HEA begins third-level gender equality review

A review of gender equality among third-level staff is to recommend ways to improve women’s representation at senior academic levels.

The Higher Education Authority (HEA), which initiated the exercise, said gender inequality was systemic across the sector and not just NUI Galway which has been the subject of attention on the issue in recent months. The university’s promotions procedures were criticised in an Equality Tribunal ruling in 2014 in the case of botanist Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington.

Only 14% of NUIG professors are female, but women make up more than half of those in lecturer grades. It has defended a task force it set up to tackle the issue.

Across the universities, half those at the lowest lecturer grade are women but they hold just 19% of professorships. The figures range from 14% at NUIG and Trinity college Dublin, and 16% at University College Cork, up to the highest proportion of 31% at University of Limerick.

HEA chief executive Tom Boland said the review announced yesterday will not be a mere audit of what is happening but will be an important instrument in bringing about change.

“Our aim is an ambitious one, to make Ireland a world leader in our academic communities. It is entirely realisable. Gender inequality, like all discrimination, damages all of us — the women of talent who do not get promoted and the wider society who do not have the benefit of that talent, properly and fully realised.”

In the 14 institutes of technology, just 29% of senior academic staff are women, and they will also be examined for the review.

An independent review team to be appointed by the HEA over the summer will develop a self-evaluation questionnaire to be completed by all colleges. The team, to include Irish and international experts, will then visit a selection of colleges to meet senior management, a cross-section of staff and groups and organisations with an interest in gender equality.

The visits to certain colleges, and meetings with representatives of other institutions, are expected to take place next March and April, to be followed in May or June 2016 by publication of a final report.

The HEA said the report should recommend how higher education institutions might enhance their equality policies and implement them to support gender equality. But the experts will also be expected to recommend how the HEA, Department of Education and other bodies might support colleges to make improvements.

Meanwhile, Education Minister Jan O’Sullivan led delegations from seven universities, and a number of institutes of technology and private colleges, on a four-day education mission to the United States this week.

Ms O’Sullivan travelled to Boston on Monday.

She will attend the annual NAFSA conference (Association of International Educators) and give the opening address.

She is also going to meet with Allan Goodman, president of the Institute of International Education, and visit MIT Medialab, Boston College, Northeastern University, MCor, and the Irish Immigrant Advice Centre.

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