Green light for 15 female-only professor posts in higher education

Simon Harris Credit: PA Media

Funding for 15 new female-only professor posts has been approved for third-level institutions in a bid to tackle gender inequality in the sector.

Higher Education Minister Simon Harris gave the green light to the posts on Monday, saying they are needed to increase female leadership and address the gender imbalance that currently exists in Irish academia.

Mr Harris described the move as a “real game-changer” for the sector.

Despite improvements in recent years, women are still significantly under-represented in senior roles at third-level institutes.

A report by the Higher Education Authority in 2018 found only 24% of high-level professor posts in universities were held by women, while females made up 51% of all lecturer roles – which are entry-level academic jobs in the university sector.

The new positions are part of the Government’s Senior Academic Leadership Initiative launched last year to combat the under representation of women in senior academic roles.

Under the scheme, 45 senior academic leadership roles will be awarded to Higher Education Institutes (HEIs) over three years.

Mr Harris said: “Already 15 professors have been appointed, with more at the interview stage. Today, we are issuing a call for 15 more.

“I wish initiatives such as these were not necessary, but it is clear we need them to increase female leadership in the third-level sector.

“We have excellent leadership in our third-level sector but it isn’t representative of Irish society.

“We need that to change so that it better reflects the values of modern Ireland and our commitment to gender equality.”

Earlier this year, Professor Kerstin Mey became the first female university president in more than 400 years of higher education in Ireland when she took on the role at the University of Limerick.

Mr Harris said a “glass ceiling was shattered” when she was appointed.

“Now we need to move forward and not back,” he said.

The action aims to improve gender equality in the sector Credit: PA

“Our third level can be a real leader here in addressing the gender imbalance that exists.”

Recruitment will begin in early 2021 and it is envisioned all 15 posts will be filled for the start of the 2021 academic year next September.

Among the posts already in place are chair of cyber security at Cork Institute of Technology, professor in computer science and professor of plasma physics in Dublin City University.

The leadership initiative was launched following the recommendations of the 2018 Gender Equality Taskforce Action Plan.

The taskforce found it could take up to 20 years for women to make up 40% of professors in the university sector at the current rate of recruitment and promotion, unless action measures were introduced.

The additional cost for the professorial posts in universities and senior level posts in institutes of technology will be 1.5 million euro in 2020, growing to 4 million euro in 2021.