Colleges to lose funds over gender inequality

Only colleges tackling academic gender inequality will be eligible for a slice of an annual €230m public research fund.

The measures aimed at getting more than 20 publicly funded institutions to take gender equality in research careers more seriously will take effect from the end of 2019.

Only those with the minimum bronze accreditation under the Athena Swan gender equality scheme — requiring a successful phase of self-assessment, data collection, action planning, and peer review — will be considered for funding from the Irish Research Council, Science Foundation Ireland, and Health Research Board.

However, from the end of 2023, funding from these agencies will not be available unless the college leading a proposed research project has reached silver, or intermediate level, accreditation.

The UK-based Athena Swan Charter recognises work in most academic disciplines to address representation, work environment, student progress into academia, and the journey through career milestones.

The new rules being announced today by the funding agencies, with combined annual research budgets of €230m, were recommended in last June’s national review of gender equality in the country’s third-level colleges. It was carried out for the Higher Education Authority (HEA) and chaired by former EU research commissioner Máire Geoghegan Quinn, who said gender balance in leadership roles will not happen in our lifetimes if we just wait for change to naturally occur.

The review found that only seven of 26 colleges, including publicly funded teacher training colleges, had 40% or more women on their executive management teams. There were no women at senior management level at two ITs .

Women account for only 19% of university professors, despite half of lecturing staff being female. Nearly half of academic staff at institutes of technology are women, but they account for just 29% of senior academics.

“A lot of colleges are behind the mark because they are such big organisations with many types of employees,” said Gemma Irvine, HEA head of policy and strategic planning. “This will be about putting structures and processes in place to ensure change across an institution.”

In about three years, State-funded colleges will risk cuts in their core budgets if they do not meet gender equality targets now being finalised.

The seven universities, 14 ITs, and the Royal College of Surgeons signed up to the Athena Swan Charter in 2015 and will be covered by the new requirements.

UCC, the University of Limerick, and Trinity College have already achieved bronze accreditation.


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