Third-level institutions face targets for women in senior posts

Higher Education Authority report aims to tackle under-representation of women

Third-level institutions will be required to ensure more women are promoted to senior academic posts as part of a major report on gender equality to be published today.

The national review carried out by an expert group commissioned by the Higher Education Authority (HEA) shows women are significantly under-represented in the senior ranks of most colleges and universities.

The proposals of the expert group – chaired by former EU commissioner Máire Geoghegan-Quinn – will have significant implications for colleges and may lead to similar steps being taken in the public sector, where women are also under-represented.

As well as setting out gender equality objectives, the report advocates that these be reached within set time-frames and that colleges and universities should report regularly with key performance indicators.


It is likely that a failure to reach these targets will have funding implications for universities if these indicators form part of future performance “compacts” negotiated with individual colleges.

The HEA has the power to withhold funding for colleges who perform poorly against agreed benchmarks.

Official figures show significant differences in gender equality across universities.

While women hold just over half of all of the lecturer posts at NUI Galway, their numbers fall to 21 per cent among senior posts (and 14 per cent at professor level).

Best performer


University College Cork

, 27 per cent of senior posts are occupied by women (and 16 per cent at professor level).

By contrast, the best performer is University of Limerick, where 33 per cent of senior posts are occupied by females (and 31 per cent are professors).

The next best performer is Trinity College Dublin, with 32 per cent of senior posts occupied by women (though just 16 per cent of professors are female).

The HEA’s new gender report comes just a month after NUI Galway announced it would introduce mandatory gender quotas to ensure more women were promoted to senior academic posts.

The proposals were contained in a gender equality taskforce report, headed by Prof Jane Grimson, former vice-provost of Trinity College Dublin. The report was adopted unanimously by NUI Galway's governing body.

Among the main recommendations included was a “cascade approach” to gender quotas, in which the number of women eligible for promotion is based on the proportion at the grade below.

It also proposed that 40 per cent of members on all committees and working groups at the university should be women by the end of this year, while 50 per cent of the chairs of these influential committees should be women by late 2018.

The taskforce was set up in 2015 after Dr Micheline Sheehy-Skeffington – granddaughter of suffragette Hanna Sheehy-Skeffington – won a landmark Equality Tribunal case against the university.

Decision welcomed

Dr Sheehy-Skeffington said recently she welcomed the university’s decision to address the “appalling situation for women in the university by implementing mandatory quotas for promotion rounds and the suggested way to do it is excellent”.

However, she said the policy should be applied to all staff, not just academics, and that quotas needed to be applied from outside the university.

President of NUI Galway Dr Jim Browne said he looked forward to working with all staff, staff representatives and unions to address gender equality.

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien

Carl O'Brien is Education Editor of The Irish Times. He was previously chief reporter and social affairs correspondent