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Oxford Professors unfairly dismissed for their age, tribunal finds

A tribunal in March ruled that four professors were unfairly dismissed by the University on the grounds of their age.

As it stands, the policy of “Employer Justified Retirement Age” (EJRA) dictates that university staff must retire at 68. In October, four professors launched claims against the university that this policy was unfair and provided evidence of age discrimination. The tribunal has ruled in their favour as the policy “means that an individual is dismissed on attainment of a particular age” which is “about the most extreme discriminatory impact possible in the realms of employment”. 

At the head of the campaign against this redundancy policy, Physics Professor Paul Ewart, who won the tribunal against forced dismissal three years ago, told Cherwell that he was very pleased with the result of the tribunal and that “the judgment is further vindication of the claim that the EJRA is unlawful and follows a series of legal judgments both in the university’s own internal Appeal Court by external and very senior judges, and in the Employment Tribunal (ET) and Employment Appeal Tribunal (EAT) in my own case that deemed the policy unjustified and therefore unlawful.” 

The EJRA policy was brought about on the grounds that it is an “evidence-based” policy that allows the university work force to be regularly replenished with a younger, more diverse body of academics. Evidence presented by Ewart suggests that the policy makes only marginal difference. Ewart told Cherwell that the rate of vacancy creation was only “in the range of 2 – 4%. I provided robust statistical evidence in support of this argument. It therefore matters not how long the policy runs; after five, ten or even one hundred years, the difference it makes is still only 2 – 4%.” 

Moreover, the policy has been known to have had damaging repercussions for academics who had been in academic work when asked to leave the university. Following the success at his Employment Tribunal, Ewart was reinstated to Oxford by which point his research group “had dissipated and it was difficult to restart the programme”.

Ewart told Cherwell: “I resigned in 2021 and moved to a position as Director of The Faraday Institute for Science and Religion in Cambridge, associated with, but not formally part of Cambridge University and so not subject to its EJRA rules. I have had no formal contact with Oxford University since I resigned my post in 2021.”

The EJRA policy has contributed to the termination of several important research groups. Ewart suggests that the policy “dissuades other world-leading figures from taking up posts in Oxford”.

Ewart also expressed that “the University, in common with Cambridge [which has the same EJRA policy], is displaying its arrogant sense of exceptionalism by pursuing a policy that every other university in the UK, apart from St. Andrew’s, has abandoned long ago”.

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