“Regardless of age”: Australian university managers’ attitudes and practices towards older academics

Catherine Earl, Philip Taylor, Fabian Cannizzo

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleResearchpeer-review

15 Citations (Scopus)

Abstract

As with other industrialized nations Australia's population is aging and older workers are encouraged to work for longer. At the same time, Australia's university sector, which is aging, is being reconfigured through changes that potentially marginalize its older workers as higher education institutions try to become more competitive in a global market. In this context, youthfulness appears to embody competitiveness and academic institutions are increasingly aspiring to a young workforce profile. This qualitative article builds on previous research to explore to what extent ageist assumptions shape attitudes to older workers and human resource management (HRM) practices within Australian universities even when HRM practitioners are well versed in antidiscrimination legislation that (unlike the Age Discrimination in Employment Act in the United States) applies to workers of all ages. Semistructured interviews conducted with 22 HRM practitioners in Australian universities reveal that university HRM practices generally overlook the value of retaining an older workforce by conflating "potential" with "youthfulness," assuming that staff potential and performance share a negative correlation with age. While mostly lower-ranked institutions have attempted to retain older academics to maintain an adequate labor supply, this study finds that university policies targeting the ongoing utilization of older workers generally are underdeveloped. Consequently, the availability of late career employment arrangements is dependent upon institutions' strategic goals, with favorable ad hoc solutions offered to academics with outstanding performance records, while a rhetoric of performance decline threatens to marginalize older academic researchers and teachers more generally.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)300-313
Number of pages14
JournalWork, Aging and Retirement
Volume4
Issue number3
DOIs
Publication statusPublished - Jul 2018

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