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Over 50s have lowest morale and are most keen to quit academe

11 September 2006 | last updated: 15 December 2015

Age discrimination is rife across our universities. Staff aged over 50 are the unhappiest in their jobs and almost half (43 per cent) would quit now if they could.

Those are the findings of a YouGov poll commissioned by UCU released today.

The key findings of the survey were:

  • Staff over 50 are the most likely to retire, 43 per cent of staff over 50 would retire immediately if they could. This in stark contrast to younger members of staff - just 18 per cent of staff under 35 would retire now. Overall 33 per cent said they would retire now if they could.
  • Staff over 50 have the lowest morale, 39 per cent of them describe their morale as poor or very poor. In the 51-55 age bracket 41 per cent of staff describe morale as poor or very poor and in the 55-64 age bracket 37 per cent describe morale as poor or very poor. Overall 35 per cent of staff describe morale as poor or very poor.
  • Overall 26 per cent of staff interviewed felt discriminated against because of their age. The age group that felt most discriminated against was the under 35s (40 per cent). Next was the 51-55 age bracket (30 per cent) followed by 55-64 (27 per cent).

Commenting on the findings of the poll, UCU joint general secretary, Sally Hunt, said: 'We have a group of incredibly devoted and hardworking lecturers in their 50s, many of who are clearly very unhappy. In a sector where age and wisdom have traditionally been synonymous I cannot understand why universities are failing to treat their staff with respect they deserve. All too often it is this group that are the first to be considered for voluntary redundancy and little is done to consider their needs and how best to use their wealth of experience and knowledge.'

Later today (Monday) Sally Hunt will tell trade unionists at TUC Congress in Brighton that 'age discrimination cuts across gender, race, sexuality and religious beliefs' and it is the older generation that is made to feel 'demoralised, undervalued and ultimately superfluous'.

In a speech this evening she will say: 'Higher education is marked by low pay and serious recruitment and retention difficulties in many subject areas. It is a sector which already recruits proportionately more "older" staff than other industries and they must be treated better and their concerns acted upon. With student numbers set to increase the sector will have to recruit 3,300 extra lecturers a year just to cope with demand.

'Culturally, there is a wider problem too. The media phenomenon of "grumpy old men" and "grumpy old women" makes light of a profound and justified disenchantment many of my members feel. We need to remember that discrimination takes many forms. Many people I speak to over 50 have the impression that we have a lot to say about race and gender, for example, but too little to say about what it feels like to be 51 and considered over the hill. The environment might be different but that hurts just as much if you are a lecturer at Oxford or a steel worker in South Wales.'