Comment & Analysis
Mar 2, 2020

The College’s Athena SWAN Mix Up Betrays a Lack of Joined-up Thinking

A disconnect emerged this week between the vice-provost for equality and the strategic plan over the Athena SWAN award.

Léigh as Gaeilge an t-Eagarfhocal (Read Editorial in Irish) »
By The Editorial Board

When Trinity wrote in its still-unpublished strategic plan that it aimed to have achieved a silver Athena SWAN award by 2025 – two years too late for crucial research funding deadlines – eyebrows must have been raised among those casting eyes over the document.

Ireland’s universities have for years underwhelmed on Athena SWAN – an initiative designed to drive much-needed improvements on gender balance at third-level – so aiming for 2025 didn’t necessarily put Trinity behind other colleges.

Missing the 2023 deadline, though, did risk both funding losses and reputational damage – something that was acknowledged internally by College and revealed by this newspaper.


So in one sense it’d have been a relief to many staff and students to hear Clodagh Brook, Trinity’s newly appointed associate vice-provost for equality, diversity and inclusion, contradict the strategic plan and insist that the College will apply for the silver award by 2022.

This, in effect, means Trinity could have the medal in time to hold onto research funding from the Irish Research Council, the Health Research Board and Science Foundation Ireland.

And Brook’s commitment, made in an interview with The University Times, is hardly a hollow one: she spoke at Board in November about how College can submit for the award by April 2022.

But it’s surely beyond absurd that Trinity’s strategic plan, a much-vaunted document widely acknowledged as a crucial component of the College’s short-term future, is so out of step with the aims of its most senior equality advocate.

It may well be that Trinity will have updated the plan – which isn’t officially released until March 10th – by the time it’s visible to public eyes.

But the strategic plan has technically been in effect since January 1st, so the final version accepted by Board seems to have tacitly accepted that a silver medal by 2023 was out of reach.

At best, the contradiction represents an embarrassing blunder for the College – another sign that it hasn’t got its ducks in a row on its public announcements.

But looked at again, it’s hard to avoid the conclusion that the debacle betrays a deeper, more fundamental problem – of a lack of joined up thinking when it comes to gender equality.