Colleges are to be given deadlines to improve recruitment and promotion practices that do not support gender equality.
The areas in need of improvement are to be identified in a review of policies and procedures to be undertaken by the Higher Education Authority (HEA).
It follows a series of reports and controversies that have highlighted under-representation of women in senior academic positions, particularly in universities.
Higher Education Minister of State Mary Mitchell O’Connor will today announce Marie O’Connor as chair of a gender equality taskforce set up to oversee the HEA review and prepare a three-year action plan.
The former financial services partner at PwC and ex-member of a number of state boards said it is important as all students enter education that there are female role models and mentors.
“This is even more vital in the higher education institutes which are so influential in the development of skills for future careers of young people,” she said.
“Women are significantly under-represented in top positions in the higher education sectors in Ireland, and indeed across Europe.”
NUI Galway said last week that the proportion of women in senior lecturer grades has improved to 40% since its most recent promotion round. But it still has the lowest proportion of women at professor level, a figure it aims to increase from 12% to 30% by 2020.
Women hold just over one in five professorships in all seven Irish universities, with 31% in University of Limerick being the highest figure. At the 14 institutes of technology, one third of those on the most senior academic grade are female.
The HEA review is intended to provide a national position of the practices around recruitment and promotion in colleges, to identify good practice but also areas that need improvement.
Those institutions where shortfalls are identified will be expected to take steps in a specified timescale to improve their systems.
The measure is the latest in a set of policies and actions to address inequality, one of which has been to achieve minimum standard on an international benchmarking system by the end of 2019 or lose access to funding from the main public research agencies.
The HEA said a year ago that they must reach their targets for improving academic gender quality by 2023 to remain eligible to compete for research funding.
Ms Mitchell O’Connor said: “I was very concerned that nearly three-quarters of respondents to a HEA survey on gender equality indicated that there were issues in relation to transparency in recruitment, promotion, and progress in higher education institutions.
“Where improvements are required, they need to be addressed without delay. Having a national action plan with progress monitored on a regular basis will help to drive the change that we need to see.”
As well as Ms O’Connor, the other taskforce members are: IT Carlow president Patricia Mulcahy; Irish National Teachers’ Organisation general secretary and Ictu president Sheila Nunan; Maynooth University president Philip Nolan; and Accenture Ireland’s Ryan Shanks.
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