THE state’s university campuses are preparing succession plans and bracing for the financial impact when baby-boomer academics start retiring.One-quarter of academic staff employed in NSW universities are 55 or over, and 41 per cent are 50 or older.The proportion of older baby boomer academics is markedly higher at the University of Western Sydney, University of Technology, Sydney, Southern Cross University and University of New England.In his annual report to Parliament on the state’s 10 public universities, the Auditor-General, Peter Achterstraat, warns that universities face financial risks due to the ageing workforce.The cost of employing disproportionately large numbers of ageing staff is dragging down their finances as they must provide for escalating long-service costs, superannuation liabilities and rapidly accruing holiday leave entitlements.Mr Achterstraat said universities also would face greater financial commitments when recruiting to replace the ageing staff who will retire en masse from the workplace, with further costs involved in competing for limited talent.In 2008, an analysis by demographer Professor Graeme Hugo found the entry of baby boomers into higher education, together with increased participation rates, resulted in a rapid expansion of universities in the 1960s and 1970s, when entrants to the academic workforce were typically aged in their 20s and 30s.He said slower growth in academic numbers since then, and particularly in the past decade or so, has resulted in a rapidly ageing academic workforce with a ”missing generation” – younger academics under 40.Rhonda Hawkins, the University of Western Sydney’s deputy vice-chancellor, said it had been actively addressing its ageing workforce problems since 2006, targeting recruitment of under-40s.She said the university was planning an international ”Preparing for Academic Practice” conference next year to attract early career academics.”We have embarked on a major academic staff recruitment campaign which will see 100 new staff appointed. This recruitment will target early career academics to boost numbers in key areas of demand,” she said.Sharon Farquhar, Southern Cross University’s human resources director, said it had a comprehensive plan to deal with the ageing academic workforce.”The university is building an academic leadership development program to ensure there are successors for academic management positions and to ensure academic managers are skilled to manage our key resource, our staff,” she said.SCU had an active succession plan for key roles and was increasing its focus on planning for anticipated retirements.The Greens MP John Kaye said universities faced a massive challenge maintaining quality while replacing retiring academics over the next five years.For the past decade, he said, observers of Australian universities had predicted ”a tsunami of retirements with large scale financial and reputational risks”.RETURN THE TENURE : IT’S ACADEMICProportion of academics over 50:Southern Cross 55%Western Sydney 54%New England 53.6%UTS 46%Charles Sturt 44%Macquarie 42.1%Newcastle 41%Wollongong 39.8%UNSW 35.2%Sydney 35%SOURCE: NSW AUDITOR-GENERAL