University of Limerick continues to lead the way in gender equality in HEIs in Ireland with the first Irish Athena SWAN Silver Award

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Picture - Sean Curtin True Media.

IRELAND’S first ever Athena SWAN Silver award has been awarded to University of Limerick’s Department of Physics, it has been announced. An Athena SWAN Silver award is granted in recognition of the positive impact of actions that a department or institute has undertaken to achieve gender equality amongst staff and students in Higher Education.

In its submission the department at UL highlighted a range of impact driven activities and initiatives, including extensive outreach activity to encourage female students to take physics as a Leaving Cert subject and to consider studying physics at undergraduate level. The physics department has seen an associated increase in female undergraduates from 37% to 54%, due to higher numbers of women taking up education courses, supporting their aim to increase the number of female physics teachers in Ireland.

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Dr Deirdre Ní Eidhin, a Senior Technical Officer of the Department of Physics and the co-chair of its Self-Assessment Team said the underrepresentation of women at all levels in physics is long-standing and reflects cultural stereotypes and unconscious biases associated with physics as a subject. Central to this is the low uptake of physics in schools.

“In Ireland, just over a quarter of students taking Leaving Certificate physics are female. Since 2017, we have put practices and career progression measures in place to create impacts in increasing recruitment, development and participation of underrepresented groups in physics programmes. Higher numbers of women taking up physics education courses aligns with the Government’s recent investment in increasing the number of physics teachers in Ireland”, she explained.

In total twenty-one awards were conferred on Irish HEIS in the latest assessment round for Athena SWAN Ireland. The Department of Nursing and Midwifery at UL were successful in securing a bronze award in addition to two award renewals which brings the total number of UL Athena SWAN awards to 14 Faculty/Schools Awards ( representing 27 departments) and positions University of Limerick as a leader in the sector.

“UL takes great pride in being one of the first institutions in Ireland with Trinity College Dublin to achieve an Athena SWAN (AS) Bronze Institution Award in July 2015. Since then, we have worked hard to embed the principles of Athena SWAN and gender equality and more recently the broader diversity and inclusion agenda across all faculties and departments. In 2018 UL renewed the Institution Bronze Award to the Expanded Charter focusing not only on advancing the careers of women in STEM but on gender equality across all disciplines and the inclusion of Trans Staff & Students. UL was the first institution to secure several firsts in this regard”, said Dr Marie Connolly, UL Director Human Rights, Equality, Diversity & Inclusion.

“The impact of embedding Athena SWAN in UL has ensured that gender equality is core to the business of every department. Our overall representation at senior academic grades has grown. In particular the number of women at Associate Professors level (Professor B level) has increased from 6 in 2014 to 24 and at 39% is above the national average of 37% ensuring we are well positioned to increase the percentage of female full professors in the coming years,” added Dr Connolly.

Simon Harris TD, Minister for Further and Higher Education, Research, Innovation and Science, said, “Advancing gender equality across Higher and Further Education is a priority for my department. Today’s announcement of 21 new Athena SWAN awards demonstrates the ongoing commitment of our higher education institutions to improving gender equality. I’d like to particularly commend the Department of Physics in the University of Limerick for achieving the first Silver Award awarded to a department in Ireland and hope to see more departments reaching this milestone in the coming years”.