Colleges face funding penalties unless gender balance fixed

27 Jun 2016

An extensive report into the gender make-up of higher education institutions in Ireland shows the glass ceiling is a fair bit thicker than once thought.

There has never been a female president of an Irish university. Among colleges and ITs, the figures are only marginally better.

In short, the Irish higher education system is ruled by men, even as the gender make-up of those going to college, university or ITs is close to 50-50, male and female.

This is all according to the Higher Education Authority’s (HEA) latest report (which dates up to December 2015), according to which female representation in positions of authority vanishes the higher you look up the ladder.

The gap between female and male representation increases at each stage of the academic career ladder, with 50pc of the lecture staff in Irish universities women, yet only 19pc of professors.

Two of the seven universities – and two of the five colleges – had 40pc or more women on their executive management team. Only three out of 14 ITs could say the same. Two ITs had no women at all on their executive management team.

Máire Geoghegan-Quinn chaired the expert group that compiled the report, arguing it “clearly demonstrates” a problem that must be addressed “for equality, social and economic reasons.”

Saying the gap between men and women at the very top is not down to talent or drive, Geoghegan-Quinn instead pointed to numerous factors within each institution – “conscious and unconscious, cultural and structural” – that make it an unequal environment.


A set of “ambitious and radical” recommendations in the report – including mandatory quotas on promotion, targets tied to funding and a new position of VP for equality at each institution – have been constructed.

“While the institutions have, to varying degrees, sought to address gender inequality in the past, the intractable under-representation of women among staff at senior levels clearly signals the need for new, even radical, approaches to tackling this issue,” said Tom Boland, CEO of the HEA.

“Over the coming months, we will continue to liaise with the Department of Education and Skills, the higher education institutions, research funding agencies and other key stakeholders to develop a detailed implementation plan.”

University of Limerick was quick to come out and laud the report, boasting 31pc female professors, with a third of its senior posts occupied by women.

Female professor image via Shutterstock

Gordon Hunt
By Gordon Hunt

Gordon Hunt joined Silicon Republic in October 2014 as a journalist. He spends most of his time avoiding conversations about music, appreciating even the least creative pun and rueing the day he panicked when meeting Paul McGrath. His favourite thing on the internet is the ‘Random Article’ link on Wikipedia.

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