at the university, told PM: “Introducing the EJRA for academics will support intergenerational fairness. It will allow our academics to progress through the promotional stages in the course of their career and help to create a balanced distribution of ages.”
He added the reform will also promote more innovation in the university’s research, as combining generations of academics can “refresh” academic thinking and inquiry.
“In an environment where innovation is needed, you need new people to come in to the cohort to create innovation. But you need the capacity to allow them in, and if you haven’t got people leaving then that will be a restriction on the capacity for new people,” said Seehra.
He added that more than 60 per cent of the academic opportunities in recent years at the university have become available because somebody had retired.
“We have a low turnover rate, it’s about two per cent, and where turnover does occur retirement is a prominent factor. Hopefully the EJRA will keep a balance between a fair number of people continuing to retire and new people being able to join the academy.”
The policy will allow academics to apply for an extension for up to three years beyond retirement age.
The university joins its rival Oxford in bringing in compulsory retirement for academics, as Oxford’s EJRA came into force in October last year.
The use of employer-justified retirement ages was highlighted last month when a landmark case concluded involving Leslie Seldon, a solicitor forced to retire at 65.
Seldon lost his appeal to the Supreme Court, and while the case will lead to further legal argument, it indicated that the circumstances in which employers can justify forced retirement may be wider than previously thought.
However, Matthew Knight, chair of UHR, the body for HR professionals in the university sector, told PM he doubts many other universities will seek to introduce an EJRA.
The case for upholding an EJRA at Oxford and Cambridge “reflects their particular system for promotions and tenure, so it’s much clearer to make the case for an EJRA”.
“I don’t at the moment see a significant number of other universities going down this road, in fact I would say the reverse,” said Knight. “I would say there are very few, if any, that are seriously considering it. That isn’t to say there aren’t worries or concerns about the effects of the abolition of the DRA depressing promotion and succession opportunities - those worries are around.
“But for most people, it’s too soon to know how serious those concerns are going to be. Also, I think most organisations are taking the view that the right approach to this is to make sure that there are good management processes in place so that this doesn’t become a huge problem.”
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