Twenty women-only professorships to be established this year

Mary Mitchell O’Connor says the gender equality move is ‘game-changing moment’

A total of 45 women-only posts are to be allocated over a three-year period. Photograph: iStock

Third-level colleges have received approval for 20 women-only professorships aimed at tackling gender inequality in higher education.

The appointments are in areas where there is “clear evidence” of significant under-representation of women, such as physics, computer science and engineering.

The posts were approved by a 10-member international assessment panel with gender equality expertise, as well as broad disciplinary and strategic level expertise. It is chaired by Prof Lesley Yellowlees, a chemistry professor at Edinburgh University.

Trinity College Dublin, UCD, DCU, TU Dublin, NUI Galway, UCC, Maynooth University and University of Limerick have all secured two posts under the initiative.*


The other third-level institutions which secured a single post include CIT, IT Carlow, Athlone Institute of Technology and the Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies.

Recruitment is set to get underway shortly and it is expected that these posts will be in place before the start of the next academic year. A total of 45 posts are to be allocated over a three-year period.

Minister of State for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor said the move was “truly a game-changing moment” in Irish academia.

“I am incredibly proud that this intervention will ensure a swifter gender rebalance, addressing the current representation of women at the highest levels of our institutions,” she said.

“I am delighted to be able to announce that 12 of our institutions have been successful under this senior academic leadership initiative. I was truly inspired to see the calibre and ambition of the 20 successful posts that are being approved.”

Latest figures show women remain under-represented at senior levels in higher education and especially in the university sector.

While women make up about half of university lecturers, they account for just under a quarter of professors.

There has also never been a female university president in more than 400 years of higher education.

‘Rigorous assessment’

Ms Mitchell O’Connor’s initiative sparked controversy in some quarters, when it was announced last year, over whether it flouted long-standing recruitment policies which promote equality of opportunity for men and women.

However, the Attorney General is reported to have confirmed that the initiative is consistent with EU and national employment and equality law.

Under the scheme, higher education institutions must develop a gender action plan and show progression on their gender equality objectives and targets before securing funding for additional posts under the new initiative.

Ms Mitchell O’Connor said the excellence of female academics and their contribution to research and education has not yet resulted in an “appropriate level”of representation of women at the highest levels.

“This initiative is supporting higher education institutions that are already taking proactive steps to address gender imbalance to take a leap forward in this area, always with ‘excellence’ at the heart of recruitment and promotion policies,” Ms Mitchell O’Connor said.

She said she had no doubt that the posts will attract outstanding applicants from within the higher education sector in Ireland and internationally.

“Appointments to these posts will be subject to the highest standard and rigorous assessment processes as currently adopted by the institutions for prestigious posts at these levels,” she said.

A further call for women-only professorships will be accounted midway through 2020, she added.

The additional cost for the professorial posts in universities and institutes of technology will be €1.5 million in 2020, growing to some €4 million in 2021.

In a statement, the Irish Universities Association welcomes the posts and said it was fully committed to working with the Minister to promote gender equality across the sector.

* This article has been amended to correct an error.

First women-only posts approved under the first phase of ‘senior academic leadership initiative’

Dublin City University:

– professor in computer science (natural language processing)

– professor of plasma physics

Technological University Dublin:

– professor of public trust in media, arts and technology

– professorship in inclusive computer science

Trinity College Dublin:

– chair in mathematics

– chair in political economy

Institute of Technology, Carlow:

– director of engineering research and innovation

University College Cork:

– professor of Irish gender history

-  professor of microbiome and health science

National University of Ireland, Galway:

– professor of engineering
-  professor of older adult health

University of Limerick:

– professor of data science and statistical learning

– professor of genomics and biomedical sciences

Maynooth University:

– professor in physical geography in the area of climate science (adaptation and/or mitigation)

– professor in computer science in the area of software platform architecture and society

Athlone Institute of Technology:

– dean of graduate studies and research

University College Dublin:

– professor of biomedical engineering

– professor of materials chemistry

Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies:

– senior professor (physics)

Cork Institute of Technology:

– chair of cyber security

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