Gender Gap in Irish Universities

Trinity College Dublin, photo credits:

Trinity College Dublin, photo credits to TCD


It has recently come to light that there is gender discrimination in Irish universities. Not simply an issue of a pay gap there is also a huge gender imbalance of senior level staff. The issue of gender equality has really shone through in Irish policy in the past few weeks, and once again another scandal has come to light, this time in Irish universities.

It was recently revealed by the Higher Education Authority that there is a huge gender imbalance in third level education in Ireland. This was shocking to many when it has been apparent for some years that women are in the majority in third level education. It was revealed, however, that male figures in third level education are not only paid more but are given superior titles and promotions over female colleagues. A lot of highly intelligent women are being surpassed by their average male colleagues.

With the recent BBC gender pay gap reveal, and even more recently the RTE gender pay gap, I thought it would be a good idea to draw attention to this gender gap also. Below are the basic facts of the matter and what is being done to combat the gross gender inequality in third level education in Ireland.


Gender Imbalance at Senior Level

There is a gender balance when it comes to the number of lecturers in universities. On average there is roughly 50% of each gender. It is when you go to senior grades, however, that the gender imbalance becomes crystal clear.

Only 36% of senior lecturers are female, 29% of associate professors and only 21% of professors are female. Despite 50% of lecturers being women only 21% of professors in Ireland are women. This is a huge gap. Despite there being equally qualified female lecturers their male colleagues are getting all of the senior level placements. 79% of university professors are male. This is unacceptable. Female academics are being surpassed for their male colleagues at an alarming rate, leading to the assumption of gender discrimination. With figures such as these it is hard not to agree with this assumption.

Furthermore, it has been 425 years since Irish Universities were established. During that time period there has never been a female university president. Never. The only other European country without a female university president right now is Greece. This is outrageous. No university in Ireland has ever had a female president, in the past 425 years. Now would be a good time to fix that !

Gender Pay Gap

Gender inequality does not end at appointments, however, unfortunately there is also a large gender pay gap. Only 29% of those earning above €106,000 were women, only 17% in Institutes of Technology. This shows a significant difference in wages between the male and female staff.

With the increased spotlight on the gender pay gap following the BBC pay gap reveal I hope that something substantial is done about this. RTE, too, has a large pay disparity and do not forget that there is an average pay gap of 14% in Ireland. The Gender Pay Gap is a very real threat to equality and those calling it a “myth” is in itself a myth ! (You can read my post on the gender pay gap here: Gender Pay Gap).


As of last year the Science Foundation Ireland, Irish Research Council and Health Research Board have threatened to cut funding to universities who have not accredited gender balance by the end of 2019.

With the threat of a financial sanction many universities have agreed to commit to a programme of reform, though no real change has been seen as of yet. During 2015-2016 the Higher Education Authority noted improvements of between 1-2% in gender equality. Clearly more needs to be done.

NUI Galway has the lowest gender balance of 12% female professors while the University of Limerick has the highest balance of 31%. Only 3 out of 14 Institutes of Technology managed a 40% gender balance in senior management teams. Equality is far from being a reality. The exclusion of women from senior staff level is reminiscent of the days when women weren’t even allowed to attend university. The superiority of male education is ridiculous and should have no place in Irish universities. Women are equally well educated, sometimes holding more qualifications.

Though ideally candidates should be appointed based on merit with such disparity between genders it is evident that a “gender quota” is required. Though I am not a big fan of imposing quotas because in some instances it takes away the merit of the candidate in these circumstances I see no alternatives. The sheer size of the gender imbalance shows that, at least some, candidates are not being appointed based on merit when equally and more qualified women are passed down. A gender quota would show commitment to encouraging gender equality and inspiring equal respect for women for students when they leave university.


Clearly a lot of work has to be done to ensure gender equality in universities. As always the only way to really encourage enforcement and compliance is through financial sanctions. In order for universities to be funded gender equality should be one of the most important requirements. It is not unfair to ask that 50% of senior staff are female, when roughly 50% of university staff are, in fact, female. It would mean equality, something Ireland is not doing so well on right now.

With the exposure of the RTE gender pay gap (male co-anchor earning €60-80,000 more) and the shocking gender imbalance in the Dail, gender equality should be at the forefront of the Irish government’s mind. Women make up 50.08% of the Irish population but are clearly not being treated in a fair and equal way. Things need to change and I hope to see them changing at more than 1-2% a year !

Thank you for reading ! Please like, share or leave a comment !

More information: 

Irish Times:

Trinity College Dublin, photo credits: TCD Graduate Studies


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