Universities in Ireland will now risk losing funding if they fail to promote a sufficient number of women into higher roles, Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor has announced.
Speaking to the Sunday Independent, Minister Mitchell O’Connor stated that “the first Irish university was set up 424 years ago and since then, no university [in Ireland] has had a female president.”
“That was excusable 400, perhaps even 300, 200 or 100 years ago, but in the 21st century, it’s not only not excusable, it’s not acceptable in institutions which should be providing a beacon of equality to the rest of society.”
Minister Mitchell O’Connor also stated that a Gender-Equality Task Force, which will investigate the gender inequality in senior university roles, will be established and will receive €500,000 in funding. The force will monitor a national systems review of recruitment and promotion policies in higher education institutions. A system ensuring that regular feedback is received will also be established. The work of the taskforce will be based on a report by the Higher Education Authority (HEA), which analysed the state of gender equality in Irish universities and made recommendations on what improvements can be made.
The HEA agreed that state funding of higher institutions should now depend on universities’ performance in tackling gender inequality. The institutions’ eligibility for research funding will be limited to those colleges that have a history of tackling the issue of gender inequality in the past. In addition to that, colleges will be required to have gender equality accreditation by the end of 2019 by three of Ireland’s research finding agencies; Science Foundation Ireland, the Irish Research Council, and the Health Research Board.
This move is made with the aim of improving gender equality in research, which is an important requirement for winning the profitable European research funding opportunities under Horizon 2020, the EU’s €80 billion research and innovation plan. Universities will now also have to adhere to mandatory gender quotas when considering academic promotions. The promotions will be based on the “cascade model,” meaning that the proportion of men and women promoted will have to match the proportion of each gender in the position below. The minister also addressed the fact that the report suggested a lack of transparency in the process of recruitment, which she hopes will be tackled by the task force.
Currently, 50% of lecturers in Irish universities are female, however the proportion drops to 19% among professors. In this year’s report, the HEA noted improvements of 1% to 2% in tackling gender inequality between 2015 and 2016 at top levels in higher education institutions. According to the HEA report, no executive managerial team in any university in the country had a representation of at least 40% women.
NUI Galway was reported to have the lowest proportion of women in professor positions, at 12%, and University of Limerick had the highest, at 31%. Among the highest paid (making above €106,000) non-academic staff, only 29% were female, and just 17% in institutes of technology.
An article published last month by the University Observer revealed that while there are more female lecturers/assistant professors in UCD, there are twice as many male associate professors, professors and full processors than there are female. Female lecturers in UCD on average earn less, have shorter contracts, and are less likely to be promoted. UCD won the Athena SWAN in March, which recognises gender equality in higher education staff.
Marie O’Connor, the chairperson for the task force, said that “gender equality starts at home; none of us today have lesser ambitions for our daughters than our sons. It is important as all students enter education that there are female role models and mentors and this is even more vital in the higher education institutions, which are so influential in the development of skills for future careers of young people.”