Ireland to tackle ‘inexcusable’ lack of female university leaders

Task force will investigate how women can be supported to rise through the university ranks

November 9, 2017
Female professor
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Ireland has set up a task force to investigate the lack of women in university leadership.

Announcing the new investigation, higher education minister Mary Mitchell O’Connor said that it was “inexcusable” and “unacceptable” that Ireland had never had a female university leader.

"The first Irish university was set up 424 years ago and since then, no university here has had a female president,” said Ms O’Connor, writing in the Sunday Independent.

“That was excusable 400 ago, perhaps even 300, 200 or 100 years ago [but] in the 21st century, it's not only not excusable, it’s not acceptable in institutions which should be providing a beacon of equality to the rest of society,” she added.

While 50 per cent of lecturers in Irish universities are female, only 19 per cent of professors were women, said the minister, whose task force will examine how institutions can adopt good practice to encourage women to seek promotion.

Ms O’Connor said that she wanted to “eradicate the clear under-representation of women at senior level in higher education institutions,” adding that “gender inequality shouldn't exist in any area of Irish life.”

“That it should exist in our higher education institutions – and it does – is doubly wrong, because these are the colleges where the best minds gather and which develop national and international thinkers,” she added.

Jane Ohlmeyer, chair of the Irish Research Council, said that the new investigation was “a timely development” that would build on work already done by the council.

“We were the first dedicated research funding agency in Ireland to publish a gender strategy, which aims to support the integration of sex and gender analysis into research content, and to promote gender equality in research careers across all disciplines,” said Professor Ohlmeyer.

In addition, Professor Ohlmeyer pointed to the council’s introduction of gender-blind assessment for funding awards as proof that concrete measures can be taken to promote gender equality in higher education.

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