Minister Mitchell O’Connor announces landmark opening of Call for Applications to the Senior Academic leadership Initiative

-   Mary Mitchell OConnor TD

Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. Minister of State with special responsibility for Higher Education today (21st June 2019) announced the opening of the call for applications to the Senior Academic Leadership Initiative; a targeted positive action initiative which aims to accelerate gender balance at senior positions in Irish higher education institutions.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor said “I am delighted and proud to be able to launch the HEA’s call today to higher education institutions to apply for the new and additional professorial and senior lecturer level 3 academic posts that will now be made available under the senior academic leadership initiative.

“This is truly a game-changing moment in Irish academia. This intervention will ensure a swifter gender re-balance, addressing the current under-representation of women at the highest levels of our institutions.

“We know that the excellence of our female academics and their vast contribution to research and education has not yet resulted in an appropriate level of representation of women at the highest levels. This initiative will support 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.

“I would like to thank all those who have participated in this initiative from its earliest inception, who have supported me in my drive to make this happen, particularly those across the higher education system who have recognised the urgent need for this essential measure. I would also like to thank my cabinet colleagues for their support in approving this decisive action.”
A key objective of the initiative is to strengthen gender diversity at the senior leadership level within HEIs and to encourage the benefits that such diversity can deliver.

The Senior Academic Leadership Initiative will attract outstanding applicants from within the higher education sector in Ireland and internationally. These posts will be subject to the same high standard and rigorous assessment processes as currently used for such posts at this level. The 2018 Report on Higher Education Institutional Staff Profiles by Gender shows that, while in the university sector some 51% of lecturers were female, only 24% of professors were female. In the institute of technology (IoT) sector, some 45% of lecturers are female, but only 36% senior lecturer positions were held by females.

Analysis carried out by the 2018 Gender Taskforce on the estimated rate of change suggested that with the continuation of current recruitment and promotion practices, it could take up to 20 years to achieve an average of 40% females at professor level in the university sector.

The taskforce recommended that new and additional gender-specific posts, at appropriate levels, as well as other positive action measures, where they would be a proportionate and an effective means to achieve rapid and sustainable change, should be considered.

Legal advice from the Attorney General has confirmed that this policy approach is consistent with EU and national employment and equality law, and additional funding has been provided in the Department’s 2019 Budget to enable this initiative to commence. The funding being provided for the professorial posts in universities / senior lecturer 3 level posts in institutes of technology will be some €3m in 2020, growing to nearly €5m in 2021.

To secure additional posts under this initiative, one of the key requirements of the higher education institutions is that they have a gender action plan and can demonstrate that they are progressing their gender equality objectives and targets to achieve real organisational and cultural change.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor concluded:
“This initiative is one of a number of actions in the 2018 Gender Equality Taskforce Action Plan. It is contained within a suite of initiatives to bring about sustainable organisational change and to empower a culture of gender equality in higher education institutions. In particular, I am pleased that the Centre of Excellence for Gender Equality in the HEA has now been established. It will be a key enabler to ensure sustainable change, by providing centralised support for the institutions, sharing of good practice, and funding for innovative organisational and cultural change initiatives nationally.

“The impact of this initiative will be felt quickly, and it is heartening to think that the many thousands of young people about to enter third level education for the first time will start to see an increase in female representation at the highest level of their institution during their time in higher education. We will continue to attract the brightest and best to our academic posts, and through this initiative will also advance our reputation as a progressive and open higher education system.”

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