Gender warning to third levels

Moves to withhold research funds from universities that fail to deal with gender inequality have been welcomed by an academic union.

The Irish Research Council, Science Foundation Ireland and Health Research Board will only allow those from 20 publicly-funded third-level colleges apply for competitive funding if they have met minimum requirements to deal with the issues from the end of 2019.

They will need to have a bronze accreditation from the Athena Swan Charter, but a silver accreditation will be required from the end of 2023, meaning they have to show improved female representation in academic roles.

With just 19% of professorships in the seven universities held by women, despite nearly half all lecturers being female, the Irish Federation of University Teachers (IFUT) has welcomed the measure.

“We’re delighted the funding agencies are doing something that will definitely make a difference to how the issue is treated because the statistics just haven’t been changing,” said IFUT deputy general secretary Joan Donegan.

“If we depend just on colleges changing policies voluntarily, we’d be waiting a long time to see change. But this has the potential to hit them in the pockets and to lose out in the competitive element, when they all want to be the best,” she said.

The measure from the three research bodies, with combined annual budgets of around €230m, was recommended in last June’s gender equality review for the Higher Education Authority (HEA). It will apply to the seven universities, 14 institutes of technology and Royal College of Surgeons in Ireland.

The HEA is finalising details that would see colleges at risk of cuts to their budgets for staffing and other core functions if they fail to meet targets to improve female representation at academic and senior management levels.

Those restrictions are expected to take effect in around three years, which will place further pressure on colleges to make systematic changes to promotions and appointments processes.

As well as the academic representation of women, the HEA review highlighted imbalances on governing bodies, senior management and academic councils of 26 publicly-funded institutions. While they are being encouraged to achieve a balance of each gender in the 40% to 60% range on such bodies, several colleges fall way short of those targets.

Only 25% or less of executive management at 14 of the colleges were women, including University College Cork, NUI Galway (both 25%) and University of Limerick (22%). Only one woman was on the senior management teams, ranging from seven to 10 members, at institutes of technology in Cork, Tralee, Letterkenny, Sligo and Waterford.

However, Athlone Institute of Technology and Dublin Institute of Technology had no women on their executive management of nine and 10 members.

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