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Home Advance HE’s Equality Charters Athena SWAN Charter Review of the Athena SWAN Charter

Review of the Athena SWAN Charter

The establishment of Advance HE has provided an opportunity to evaluate a number of our programmes to ensure they are fit for current and future needs of institutions, individuals and the sector as a whole. While there has been much positive feedback about the impact Athena SWAN has had on gender equality in the sector and, specifically enhancing the career opportunities for women, concerns have arisen about the award process and administrative burden it places on our universities.

The Advance HE Board has therefore commissioned an independent review of Athena SWAN to ensure that it is fit for purpose and to advise on the process, policy and positioning of Athena SWAN in the UK.  The review is being undertaken by a Steering Group chaired by Professor Julia Buckingham CBE, Vice-Chancellor and President of Brunel University London.

The Group is considering and making recommendations on:

  • the purpose and remit of Athena SWAN,
  • the requirements for each level of recognition,
  • the application process and the administrative burden it places on institutions,
  • the assessment of applications and the training and workload of assessors,
  • perceived inconsistencies in the review process.

Steering Group Membership

  • Ms Margaret Ayers, Director of Human Resources and Organisational Development, Canterbury Christ Church University and member of Executive Committee of Universities HR (UHR)
  • Professor Julia Buckingham, CBE (Chair), Vice-Chancellor and President, Brunel University London
  • Mr Ben Browne, Chief Operating Officer, De Montfort University
  • Professor Paul Carmichael, Associate Dean (Global Development), Ulster University
  • Professor Dame Athene Donald, DBE, FRS, Professor of Experimental Physics, Master of Churchill College, University of Cambridge
  • Professor Jenny Higham, Principal, St George’s, University of London, and Chair of the Medical Schools Council
  • Mr Patrick Johnson, Head of Equality And Diversity, University of Manchester
  • Professor Hilary Lappin-Scott, OBE, Senior Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Research, Innovation and Strategic Development), Swansea University, and Vice-President of the Federation of European Microbiological Society (FEMS)
  • Mr David Sweeney, Executive Chair, Research England, Council of UK Research and Innovation (UKRI)
  • Professor Paul Walton, Department of Chemistry, University of York
  • Professor Lesley Yellowlees, MBE, CBE, Head of College of Science and Engineering, University of Edinburgh.


  • October 2018 to 1 February 2019: Informal consultation with the sector
  • February-July 2019: Analysis of informal consultation findings and preparation of formal consultation
  • August-September 2019: Formal Consultation with the sector
  • September-October 2019: Formulation of conclusions and recommendations and consultation thereon
  • November 2019: Steering Group reports to the Advance HE Board

Between October 2018 and January 2019, the Steering Group obtained a broad understanding of the Athena SWAN experience through conducting an informal “soft consultation” with groups of stakeholders across the UK. The information gained from this exercise – along with the findings of an impact evaluation of Athena SWAN running concurrently and commissioned by Advance HE – has informed and shaped the formal consultation with the UK sector which will take place over the period August-September 2019.

Following the soft consultation, the Steering Group identified and established task and finish groups with expertise to advise on specific areas. More information on the task and finish groups can be found below.

The Steering Group will report their findings and recommendations to the Advance HE Board in November 2019.

The timeline for implementation of any recommendations will take account of the work currently underway by institutions and departments on Athena SWAN applications, and will incorporate an appropriate transition period for any changes that will affect applicants. Unless otherwise informed directly by Advance HE, existing award-holders and applicants planning to submit in or before November 2020 will not be affected by the review.

How to Get Involved

Sector consultation

The information gathered from the many people who engaged with the soft consultation has highlighted the high value with which the Charter is regarded but also identified a number of areas of concern. In a survey opening on 31 July 2019, the Steering Group is now seeking views from the sector on a number of solution-based concepts which are designed to address the key issues which have emerged.

The survey is confidential, no participant will be identified, and raw data will only be only be shared with the Steering Group and its advisors. The findings will inform the Steering Group’s recommendations and will be summarised in the final report.

Please visit to complete the survey. The Steering Group is keen to hear the views of individuals across the sector irrespective of their role – respondents are encouraged to circulate this link to interested colleagues.

Task and Finish groups

Three task and finish groups were formed in April 2019 to review:

  • Data
  • Assessment criteria
  • Costing models

Soft consultation

To facilitate participation from a broad range of stakeholders across the UK, members of the Steering Group hosted various face-to-face meetings and webinars and conducted an online survey. These sessions were focused on six exploratory questions established by the Steering Group:

  • What have you most valued about Athena SWAN, what are the benefits?
  • What would you like the Steering Group Review to address?
  • Who or what do you think Athena SWAN is for? Who or what do you think it should be for in the future?
  • How can Athena SWAN be improved?
  • What are the biggest challenges regarding Athena SWAN, and for whom?
  • What will “good” or “success” look like in 10 years’ time?

Below is a list of face-to-face sessions that were completed by Steering Group Members:

Advance HE, Westminster Tower
AS Eastern Network
Athena SWAN leads at University of Manchester
Athena SWAN working group
Aurora Network
Chartered Association of Business Schools
City UoL
Council of Deans for Arts, Humanities and Social Sciences.
Durham University
Exeter University
Falmouth University
Graduate of the Aurora Programme at Brunel University
HRD Oxford
Imperial College London
Kingston University
Liverpool University
London Higher Event
Medical Schools Council
Meeting with Funders
Midlands Institutions
NI Ulster internal/online
NI Ulster, QUB and Open University webinar
Nottingham EDI Group
Online Meeting
Online Webinar (public access)
Oxford Brookes
Representatives of the University of Bath, University of Bristol, Bath Spa University, University of the West of England and the University of Gloucestershire.
Royal Society
Russell Group Directors of Research and Innovation
Russell Group Equality Forum
S10 Vice Chancellors meeting
Sanger Institute – AS Network, London/East Anglia
SRUC Campus – AS Network, Scotland
UHR Network
University College London
University of Cambridge
University of Manchester
University of Reading – AS Network, London West
University of Sheffield
University of Wolverhampton

Final consultation

The Steering Group plans to test its findings and recommendations during September-October 2019.  Further updates will be posted on this web page when available.

Latest News

Athena SWAN Impact Evaluation

In November 2018, Advance HE commissioned a new independent evaluation of the impact of the Athena SWAN Charter in the UK in quantitative and qualitative terms. Running between November 2018 and February 2019 and building on previous evaluations, the outcomes of this research were published in August 2019. The findings will inform future Charter development and the Steering Group’s work, and enhance the support Advance HE gives to institutions working towards gender equality.