HEA National Review of Gender Equality in Irish Higher Education Institutions

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Diversity is a key strength of Irish higher education. In recent decades our universities, institutes of technology, and colleges have been transformed – from predominantly national institutions catering primarily for school-leavers to internationally oriented institutions engaged with an increasingly diverse student body, of all ages and backgrounds. This diversification has enriched the Irish higher education community immeasurably, as well as making an important contribution to promoting the attainment of equality of opportunity. The social and economic benefits of equality and diversity are incontrovertible and higher education has a crucially important role to play in ensuring that the potential of everyone is realised. Reflecting the requirement, enshrined in higher education legislation, for institutions to promote gender-balance among students and staff, and for the Higher Education Authority to promote the attainment of equality of opportunity, we commissioned this review.  While the higher education institutions have, to varying degrees, sought to address gender inequality, the intractable under-representation of women among staff at senior levels clearly signals the need for new, even radical, approaches to tackling the issue. Focusing on staff in Irish higher education, the Review has supported an in-depth analysis of the gender-balance of academic and non-academic staff across all grades of employment as well as institutions’ management teams, academic councils and governing boards. Taking as its starting point the progress to date in advancing gender equality across the sector, and examining the reasons for continuing gender inequality, the Review has been forward-looking, adopting a ‘quality enhancement’ approach to building on the sector’s achievements to date and on international ‘best practice’ to shape future policy and practice in Ireland. The Expert Group has benefitted from strong interest and a high level of engagement with stakeholders from across the higher education sector and beyond. Continuing that engagement will be vital for the successful achievement of gender equality. This objective is primarily the responsibility of the institutions themselves and the report provides a comprehensive range of approaches for institutions to call on. For the HEA’s part, we will vigorously promote the objective through the strategic dialogue process and related performance funding. The report provides an informed and considered basis for a collective, participatory, national approach to achieving gender equality in Irish higher education, and I would like to express my gratitude to the Expert Group, chaired by Máire Geoghegan-Quinn, for generously giving of their time and expertise throughout the process. The HEA looks forward to working in partnership with the sector and other stakeholders in developing an implementation plan to realise their vision.

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