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Gender equality in Irish higher education institutions

ECU response to Higher Education Authority recommendations

The Higher Education Authority today published a report on gender equality in Irish higher education institutions (HEIs) following an investigation by an expert group that started in September 2015.

Equality Challenge Unit welcomes the strong vision that ‘there will be no gender inequality in Irish HEIs’, and the report’s recognition that approaches which effect cultural and systemic change are needed to make that vision a reality.

There is a clear expectation that HEIs will ‘continue to advance in addressing gender inequality’. Our work so far on ECU’s Athena SWAN Charter pilot has underlined to us that HEIs in Ireland are committed to making changes and working hard to engage with the challenges of addressing gender inequality among staff. We are pleased that the expert group have recognised the positive impact of the pilot so far, and that the HEA recommends the Charter is established on a permanent basis in Ireland following the conclusion of the pilot in 2017.

Sarah Dickinson Hyams, Head of ECU’s Equality Charters said:

‘I am happy to see several recommendations from the expert group that will assist HEIs in advancing gender equality, and help them to meet the expectations of the Athena SWAN Charter.

We especially welcome the development of a staff database, which will allow HEIs to understand the gender equality issues as well as providing much-needed benchmarking data for professional and support staff as well as academics. We hope that this data will also allow insight into other equality areas, including ethnicity and disability – understanding the impact that the intersection of several characteristics can have on equality is integral to the promotion of an inclusive culture.

We know that strong commitment and involvement of senior leaders is vital for progress on equality, and especially through the Athena SWAN Charter process. We welcome the recommendation to appoint vice-president level agents of cultural and organisational change.’

The report recommends that research-funding agencies consider linking Athena SWAN to funding in the future. This approach was effective in engaging medical schools to take part in the Charter when the Department of Health in England linked specific funding to medical departments holding Silver awards.

Taking part in the Athena SWAN Charter is a holistic and developmental process, where targeted actions are undertaken to change systemic inequality and impact can be measured over time. While good practice and impact are recognised through the conferral of awards, the Charter acts as a framework through which institutions can effect cultural change through their engagement and active commitment to its principles.

ECU’s Athena SWAN Manager, Dr Ruth Gilligan, said:

‘The recommendations in the report include some ambitious timelines for HEIs to apply for Bronze and Silver institution-level Athena SWAN Charter awards.

ECU’s Athena SWAN Charter team will be working hard to ensure universities, institutes of technology and the new Technological Universities are supported at all stages of the Charter process.

Irish HEIs are already tremendously engaged with the charter, and we will continue to provide dedicated support to Irish HEIs, including surgeries and institutional visits, workshops, resources and training.’

With funding from the Wellcome Trust, ECU have been investigating ways to build a more comprehensive picture of the work undertaken at award-winning institutions, and to allow for a more in-depth exploration of good practice examples of gender equality initiatives by key areas of interest.

ECU looks forward to taking the knowledge and framework from this system to work with the HEA and institutions in Ireland to benchmark promotion systems in Irish HEIs.

Published date: June 27, 2016