Report says gender inequality still exists at third-level institutions

Third-level institutions risk funding penalties in the coming years for failing to address gender inequality.

It is one of the main recommendations in a report on gender equality in higher education, published yesterday.

The report, commissioned by the Higher Education Authority, was compiled by an expert group chaired by former commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn.

“This report clearly demonstrates that significant gender inequality remains in higher education, and this must be addressed for equality, social, and economic reasons,” said Ms Geoghegan-Quinn.

One of the report’s key recommendations is the introduction of mandatory quotas for academic promotion in higher-education institutions.

Ms Geoghegan-Quinn said the review shows that systematic barriers in the organisation and culture within institutions means talent alone is not always enough to guarantee success.

The gender equality review began in September 2015. Ten months earlier, Micheline Sheehy Skeffington won a landmark Equality Tribunal case against NUI Galway.

The tribunal found that the university had discriminated against the botanist for promotion because of her gender.

Ms Geogheghan-Quinn said the recommendations of the report are deliberately ambitious and radical: “They recognise that productivity cannot be maximised without full development of the workforce.”

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn

According to the report, NUI Galway still has the worst gender balance of the country’s seven universities — 13% of its professors are women. One in five (20%) members of its academic council are women.

University of Limerick has long led the way on bridging the gender gap in higher education — 31% of its professors are female. Four in 10 (38%) members of its academic council are women.

The report recommends that institutions apply for and achieve an Athena SWAN institutional award within three years.

Athena SWAN is a system of awards — bronze, silver, and gold —that recognises institutions and departments for making progress in addressing gender inequality.

The report says that within seven years, research-funding agencies will require higher-education institutions to have attained an Athena SWAN silver institutional award to be eligible for funding.

There will be an annual review of the higher-education establishments’ progress in meeting gender targets, with a full review at the end of three years.

Higher Education Authority chief Tom Boland said it strongly endorsed the findings and recommendations of the expert group.

“Fixing the women, as the report points out, is not the solution. We need to fix and radically change the system which perpetuates gender discrimination,” said Mr Boland

The Irish Federation of University Teachers said the Government must allocate resources to support the measures outlined in the report.

Deputy general secretary Joan Donegan described the report’s gender equality targets, that would be linked to future State funding, as a significant step forward.

Ms Donegan said monitoring and implementation procedures must be strong enough so that there could be no foot-dragging in tackling gender discrimination.

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