Latest HEA gender report shows, once again, a big problem remains

3 Aug 2018

The grounds of Trinity College Dublin. Image: trabantos/Shutterstock

Despite a promising rise in the number of women actively participating in third-level institutions, there are still too few at senior level.

Last year’s Higher Education Authority (HEA) report into how active Irish higher-education institutions (HEIs) are in increasing female participation proved to be a damning wake-up call for the status quo, and now the latest report has just been released.

In its third iteration, the report for 2017 includes three-year average data on the gender breakdown of professors, associate professors, senior lecturers and lecturers.

With that in mind, many Irish institutions might take comfort in knowing that the HEA has taken positive steps towards a more gender-balanced higher-education system.

Marginal improvement

Of the seven universities analysed, five of them achieved a minimum of 40pc gender balance on their executive management committee compared with a paltry zero in 2016.

Towards the lower-level positions in academia, female staff members accounted for a majority in universities (54pc), colleges (66pc) and institutes of technology (51pc).

The number of professors in universities who are women saw a small bump from 21pc in 2016 to 24pc in 2017.

Again, another rise was seen in associate professors at universities from 29pc last year to 34pc this year.

However, the report wasn’t all so positive for women with regard to the highest positions in Irish academia, with representation only accounting for 1-2pc.

This is only magnified by the fact that of those in academia making more than €106,000 per year, only 30pc are women.

The findings of the report are timely given that just last week, a lengthy legal battle between a number of female lecturers and NUI Galway concluded, with the women receiving promotion and compensation. The four women involved in the case had accused NUI Galway of overlooking them for promotion based on their gender.

Awaiting the Government report

One of the most notable attempts to shake up the male-biased system was the internationally recognised Athena SWAN Charter.

Not only are the awards important as a sign of an institution’s action towards addressing the gender gap, they are now a necessity, with the Government warning that a lack of at least a bronze award by 2019 will result in an institution getting its State funding cut off. By 2023, all third-level institutions will need to have at least a silver award.

Commenting on the report, CEO of the HEA, Dr Graham Love, said: “Systematic barriers in HEIs and culture mean that talent alone is not always enough to guarantee success.

“We look forward to the publication of the Minister’s [Mary Mitchell O’Connor, TD] Gender Taskforce Action Plan, which outlines a key role for the HEA in ensuring that HEIs make sustainable progress towards gender equality and in providing centralised support for HEIs to help embed an institutional gender equality culture so that they can address the barriers that exist.”

The grounds of Trinity College Dublin. Image: trabantos/Shutterstock

Colm Gorey was a senior journalist with Silicon Republic