Friday 17 January 2020

Green light for first 20 women-only professor roles in higher education

Taskforce: Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor. Photo: Mark Condren
Taskforce: Minister for Higher Education Mary Mitchell O’Connor. Photo: Mark Condren
Katherine Donnelly

Katherine Donnelly

The way has been cleared for the first 20 women-only professor-level posts in Irish higher education under a ground-breaking Government initiative.

They represent the initial batch of 45 additional positions being created to redress the gender imbalance in the upper echelons of academia.

The eight universities, including TU Dublin, have each been awarded two of the new female professorships.

Meanwhile, three institutes of technology (IoTs), Carlow, Athlone and Cork, as well as the Dublin Institute of Advanced Studies (DAIS) may appoint one each.

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The posts are being shared among the 12 institutions following a competition in which 18 colleges responded to an invitation to apply for up to three positions each, with about 40 submissions in total.

An expert international panel, chaired by Professor Lesley Yellowlees of the chemistry department of Edinburgh University, assessed the applications and made recommendations.

As well as being judged on the strength of the case made for the post, account was taken of each college's commitment to progressing equality of opportunity for female academics generally.

A Senior Academic Leadership Initiative (SALI) was spearheaded by Mary Mitchell O'Connor, the junior minister for higher education, to combat the under-representation of women in senior academic ranks.

Announcing the first 20 posts, Ms Mitchell O'Connor described it as "truly a game-changing moment in Irish academia".

"I am incredibly proud that this intervention will ensure a swifter gender re-balance, addressing the current-representation of women at the highest levels," she said.

A 2018 Higher Education Authority report found that 51pc of university lecturers, but only 24pc of professors, were female, while 45pc of lecturers in IoTs were female, but only 36pc senior lecturer positions were held by females.

Ms Mitchell O'Connor set up a gender equality taskforce, which found that, based on current recruitment and promotion practices, it could take up to 20 years to achieve an average of 40pc females at professor level in universities, and up to seven years to achieve gender balance at the highest career point in the IoT sector.

One of the taskforce's key recommendations was the creation of additional, gender-specific posts, at appropriate levels.

Now that the panel has made its recommendations, the individual colleges can advertise the new roles, which are expected to be in place before the start of the next academic year.

The new posts are being funded over and above the normal Exchequer-paid staffing allocations, with an additional cost this year of €1.5m, growing to €4m in 2021.

Government funding support will continue for a 10-year period.

This is round one of the initiative and there will be further invitations to higher education institutions in 2020 and 2021, with a view to creating the other 25 women-only professorships.

Irish Independent

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