The university has been the subject of criticisms over the low level of promotions of female academics, and there are still cases pending against it in the High Court by four women who were overlooked in a previous promotions round in 2008 and 2009.
NUI Galway announced this week that it has achieved a bronze Athena Swan award, the lowest level of recognition for a college’s plans to address gender equality issues. This follows two previous unsuccessful applications by the university. Athena Swan is an internationally-recognised charter that supports work by academic institutions to advance gender equality in academic, professional, and support roles.
The gender discrimination case won against NUI Galway by botanist Micheline Sheehy Skeffington in 2014, in which internal promotion processes were heavily criticised by the Equality Tribunal, drew significant attention to equality issues at the university.
It also helped to highlight ongoing gender inequality in senior academic roles and management across most third-level institutions. The Higher Education Authority asked former EU commissioner Máire Geoghegan Quinn in 2015 to chair a review of the issues and its 2016 report made significant recommendations on how to address the problems.
All publicly-funded third-level colleges were told at the end of 2016 they would no longer be eligible for funding from the three main public research agencies without this minimum bronze award under the Athena Swan initiative from the end of 2019.
The latest achievement of the standard by NUI Galway and Maynooth University means all seven universities have secured the minimum requirement. By 2023, they and other colleges must progress gender equality strategies sufficiently to be awarded silver accreditation if they are to remain eligible for funding from the Irish Research Council, Science Foundation Ireland, and the Health Research Board.
NUI Galway’s vice-president for equality and diversity, Anne Scott, said the bronze award recognises energetic and sustained work to address equality challenges there in recent years.
However, we recognise that we are still at an early stage in this important journey,” said Prof Soctt.
Maynooth University is to appoint a vice-president for equality diversity and interculturalism as part of a strategy that also earned it a bronze Athena Swanaward, having made an unsuccessful application in 2015.
A gender action plan for 2018 to 2021 also commits the Co Kildare university to launching a gender identity and expression policy for transgender and gender-diverse staff and students.
The under-representation of women in different disciplines and grades at Maynooth is also set to be addressed. More than 40% of its professors in arts, humanities, and social sciences are female, and 31% of all the university’s professors are women. This compares favourably to the 21% of professors across all Irish universities during 2014-2016 who were women.
The 14 institutes of technology are also the subject of potential restrictions to research funding from the end of next year but none has yet received the Athena Sawn bronze award.