Third-level sector funding to be tied to gender equality improvements

Report to send ‘blunt message’ to colleges on gender gap, Minister of State says

The metrics on which third-level institutions will be judged in relation to gender equality will be transparent, Minister of State with responsibility for higher education Mary Mitchell O’Connor said.

The metrics on which third-level institutions will be judged in relation to gender equality will be transparent, Minister of State with responsibility for higher education Mary Mitchell O’Connor said.

 

Future funding for higher-education institutions will be tied to how well they tackle the problem of gender equality in the sector, Minister of State with responsibility for higher education Mary Mitchell O’Connor has said.

A report setting out how universities and institutes of technology will be judged on their efforts to tackle the gender gap in the sector is due in the middle of September.

The report will set out how a portion of State funding will be tied to improvements in gender equality, and will “send a blunt message” to the third-level sector, Ms Mitchell O’Connor said.

Speaking at the European Conference on Gender Equality in Higher Education, held in Trinity College Dublin, she said: “Funding will be directly linked to how successfully institutions implement gender equality measures.”

The metrics on which third-level institutions will be judged will be “transparent,” she said. “Higher-education institutions will be mandated to take steps to improve their systems in a specified time scale.”

The number of women in senior positions across the sector was “paltry,” Ms Mitchell O’Connor said.

While about half of lecturers in Irish universities are female, only a fifth of professors are women. There has never been a female president of a State-funded university, and two of the current 14 heads of institutes of technology are women.

The forthcoming report is based on the work of a Department of Education gender equality task force, set up to examine the issue last November.

Accountability

“I will not accept slow progress,” Ms Mitchell O’Connor said, adding that laggard third-level institutions in the area would individually be held to account.

“On paper, gender equality has been enshrined in our legislation for the third-level sector for many years, higher-education institutions must promote gender balance. This legislation is not working for our female academics,” Ms Mitchell O’Connor said.

Some higher-education institutions had an “apathy to real and lasting cultural change” in the area, she said.

On Monday the Technological Higher Education Association, which represents the institutes of technology, published its first gender and diversity statement.

It committed to introduce gender quotas on decision-making boards in institutes of technology, to have no less than 40 per cent of either gender on committees.

The statement also committed to address gender imbalances in certain disciplines which were traditionally male or female-dominated, and to recognise there were specific barriers facing women to progressing on to senior positions.

Speaking at the conference on gender equality, held in Ireland for the first time, Ms Mitchell O’Connor said there was a problem with women taking up careers in Stem (science, technology, engineering, maths).

Women were “disproportionately missing” in Stem courses, and the related fields of work, she said. Four out of five students in some engineering, tech and manufacturing courses were male, Ms Mitchell O’Connor said.

“While many girls start out with a strong Stem interest, their interest wanes along the way,” she said. More needed to be done to address this “leaky pipeline” when it came to encouraging women to choose careers in the area, she added.