Frustration with ‘snail’s pace’ progress across continent leads Irish government to back financial sanctions against universities that miss targets.
The Republic of Ireland’s radical plan to dock universities up to a tenth of their core funding if they fail to hit ambitious gender targets could spur further direct government interventions across Europe to get more women into academic posts, according to advocates of the proposals.
The country’s Gender Action Plan 2018-2020 reveals mounting exasperation that many existing schemes by universities and governments have failed to close academia’s gender gap, and argues that it is time for more quotas, female-specific positions and financial incentives to hire women.
Mary Mitchell O’Connor, Ireland’s higher education minister, told Times Higher Education that progress on gender equality has moved at a “snail’s pace”. Change has been too slow not just in Ireland but across Europe, and the issue “has come up consistently” at Europe-wide conferences on the subject, she said.
Under the plans, universities could lose up to 10 per cent of their government funding if they fail to hit their targets, although Ms Mitchell O’Connor stressed: “I really don’t expect that to happen, but I do expect higher education institutions to step up to the plate.”
The overarching aim is to have a professoriate that is at least 40 per cent female. “The solution is to put in place really high-level specific professional posts for women only,” she said. As part of the plan, released on 12 November, Ireland will fund the creation of 15 women-specific professorships annually for the next three years, she said.
Currently, universities in Ireland – none of which have ever appointed a female president – follow a “flexible cascade” system, where they aim to recruit the same or a greater proportion of women to each academic level as the one below.
Gemma Irvine, head of policy and strategic planning at Ireland’s Higher Education Authority and one of the plan’s researchers, said that ministers had looked at progress under this system and concluded that it was “just not good enough”. It could take 20 years to achieve the 40 per cent target if nothing else is done, the plan says.
Dr Irvine characterised career development coaching for women as “fixing the women, not the system” and “not enough” in isolation.
The authors of the plan had surveyed successful European initiatives and come to the conclusion that linking gender balance to funding was one of the most effective, she explained, as “funding drives behaviour” and “focused minds” among university presidents.
The Irish move could prompt similar government-driven interventions across Europe, according to Dr Irvine. “I would hope other jurisdictions look at what we’re doing,” she added.
Read more : David Matthews : Times Higher Education : 22 November 2018