Bright graduates shunning careers in universities

Academic posts are so poorly paid that many institutions are having trouble recruiting and retaining younger lecturers
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The Independent Online

One in three academics is now over 50 and too few graduates are choosing careers in academia to replace those who retire, according to two studies published yesterday.

One in three academics is now over 50 and too few graduates are choosing careers in academia to replace those who retire, according to two studies published yesterday.

The standard of teaching and research is at risk because Britain's brightest students are shunning careers in higher education, say the studies, produced by union leaders, vice-chancellors and funding bodies.

Earlier this month, David Blunkett, the Secretary of State for Education, singled out universities as crucial to the future of the British economy. But the Association of University Teachers (AUT) warned that standards were under threat because university departments were increasingly staffed by ageing academics, with no young researchers ready to fill their shoes.

Research published by the union found that at some universities, as many as 40 per cent of staff were over 50. In some subjects the proportion of under-35s was just one in 10.

Academics said bright graduates were tempted either to work in industry or to join the "brain drain" and take jobs in universities overseas.

David Triesman, general secretary of the AUT, blamed low pay rates and poor job security for the trend. "Too few of our best people are attracted to academic careers and they are right. It is now a poor career and the universities, as a result, are in a precarious state."

A second report, commissioned by the Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals (CVCP) and higher education funding councils, warned that universities faced worsening problems recruiting high-calibre academics.

Researchers, who surveyed 13 universities, found increasing numbers of departments were being forced to readvertise posts or recruit substandard candidates who did not have experience of research or teaching.

Subjects such as engineering, computing, maths, education and chemistry faced particularly severe problems.

The CVCP study found the main problem was in recruiting professors and senior academics. It said: "A far worse problem in appointing senior staff is looming, as recruitment of junior staff deteriorates."

Studies by the research group Industrial Relations Services and the Office for Manpower Economics, found a "steady decline" in the number of students signing on for PhD studies "when they can earn more in private sector companies seeking their skills".

The report said: "In branches of engineering and science, where the UK is acknowledged to be one of the leaders in research and development, heads of department find they are struggling to attract the quality of applicants they require to maintain that lead.

"There are concerns in many departments that alongside forms of fruitful collaboration with business, universities and higher education colleges are losing some of their brightest and best graduates to industry."

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