Still a lack of women in senior roles at third level, says HEA

The lack of women in senior positions in third-level colleges remains a problem, despite improvements, the Higher Education Authority has told college presidents.

Data compiled by the HEA shows that as few as one-in-eight senior academic posts are held by women in some colleges.

At NUI Galway, where a number of equality cases have highlighted problems, half of all lecturers, but just eight out of 64, or 12%, of professors, were women. Only two (13%) of 15 senior lecturers at Athlone Institute of Technology are female, even though women account for half of staff at the lowest lecturing grade.

The academic-post comparisons were based on three-year averages at colleges, between the end of 2014 and December, 2016.

In a letter to the presidents of more than 20 publicly-funded colleges, the HEA chief executive, Graham Love, said gender equality will be a key objective of a higher-education performance framework being developed with the Department of Education.

“Compared to last year, there are marginal improvements in the right direction, but we still have a significant problem to address,” he wrote.

There were only improvements of 1% to 2% last year in addressing under-representation of women at senior status in third-level decision-making bodies.

Only four of the seven universities have reached the 40% target for each gender on governing bodies, two have done so on their academic councils, and none has passed 40% in their senior management ranks.

The situation is better among the 14 institutes of technology, as the 40% benchmark has been reached on 10 of their governing bodies, but on just six (43%) academic councils and three executive management teams. Three women are institute-of-technology presidents, but no university has ever had a female president.

While the average number of professorships, across the universities, held by women is 21%, the figure is as high as 31% at University of Limerick, and 26% at Maynooth University. The highest representation in senior academic posts, at institutes of technology, is in Letterkenny, where half the 14 senior lecturers at women, with a similar proportion at Dún Laoghaire Institute of Art, Design and Technology, and a 44% female figure at Institute of Technology Blanchardstown.

Dublin City University said significant changes at senior level, since the beginning of this year, have seen even numbers of women serving on its 12-strong management team, one of a number of advances in recent months.

It and University College Dublin have achieved a bronze award this year, under the Athena SWAN Charter, signifying that problem areas around gender equality have been identified and a plan is in place to address them.

From the end of 2019, only publicly-funded colleges which have achieved this status will be eligible for funding from the Irish Research Council, Science Foundation Ireland, and the Health Research Board. Athena SWAN bronze awards were previously attained by University of Limerick and Trinity College Dublin in 2015, and last year by University College Cork.

A silver award, which recognises progress on gender issues, will be required for research funding eligibility by the end of 2023.

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