Professor Julia Buckingham CBE, Vice-Chancellor and President, Brunel University London, and Chair of the Steering Group shares the latest news on the progress of the Athena SWAN review.
The Steering Group is leading an independent review of the gender equality charter on behalf of Advance HE and its owners Universities UK (UUK) and Guild HE. The review was launched in May 2018 to ensure the Charter continues to maintain its rigour and credibility and to be a highly valued accreditation scheme, while reducing the administrative workload.
As the New Year begins, I wanted to take the opportunity to update you on the Steering Group’s progress. By way of background, the Group was established in May 2018 and it is aiming to complete its work in Autumn 2019 when we report our findings and recommendation to the Advance HE Board.
The first phase of the Group’s work is nearing completion
The Group is taking a phased approach to the Review. Phase 1, which will be completed in early February, is a ‘soft consultation’ in which members of the Group are running a series of informal workshops and online activities with colleagues across the UK to gain a broad understanding of what is valued about the Charter and where there are areas of concern. In parallel, Advance HE is conducting an Impact Study which will provide further valuable information about the extent to which the Charter has influenced culture, policy and practice across the sector. The information we gather during this phase of our work will inform our next steps which will be a formal consultation with the Sector, designed and managed by a team of experienced social scientists.
If you have not yet had the opportunity to engage with the soft consultation, I would encourage you to either provide feedback via online survey on the Athena SWAN dedicated website page or to participate in our open access webinar on 24 January at 11.00 a.m.
On behalf of the Steering Group I would like to say a very big “thank you” to those of you who have contributed to the consultation to date and for expressing your views so openly. The information we have gained thus far has provided a wealth of evidence on the areas to probe more deeply through the formal consultation which will take place between March and May this year and also key points for discussion as we seek advice beyond the sector.
It has been uplifting to learn the ways in which the Charter has had a positive influence and is valued by the sector – to summarise just a few, we have heard how the Athena SWAN process has facilitated conversations about gender equality at all levels across institutions and created new opportunities for networking; provided greater transparency on gender issues; identified areas for action and led to changes in institutional policy; driven changes in culture and ethos across the organisation; provided additional support and developmental opportunities for staff, and offered a positive and structured way for departments to examine their practices and data. In addition, many colleagues have warmly welcomed the extension of the Charter to include Arts, Humanities, Business and Social Sciences.
But of course it is not all rosy and colleagues have raised a broad range of issues. For example:
- the scope and duration of the Charter and whether it should now be expanded to an equality charter and also include all professional and support staff, not just those in academic departments
- the duration for which awards are held and whether the burden of the applications process could be effectively reduced by replacing departmental awards with School or Faculty level awards
- unintended negative impact of the workload on young academics at a time when they should be focused on developing their academic profile
- the challenge of collecting and collating required data;
- a perceived lack of clarity about the assessment criteria for awards at bronze, silver and gold levels and concerns about moving goal posts
- the assessment process, including how panellists are trained, the consistency of decision-making, the relevance and significance of panel feedback, and quality assurance;
- the costs of the whole process at a time when institutional budgets are under considerable pressure
- the need for more effective sharing of resources and disseminating of good practice.
Again, my warmest thanks to all of you who contributed to the soft consultation so far. Your contributions have been invaluable. We will provide further updates as the review progresses.
Professor Julia Buckingham CBE
Vice-Chancellor and President
Brunel University London
Chair of the Athena SWAN Steering Group