The University of Limerick (UL) is to take part in an EU-funded initiative called Female Empowerment in Science and Technology in Academia (FESTA), a cross-national project that’s aiming to create more of a gender balance in academia, specifically in relation to science and technology.
FESTA itself is a five-year project that’s run by the European Commission’s FP7 programme. At the moment, UL is the only Irish university participating in FESTA, which also has partner universities in Sweden, Denmark, Italy, Germany, Bulgaria and Turkey.
According to the European Commission, the aim of FESTA is to pursue change in the working environment of academic researchers and to encourage female researchers to forge career paths in the science and technology areas.
Another aspect of the European initiative is to look at the working environment of researchers who are in the early stage of their careers to make it possible for them to advance to higher academic ranks of scientific expertise.
From UL’s perspective, sociology lecturer Prof Pat O’Connor said the university has moved from having no women at full professor level in 1997 to a stage where it now has the highest proportion of women in Irish universities at this level.
It was in 2007 that UL set targets for female representation. The target for the proportion of women at senior lecturer or above was set at 15pc, with the university having achieved a 26pc rise. In addition, UL set a target of 37pc for the proportion of women at lecturer level, which was also exceeded, at 48pc.
However, the university said women academics are still not as well represented in the science, technology and engineering disciplines, reflecting global trends. In these areas, women make up 10pc of academics at senior lecturer level or above, while they make up just 22pc of academics at lecturer level at UL.
The FESTA project will be looking at the reasons for women’s European under-representation at senior academic levels in science, engineering and technology-related disciplines.