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Gender equality

The under-representation of women among staff in higher education, particularly at senior levels, is an intractable problem internationally. In Ireland 81% of professorial positions are held by men and, while women represent 62% of non-academic staff, men represent 72% of the highest paid non-academic staff. While there are currently 4 female presidents of institutes of technology, there has never been a female university president in the Republic of Ireland.

Against this background the HEA is actively seeking to foster gender equality among staff in Irish higher education through the extension of the Equality Challenge Unit’s Athena SWAN Charter to Ireland and through an independent, national review of gender equality in Irish higher education institutions. Details of these initiatives are provided below.

Athena SWAN Charter

The Athena SWAN Charter was launched in the U.K. on 22nd June 2005. Managed by the Equality Challenge Unit (ECU), the Athena SWAN initiative aims to effect cultural and systemic change in higher education institutions to support gender equality and the progression of women in STEMM disciplines. This entails, inter alia, working towards increasing the proportion of women employed in higher education institutions, improving the representation of women on committees, enhancing the transition from postdoctoral researcher to first academic post, improving working practices to support career progression, and supporting women’s networking across higher education institutions. The Athena SWAN bronze, silver and gold awards certify institutional commitment to addressing gender inequality in science, technology, engineering, medicine and mathematics, and to effecting cultural and systemic change to foster gender equality. From 2016 the ECU’s new gender equality charter mark will extend the Athena SWAN Charter to include the arts, humanities, social sciences, business and law.  

In response to strong interest from the Irish higher education community, the HEA negotiated the extension of the Athena SWAN Charter to Ireland on a 3-year pilot basis commencing in the spring of 2014.

In 2015 the following Athena SWAN awards were conferred upon Irish higher education institutions:

Institutional bronze awards:

  • Trinity College Dublin
  • University of Limerick

Departmental bronze awards:

  • TCD School of Physics
  • TCD School of Chemistry
  • TCD School of Natural Sciences
  • UL Department of Life Sciences
  • UL Department of Mathematics and Statistics

In 2016 an institutional bronze award was conferred upon University College Cork.

In 2017 institutional bronze awards were conferred on Dublin City University and University College Dublin, and a bronze departmental award was conferred on the University of Limerick's Department of Physical Education and Sport Sciences.

The HEA will conduct a review of the 3-year pilot of the Athena SWAN Charter prior to its conclusion in the spring of 2017. The findings of the review will be posted on this webpage in due course.

HEA Review of Gender Equality in Irish Higher Education Institutions

In September 2015 the HEA initiated an independent, national review of gender equality among staff in HEA-funded higher education institutions. The review was undertaken by a 5-member independent Expert Group comprising the chairperson, Máire Geoghegan-Quinn (European Commissioner for Research, Innovation and Science from 2010–2014), Professor Pat O’Connor (University of Limerick), Dr. Helen Peterson (Gothenburg University), Ryan Shanks (Accenture) and Professor Paul Walton (University of York).

Taking as its starting-point an analysis of the status quo in publicly funded higher education institutions in Ireland in respect of gender equality, the review examined the gender-balance across all grades of staff (including administrative staff) and the reasons for continuing gender inequality, making recommendations to address this. While providing an opportunity to take stock of progress to date in advancing gender-equality, the review adopted a ‘quality-enhancement’ approach to building on the sector’s achievements to date in this area.

The report of the review was launched on 27th June 2016 and is available below along with the supplementary publications and a presentation on the report.

HEA National Review of Gender Equality in Irish Higher Education Institutions
Higher Education Institutional Staff Profiles by Gender
KEY FACTS & FIGURES Higher Education Data by Gender
Presentation of the HEA National Review of Gender Quality in Irish Higher Education Institutions
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