Irish higher education still struggling with gender gap

20 Jul 2017

Image: MJgraphics/Shutterstock

Despite the risk of getting their funding cut off, a report has found that Irish universities continue to maintain a gender gap, particularly at the highest levels.

When it comes to analysing the senior ranks of Irish universities, a clear pattern emerges that shows there is a significant imbalance towards men, leaving women in the minority.

That’s the finding of a new report issued by the Higher Education Authority (HEA), which looked into the gender balance of Irish third-level education.

According to its findings, while a greater number of women lecturers exist in Irish universities (54pc), the higher positions are largely dominated by men.

Across the country, just 29pc of associate professors are women and this figure falls to 21pc when looking at professors.

NUI Galway was shown to have the lowest representation of women professors at just 12pc, compared with University of Limerick (UL), achieving 31pc.

The biggest indictment, the report found, is that of the seven current presidents or provosts of State universities, none are women.

Minimal improvement shown

When it comes to what types of contracts are offered to academic staff, there is a clear bias, with 59pc of permanent, full-time staff being men, compared with 53pc of temporary, full-time staff who are women.

Despite this, the report did find that there was an even 50/50 split in terms of the rate they were paid.

Overall, the HEA said that there has been only minimal improvement of between 1-2pc in addressing the under-representation of women at senior levels, saying “there still exists a significant lack of representation of women on key decision-making bodies in the institutions and at senior levels of academic staff”.

HEA graphic

Screenshot from the recent HEA report. Image: HEA

Under the Athena SWAN initiative, third-level institutions are to have at least a 40pc representation of each gender in their governing authority, academic council and executive management.

If not met, universities face the risk of losing out on crucial funding – not just for their institutions, but also in the additional research they carry out.

Last March, Dublin City University, University College Dublin and the UL were all granted bronze awards under the initiative, joining University College Cork and Trinity College Dublin.

By the end of 2019, every college in Ireland will need to have attained at least one bronze Athena SWAN award and one silver award by 2023 in order to qualify for funding.

‘Mediocre men are outperforming outstanding women’

Commenting on the publication, CEO of the HEA, Dr Graham Love, said: “The HEA welcomes the small steps in the right direction by higher education institutions starting to address gender inequality amongst senior staff and on their management and governance boards, but continued strong commitment and leadership needs to be demonstrated by the [colleges] if real and meaningful progress is to be made on this important agenda.”

However, Jane Ohlmeyer, chair of the Irish Research Council, was far more critical of the current state that universities find themselves in, in terms of representation.

“It’s not good for colleges, it’s not good for the country – we’re missing out on a huge talent pool,” she said, speaking with The Irish Times.

“Mediocre men are outperforming outstanding women because of the nature of the system. Sometimes it’s because women are not putting themselves forward; in other cases, it’s because it’s a patriarchy. However we try to gloss over that, it’s a reality.”

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic