12 November, 2018 - Minister Mitchell O’Connor announces major Government of Ireland Initiative at launch of Gender Equality Action Plan for Higher Education Institutions 2018 - 2020

Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Minister of State with special responsibility for Higher Education today (12th Nov 2018) announced the Senior Academic Leadership Initiative for the Higher Education sector at the launch of the Action Plan for Gender Equality in Higher Education Institutions 2018 - 2020.

Under the Initiative new and additional female-specific senior academic positions will be created in the Higher Education sector.

This ground-breaking positive action measure directly responds to the significant underrepresentation of women at professorial level and has a central role to play in evidencing the depth and breadth of female excellence in the Higher Education sector.

In 2017 while in the university sector some 51% of Lecturers were female, only 24% of professors were female. In the Institute of Technology sector, some 45% of lecturers are female, but only 36% Senior Lecturer positions were held by females.

Analysis reported in the Action Plan is that on the basis of current trends it could take 20 years to achieve the goal of a minimum of 40% female representation at professor level in the university sector.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor said,

“This outcome would be untenable. Excellent women in our Higher Education sector are not filling sufficient senior academic roles, not because they are not talented, able and expert or committed enough. Rather the Taskforce has found that women face a number of serious barriers to progression that are not experienced to the same degree by their male colleagues.

While these barriers are identified and responded to in the Action Plan, the Taskforce recommended consideration of further innovative positive action measures to further accelerate the achievement of gender equality objectives in the Higher Education sector.”

The Minister continued, “I am therefore, announcing the Senior Academic Leadership Initiative under which up to 45 professorial level posts would be created across the Higher Education sector over a three-year period. The policy measure has been subject to rigorous legal assessment to ensure its consistency with EU and national law.”

At the launch this morning Minister Mitchell O’Connor added,

“In addition, to supporting the acceleration of the achievement of gender equality objectives under the Action Plan, this initiative will bring female excellence to the fore.   I know it will underpin the transformation and cultural change essential in ensuring that Ireland’s higher education sector fully realises the benefits of gender diversity. 


Notes for Editors

Detailed implementation arrangements for the Senior Academic Leadership Initiative will be finalised in the coming weeks by the Department of Education and Skills and the Higher Education Authority working closely with the Irish Universities Association and the Technological Higher Education Association and consulting further with the Office of the Attorney General.

This is intended to ensure that these implementation arrangements are legally robust and appropriately aligned with recruitment policies and procedures in place in the Higher Education sector and is successful in identifying candidates meeting the high standard of academic excellence essential for support under the Initiative.

It is intended to launch this programme before the end of 2018, with the posts being put in place for the 2019/20 academic year. Additional funding has been provided in my Department’s 2019 Budget for this purpose.

A key requirements from the Higher Education Institutions in securing support under the Initiative will be a demonstration that gender equality objectives and targets are being successfully prioritised to achieve real organisational and cultural change.

Gender breakdown at professor level is a key metric used internationally to compare countries and clearly illustrates the extent of the problem in academia.

International experience shows us that this situation is not unique to Ireland with the rate of improvement at senior levels in HEIs internationally at similar levels. Countries who have made considerable efforts towards gender balance in senior positions still show significant underrepresentation of women at professor level with figures from 2016 showing France at 24%; Germany 23%; and Switzerland 21%.