Four academics who were forced to retire at 68 have won their employment tribunal against Oxford University.

Judges said the university’s Employer Justified Retirement Age (EJRA) policy had a discriminatory effect despite having a legitimate aim to improve diversity.

The claimants — Nicholas Field-Johnson, formerly the head of development for the department of continuing education; Bent Flyvbjerg, a former professor in the Saïd Business School; Philip Candelas, formerly the Rouse Ball head of mathematical physics; and Duncan Snidal, a former professor in international relations — all left the university between 2019 and 2021 because of the policy.

Some went on to work elsewhere rather than retiring, Times Higher Education reported.

The judgment said while the desire to promote equality and diversity was legitimate, the retirement policy had contributed to this only in a very small way and was therefore not legally justified.

Oxford is reviewing the tribunal’s ruling and could appeal.

The four staff members claimed age discrimination, saying they were dismissed at the peaks of their careers.

The option of becoming an emeritus professor or similar was “not comparable to their previous employment”.

Oxford’s policy was introduced in 2011 after it was prevented from forcing staff to retire at 65 by the Equality Act.

It was later reviewed to increase the retirement age to 68 and remove staff at lower grades.

Judges said Oxford had “not made any attempt to measure the effect of the EJRA on actual vacancy creation across the initial ten-year period”.

This was described as “unfortunate”.

On diversity, judges said Oxford’s case was “significantly weakened by any lack of reliable statistics outside diversity of sex”.

Modelling showed that the EJRA was thought to account for “a net increase of 0.5 women a year in the position of associate professor”.

For full professors, an “additional woman is appointed every other year” because of the EJRA.

An Oxford spokesman said: “The university has been notified of the tribunal’s ruling.

"We are currently reviewing the detail and considering our next steps, including the option of appeal.”


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