Ireland’s universities risk losing funding under gender equality reform

Ireland’s universities could risk losing part of their funding if they fail to address gender inequality to improve women’s chances of advancing in academia.

Ireland’s universities risk losing funding under gender equality reform (F)
Graduation – Via Shutterstock

In a national review of gender equality in Irish higher education financial punishments for universities that fail to meet specified targets could be implement.

Currently there is not one Irish university that has ever been led by a woman. Only 19% of the country’s professors are women.

A group formed by the Republic of Ireland’s Higher Education Authority, has put forward the suggestions for all higher education institutions in the country.

Suggestions include each institution needing to appoint a vice president for equality, who will be a full academic member of the executive management team and who will report directly to the president.

In addition, all Irish higher education institutions will have to apply for Athena SWAN accreditation within three years.

The group also suggests that at least 40% of members of key decision-making bodies, within institutions, are women. In addition is has called for a national committee to support gender equality.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, a former European Union commissioner who led the gender equality review, said the decision was necessary because a “‘fix the women’ approach aimed at getting women to change to fit the existing culture will not work.”

“Gender balance in top leadership positions will not be achieved in our lifetimes if we just wait for change to naturally occur.”

She said the underrepresentation of women in senior academic roles was “not because women are not talented or driven enough to fill these roles,” but because “numerous factors within the institutions — conscious and unconscious, cultural and structural — mean women face a number of barriers to progression, which are not experienced to the same degree by men.”

In addition institutions will not be able to apply for research funding if they fail to achieve at least a Silver Athena SWAN award, which will be given for gender equality. Institutions will have seven years.
Other recommendations including introducing mandatory quotas for academic promotion and asking university presidential candidates to demonstrate experience in advancing gender equality.

Tom Boland, chief executive of the HEA, said: “The intractable underrepresentation of women among staff at senior levels clearly signals the need for new, even radical, approaches to tackling this issue.”

“Over the coming months, we will continue to liaise with the Department of Education and Skills, the higher education institutions, research funding agencies and other key stakeholders to develop a detailed implementation plan.”

The Equality Challenge Unit’s Athena SWAN manager Ruth Gilligan said The Athena SWAN team would “be working hard to ensure universities, institutes of technology and the new technological universities are supported at all stages of the charter process.”

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