Age of retirement goes up to 68 to overcome faculty shortage

Mauritania will increase the retirement age for university staff from 65 to 68 years in a bid to overcome the shortage of qualified and experienced faculty in existing higher education institutions and in response to the expected demand for staff following the establishment of new institutions.

The draft decree for the increase of the retirement age to 68 years was approved at a 17 August meeting of the Mauritanian Council of Ministers. The previous retirement age of 65 was set in 2006.

According to a cabinet statement, the decision is based on the attrition rate within academia. The pace at which lecturers and researchers retire, most of whom have important cumulative experience in their fields of specialisation, is of concern. In addition, the government has to respond to the need to expand education and training programmes following the creation of new institutions in higher education during the past three years.

The Mauritanian public higher education system consists of two universities, the University of Nouakchott, and the University of Islamic Sciences in Laayoune, along with two higher education schools and several higher learning institutes.

There are also three new institutions, namely, the higher institutes of statistical professions, of digital technologies and the graduate school of commerce.

Why the increase in the retirement age?

Al-Khalil Ould Mohamed Al-Hafiz, a former secretary general of the General Union of Mauritanian Students, told University World News via a WhatsApp voice recording that the decision will have a positive impact on educational standards and the academic health of universities as qualified and experienced academics will remain in the higher education system and can serve as role models to a younger generation of academics.

The average life expectancy in Mauritania has increased beyond 65 years which means there is no point in retiring an experienced university staffer who is mentally and physically sound, according to Al-Hafiz.

“Increasing the service period for university staff will also help to overcome the current shortage of qualified and experienced faculty in Mauritanian higher education institutions which is [at present] negatively affecting the learning environment,” Al-Hafiz added.

Al-Hafiz’s view is supported by a June 2020 study ‘Imbalances and contradictions in higher education in Mauritania: Analysis and suggestions’ which indicates a high average number of academics per students. The faculty:student ratio in Mauritania is 1:27 and in Tunisia it is 1:12.

“In line with the three-year increase in the retirement age for university staff, concrete efforts must be followed to employ the qualified youth in the higher education institutions,” Al-Hafiz pointed out.

Retirement systems in North Africa

Professor Hamed Ead, the director of the Science Heritage Centre at Cairo University, Egypt, told University World News that each country has its own circumstances which affect the type of retirement system adopted.

“The ‘normal’ age for retirement in Egypt is 60, but it has been decided that, as long as a full-time professor is able to give, he should continue until the age of 70, and older, and he is to be treated as a working professor,” Ead said.

According to him this is a good system. “The full-time professor continues to give to all ages as long as he is able to do so, and this has been taken into account in their pensions,” he said.

Professor Sami Hammami, the former vice president of the University of Sfax in Tunisia, told University World News the retirement age for university teachers in Tunisia is 62 for an assistant with a masters degree and 70 for lecturers and professors.

Abdellah Benahnia, a part-time international researcher and professor at the Superior Institutions of Science and Technology, an associate college of Cardiff Metropolitan University in Casablanca, told University World News, the retirement age for university staff in Morocco is 65.

According to Sadallah Boubaker-Khaled, a professor of mathematics at École Normale Supérieure in Algiers, a decision was taken about three months ago that staff over 70 have to retire.

“The stated reason is that the retirement age in the public service is 65, and that a temporary exception was implemented for universities because they needed even those over 65 years old,” Boubaker-Khaled told University World News.

“Before that, there were even 80-year-old professors at the university in Algeria,” Boubaker-Khaled added.

In Libya, following a decision of the president of the university, the professor or associate professor who has reached the retirement age (of 70 years) is granted the status of honorary professor, which enables him to attend meetings, have membership and chair scientific committees, teach graduate students, supervise and evaluate scientific theses, and evaluate scientific production for the purpose of promotion, according to a 2021 decision of the ministry of higher education and scientific research.

To retire or not to retire?

Tunisian academic Hammami said: “The specificity of the profession (teacher-researcher) makes it possible to work at an advanced age (with flexible working hours), and the productivity of intellectual production can be greater at a certain age. Indeed, certain activities such as the supervision of theses and young researchers are possible.”

“Academically, I don’t think there should be any age limit for university teachers, except for those who wish to retire for health or other reasons,” Hammami added.

“However, from a certain age (70 years) the teacher must undergo a medical examination which proves that he still has all his intellectual functions intact to carry out his work at the university,” Hammami suggested.

“The work of academics is somewhat strenuous, and they are sometimes subject to nervous and mental illnesses. The supervision and monitoring of students, even at an advanced age, cannot seriously harm the health of teachers. The choice remains personal, however, and on a case-by-case basis,” Hammami pointed out.

Benahnia agreed that the work of university professors is very demanding and, in some cases, exhausting.

“In developing countries, including African states, where the number of students [per subject] is extremely high, the lecturer finds himself or herself in a difficult situation going through hundreds of papers,” Benahnia added.

“For education quality purposes, classes should be smaller and professors should be given the opportunity to retire at the age between 62 or 65 years of age,” he said.

“He or she should be given the choice and opportunity to continue working at the same institution with all benefits and encouraging increments,” he added.

For Boubaker-Khaled from Algeria, the retirement age should be based on a merit evaluation system to choose the most qualified and productive university staff to continue on the job.

“There are members of the faculty who are very important for the university even if they reach 80, as they are very experienced and productive, and there are groups of university staff that are not productive who should be put into retirement even at the age of 65,” Boubaker-Khaled concluded.