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Athena SWAN Ireland FAQs: Covid-19

The answers to some frequently asked questions about Covid-19 for the Athena SWAN Ireland charter.

Is there any flexibility with the submission deadlines because of Covid-19? 

Advance HE recognises that restrictions relating to Covid-19 are continuing to impact the work plans of applicants. To assist applicants planning submissions during this uncertain period, we have introduced a three-month rolling deadline for the following Athena SWAN Ireland submission rounds: 

November 2020: 30 November 2020-29 January 2021
April 2021: 30 April 2021-30 June 2021
November 2021: 30 November 2021-28 January 2022

Award validity will continue to be calculated on the basis of the April and November submission deadlines (i.e. applications received between 30 November 2020-29 January 2021 will be valid until November 2024). 

Covid-19 has impacted our institution/department’s timeline for submission and we don’t think we’re going to be ready to submit in time, what can we do?  

There is no penalty to withdrawing an intention to submit if you find that your submission timeline has changed. To assist us with our planning, we ask that you email us to indicate that your institution/department will no longer be submitting in this round: athenaswanireland@advance-he.ac.uk.

If you choose to delay submission to November 2020/April 2021 as a result of Covid-19, you may include demographic data prepared for submission in April 2020/November 2020. Please indicate in your narrative that the submission was delayed due to the impact of Covid-19. 

Is it possible to get extra words to address the impact of Covid-19 on our department/institution?  

We are offering a 500-word extension to the application word limit to consider the impact of Covid-19. These words can be used to discuss practical impacts on the self-assessment process (e.g. format and timing of self-assessment team meetings and/or membership; consultation methodologies; resourcing changes), on action plan implementation, or to address gender equality impacts of Covid-19 more broadly (e.g. publication outputs). Applicants can use the additional words in a single section (e.g. ‘further information’) or throughout the application form. As normal, word counts should be indicated in square brackets at the end of each section. The additional words are available to all 2020 and 2021 applicants meaning there is no need to apply for permission. Applicants are also not obliged to use the additional words if the self-assessment team determine that the application has not been impacted by Covid-19 or if the words are not needed.  

Do we need to address Covid-19 in our submission?  

There is no requirement to address Covid-19 in your submission. However, Athena SWAN is a context specific self-assessment of gender equality in your institution/department so we recommend your self-assessment team consider whether the Covid-19 outbreak is affecting gender equality in your context. For example, if your consultation and data suggest that Covid-19 is impacting gender equality in your department/institution, or if you identify that your staff or students are likely to be impacted by Covid-19 in the future, then you should consider how to respond within your application to ensure that your gender equality work remains relevant.  

The gendered impacts of Covid-19 are still emerging; however, early commentary and research has indicated several issues. These include equity of access to teaching/research equipment or attainment gaps that arise from using new forms of assessment, expectations of staff work patterns, and variability in research outputs. How an institution/department approaches challenges like these in their Athena SWAN application will depend on their own specific context (size, subject, staff profile etc.) but also on the stage of application process.  For example, if a November 2020 applicant completed their consultation work prior to the outbreak of Covid-19, there won't be an expectation that data reported addresses gender equality challenges related to Covid-19. However, this applicant may wish to consider future action to assess the impact of Covid-19 on the institution/department. Equally, if you are still planning your consultation, it may be beneficial to your gender equality work to capture feedback from staff on the impact of Covid-19 through additional survey questions or focus groups, or other forms of consultation.

Covid-19 has impacted our self-assessment (e.g. staff consultation), what can we do?  

Advance HE recognise that self-assessment teams may experience practical challenges as a result of Covid-19; for example, delayed work plans or self-assessment team meetings, or uncertain or altered budgets that effect action planning or create resourcing changes. Aspects of the self-assessment process may also be impacted, such as inability to run focus groups as planned, or a poorer staff survey response rate than expected. Some of these challenges may be overcome as your institution/department adjusts to working within the parameters of the Covid-19 restrictions. Self-assessment team meetings could be moved online and, depending on the topic and cohort of participants, focus groups and town hall meetings could also convene via online platforms. It may, however, be necessary for self-assessment teams to reconsider consultation methods. For example, selecting pulse surveys instead of longer surveys or focus groups. Where survey response rates have been poorer than expected, it may be necessary to leave the survey open for a longer period of time. You could also consider supplementing your survey results with one-to-one online interviews or pulse surveys or online polls. 

Self-assessment teams may also have questions about how to develop effective actions in light of the evolving public health situation. We encourage applicants to plan actions based on the information currently available (e.g. recent consultation data; current projections of resources available to the department/institution). The action plan can then be adjusted accordingly as new information comes to light.

When it comes to preparing to renew or upgrade your award, you should feel assured that, in normal circumstances, it is necessary for many applicants to adjust and revise actions to ensure achievability and relevance.  If this is necessary, your narrative should provide a rationale for your decision and an honest assessment of your progress to date.

The outbreak of Covid-19 has impacted our ability to make progress on our action plan or priorities, what can we do?  

The Athena SWAN process understands action plans to be ‘live organic documents, constantly reviewed and updated’ (AS handbook, p.59). This is because, even in normal circumstances, it is necessary for applicants to adjust and revise actions to ensure achievability and relevance. Self-assessment teams are encouraged to evaluate action implementation as part of regular meetings and to revise action plans accordingly. For example, it may be necessary to make adjustments to timeframes and milestones, or to revise an action to reflect online teaching and learning. Where new gender equality challenges and opportunities have been identified, actions can be included in the action plan. As is typical in Bronze renewals and in applications for Silver and Gold, applicants are expected to reflect honestly on the progress and impact of their actions during the award period. Where progress has faltered, you should acknowledge this in the application narrative and set out a clear plan to overcome the challenges you have identified.  

How will peer-review assessment panels meet given the restrictions?

Assessment panels are convening remotely with panellists submitting written feedback to Advance HE in advance of the panel meeting. This new process was used successfully for April 2020 applications.

What support is Advance HE offering Athena SWAN Ireland applicants during Covid-19 restrictions?

Athena SWAN Ireland staff can be contacted as normal via email and telephone. Training for self-assessment teams is available via online delivery and national webinars and events relating to the application process will be offered throughout 2020-21. Site visits can be arranged subject to government restrictions and public health guidelines. For more information on the supports available, contact the Athena SWAN Ireland team: athenaswanireland@advance-he.ac.uk.  

Advance HE staff are also working to produce events, advice and guidance that specifically tackles the challenges posed by Covid-19. These will be announced via our website and on Connect.