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Update from the Chair of the Athena SWAN Review, Steering Group

05 Oct 2018 | Julia Buckingham CBE Many of you will know that a Steering Group was established in July this year to lead an independent review of Athena SWAN and report to the Board of Advance HE.

The membership of the Group was published earlier this year and you can find the details here

The Steering Group met this week, and recognising that an impact study of Athena SWAN is being conducted by Advance HE and funded by external partners, the plans for the review have been slightly modified.  The impact studyaims to find out the extent to which the Charter has helped to advance the careers of women and to address gender equality issues more broadly since its inception.

A listening exercise

The Steering Group is keen to progress its review of Athena SWAN but has agreed that there would be substantial benefit in waiting for the outcomes of the impact study before consulting formally with the sector and other interested parties (e.g. research funders).  We would also like to obtain a better understanding of the Athena SWAN experience before we consult formally so we have revised our plan and time-table to include a three to four month informal “listening exercise”.  We will do this on a consistent basis by reaching out to groups of stakeholders across the UK who may have different insights, experiences and expectations of the Charter.  There will be face to face sessions based on open, general questions to inform the thinking about the more formal consultation.  We will also run some open access webinars arranged in the coming months and will have an online option for anyone who wishes to contribute their views; details of these will be published soon. The information gained from this listening exercise will inform our formal sector consultation, which will now be undertaken in March/April 2019.

I am confident that undertaking the listening exercise and waiting for the outcomes of the impact study is the right way to ensure that the review is valuable, based upon the best possible evidence, with credible and well-considered outcomes.  It will enable us to clarify key issues before consulting formally, and to consider in detail the scope and process of the forthcoming consultation.  This listening exercise does not intend to start the debate but will explore the shape, scope and priorities for the review.  Our new timetable is therefore:

  • Listening exercise by website contributions, by webinars and by informal consultation meetings, October 2018-January 2019
  • Formal consultation, March-April 2019
  • Findings and recommendations, September 2019.

Involving experts

From February 2019 and throughout the rest of the review process, we will also be identifying task and finish groups with specific expertise to advise on areas such as assessment processes, clarity of application processes and data requirements.  The task and finish groups will have specific terms of reference to ensure that their input is timely and relevant.  Many Athena SWAN stakeholders, both groups and individuals, have already volunteered to contribute following an article published earlier this year by David Ruebain, former CEO of the Equality Challenge Unit (now part of Advance HE). While things have moved on, I still intend to take up these and other offers of help, wherever and whenever there is an opportunity to do so.  I am very keen that we engage the sector as widely as we can


I recognise that institutions due to submit may be uncertain about how they should develop their applications over the time of this review.  For now, Athena SWAN, Advance HE will enable continued use of the current framework and will keep you informed of any changes to this advice.  We will also indicate a timetable for phasing in any changes.  I would like to reassure you that the Steering Group will do all it can to ensure applicants are not disadvantaged by operating at a time of possible transition.  We will explore the approach to phasing in our formal consultation in 2019.

On behalf of the sector, I am confident that the Steering Group will complete a robust and comprehensive review which will ensure that Athena SWAN is fit for purpose in the rapidly evolving higher education landscape.

Julia Buckingham, Chair of the Athena SWAN Steering Group

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