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Minister Mitchell O’Connor announces approval for 20 professorial-level posts in Higher Education under the Senior Academic leadership Initiative

Mary Mitchell O’Connor T.D. Minister of State with special responsibility for Higher Education today (3rd January 2020) announced the approval of 20 posts at professorial-level in higher education.

This announcement is being made under the Minister’s Senior Academic Leadership Initiative, the goal of which is to accelerate progress in achieving gender balance at the senior academic level in higher education institutions.

SALI is an innovative and transformational positive action initiative being implemented across higher education alongside the Gender Action Task Force championed by the Minister and launched in 2019.

The posts now being announced were approved by an expert international assessment panel chaired by Professor Lesley Yellowlees, CBE, Professor in the Chemistry Department of Edinburgh University.

Recruitment into these posts which will now be initiated by the relevant HEIs. The recruitment process in each HEI will take place to the highest standards of assessment, evaluation and rigour consistent with the seniority of the professorial-level posts to ensure the quality and excellence of the appointments made in due course.

Minister Mitchell O’Connor said: “This is a great start to 2020 and is truly a game-changing moment in Irish academia. I am incredibly proud that this intervention will ensure a swifter gender re-balance, addressing the current-representation of women at the highest levels of our institutions. I am delighted to be able to announce that 12 of our institutions have been successful under SALI. I was truly inspired to see the calibre and ambition of the 20 successful posts that are being approved.  

“SALI is an international best practice example of the innovation and indeed ambition required to drive the delivery of gender balance objectives in our society.

“We know that the excellence of our female academics and their vast contribution to research and education has not yet resulted in an appropriate level of representation of women at the highest levels. This initiative is supporting higher education institutions that are already taking proactive steps to address gender imbalance to take a leap forward in this area, always with ‘excellence’ at the heart of recruitment and promotion policies.

“I would like to express my appreciation to all those who have participated in this initiative from its earliest inception, who have supported me in my drive to make this happen, particularly those across the higher education system who have recognised the urgent need for this essential measure.

“I have no doubt that the Senior Academic Leadership Initiative will attract outstanding applicants from within the higher education sector in Ireland and internationally. Appointments to these posts will be subject to the highest standard and rigorous assessment processes as currently adopted by the institutions for prestigious posts at these levels.”

Minister Mitchell O’Connor concluded: This initiative is one of a number of actions in the 2018 Gender Equality Taskforce Action Plan. It is contained within a suite of initiatives to bring about sustainable organisational change and to empower a culture of gender equality in higher education institutions. In particular, I am pleased that the Centre of Excellence for Gender Equality in the HEA was established earlier this year. It will be a key enabler to ensure sustainable change, by providing centralised support for institutions, sharing of good practice, and funding innovative organisational and cultural change initiatives nationally. Another call will be announced in Q2 of 2020.”

Notes to Editors


Photo 1 - Minister Mitchell O’Connor pictured with Professor Lesley Yellowlees CBE, Chair of SALI Assessment Panel


Photo 2 – Minister Mitchell O’Connor pictured with members of the SALI Assessment Panel


A key objective of SALI is to strengthen gender diversity at the senior leadership level within HEIs and to encourage the benefits that such diversity can deliver.

The 2018 Report on Higher Education Institutional Staff Profiles by Gender, which has now been published by the HEA, shows that, while in the university sector some 51% of lecturers were female, only 24% of professors were female. In the institute of technology (IoT) sector, some 45% of lecturers are female, but only 36% senior lecturer positions were held by female.

Analysis carried out by the 2018 Gender Taskforce on the estimated rate of change suggested that with the continuation of current recruitment and promotion practices, it could take up to 20 years to achieve an average of 40% females at professor level in the university sector. 

The Taskforce recommended that new and additional gender-specific posts, at appropriate levels, as well as other positive action measures, where they would be a proportionate and an effective means to achieve rapid and sustainable change, should be considered.

SALI has been designed and implemented on the basis of the consistency of the initiative which has been confirmed by the Attorney General with national and EU employment law.

Additional funding has been provided in the Department’s Budget to enable this Initiative to commence. The additional cost for the professorial posts in universities / senior lecturer 3 level posts in IoTs will be some €1.5m in 2020, growing to some €4m in 2021.

To secure additional posts under this initiative, one of the key requirements of the higher education institutions is that they have a gender action plan in place and can demonstrate that they are progressing their gender equality objectives and targets to achieve real organisational and cultural change.

This Initiative is a targeted positive action which aims to accelerate gender balance objectives at senior academic leadership levels in Irish higher education institutions. These twelve institutions will now commence their recruitment processes, and it is expected that these posts will be in place before the start of the next academic year. 

This first call for applications to the Senior Academic Leadership Initiative was issued by the Higher Education Authority to institutions in June of 2019. An international Assessment Panel was appointed to evaluate the applications received. The Assessment Panel consisted of 10 members, with gender equality expertise, as well as broad disciplinary and strategic level expertise.

A total of 18 institutions submitted applications under the process, and these were individually assessed by Assessment Panel members. The Assessment Panel then met on the 28th November, at which an independent process auditor was also present. A total of 12 institutions have been approved for these Senior Academic Leadership Initiative posts under Phase 1 in such areas as Computer Science, Mathematics, Biomedical Engineering and Physical Geography in the area of Climate Science.

Information on the Senior Academic Leadership Initiative is available on the HEA website at

Copy of the HEA 2018 Report on Higher Education Institutional Staff Profiles by Gender available here:


Institutions and Posts approved under phase 1 of the

Senior Academic Leadership Initiative


Dublin City University

Professor in Computer Science (Natural Language Processing)

Technological University Dublin

Professor of Public Trust in Media, Arts and Technology

Trinity College Dublin

Chair in Mathematics

Institute of Technology, Carlow

Director of Engineering Research and Innovation

University College Cork

Professor of Irish Gender History

Technological University Dublin

Professorship in Inclusive Computer Science

Dublin City University

Professor of Plasma Physics

National University of Ireland, Galway

Professor of Engineering

University College Cork

Professor of Microbiome and Health Science

National University of Ireland, Galway

Professor of Older Adult Health

University of Limerick

Professor of Data Science and Statistical Learning

Maynooth University

Professor in Physical Geography in the area of Climate Science (Adaptation and/or Mitigation)

Athlone Institute of Technology

Dean of Graduate Studies and Research

University of Limerick

Professor of Genomics and Biomedical Sciences

University College Dublin

Professor of Biomedical Engineering

Trinity College Dublin

Chair in Political Economy

Maynooth University

Professor in Computer Science in the area of Software Platform Architecture and Society

Dublin Institute for Advanced Studies

Senior Professor (Physics)

University College Dublin

Professor of Materials Chemistry

Cork Institute of Technology

Chair of Cyber Security


SALI Assessment Panel

Professor Lesley Yellowlees (Chair), CBE

University of Edinburgh


Eilidh Fraser

Abertay University


Patrick Johnson

University of Manchester      


Dr Helen Peterson

University of Gothenburg


Marissa Herder

Dutch Ministry of Education, Culture and Science   


Professor Knut Liestøl

University of Oslo


Professor Peter Main

King’s College London           


Dr Carl Jacobsson

Swedish Research Council


Professor Chantal Davies

University of Chester 


Professor Tomas Brage

Lund University