Research funding for higher level institutions now dependent on agreeing with gender ideology

Did you know that only higher education institutions that received a ‘gender equality’  award from an English leftie NGO can apply for funding from Ireland’s main research funders?

Or that said leftie NGO compels these institutions to commit to “recognising that individuals can determine their own gender identity, and tackling the issues faced by trans and non-binary people”?  

The Economic and Social Research Institute (ESRI) has become the latest in a series of Irish entities to receive a bronze Athena SWAN award for “progress on gender equality”.

Clearly, they could not be better pleased, no more than was Professor Kerstin May of University of Limerick when she told the Public Accounts Committee in May that UL had won two silver awards (In your face ESRI)  – for “embedding gender equality.”


We have posed this question before, but why exactly do Irish elite institutions feel the need to be given pats on the head by an English NGO? 

Which is exactly what Advance HE, the supervisors of Athena SWAN, is.

It was founded in 2018 as a merger of the Equality Challenge Unit, the Higher Education Academy and the National Leadership for Higher Education. Indeed, not only is it an English NGO but it is one whose origins are directly linked to, and funded by, the British state.

The Athena SWAN Charter, compliance with which determines whether an institution gets an award, dates back to 2005. Its introduction here was pushed from an early stage by Eileen Drew of Trinity College who was told by Sarah Dickinson of the then Equality Challenge Unit in 2013 that if the Charter was to be introduced here that it would have to be within all higher education institutions. 

And so it came to pass, and Advance HE now boasts that Athena SWAN having extended from the UK to Ireland in 2015 was a breakthrough that has allowed it to be accepted in 160 institutions around the world, although its claim to set “internationally recognised” standards is somewhat limited by the fact that Australia and the United Arab Emirates appear to be among the only others who have let them shape policy. 

That rather undermines the claim by Heather Humphries in 2018 that Athena SWAN is the “international quality mark for gender equality,” or that of then CEO of the HEA, Graham Love at the Public Accounts Committee in 2017 that an Athena SWAN award is similar to an International Standards Office (ISO) accreditation for “an institution’s gender policy.” 

Only in Ireland is the opinion of Jeremy from some red brick English polytechnic the international standard for anything. 

Drew, who has helpfully written a paper on how Athena SWAN came to be here,  organised a meeting in October 2013 that was attended by a representative of the Higher Education Authority and following a “unanimous call for the Athena SWAN extension to Ireland” in November 2013 the HEA committed itself to funding the roll out of the Charter for “all HEIs.”

Advance HE then began throwing around Athena SWAN gold, silver and bronze awards, and the Gender Equality Task Force at NUI Galway called for “research funding to be linked to Athena SWAN as was done in UK.”  



The HEA took this on board and in 2016 its expert group recommended that all HEIs would have to apply for an Athena SWAN award by 2019, and that the holding of a bronze award be a requirement to qualify for funding by the end of 2020.

This situation was set out by Simon Harris in the Dáil on April 7, 2022 when he stated that:

Among our main research and innovation related actions is a requirement to promote gender equality to access research funding. Only higher education institutions that have at least an Athena SWAN bronze institutional award can apply for funding from Ireland’s main research funders.

I am committed to working with my European counterparts to ensure a renewed focus on progressing gender equality related issues at European and national level.

Not only is complying with the Charter of a British NGO not a requirement on the part of any of our “European counterparts,” but the Charter itself has strayed way beyond the laudable goals of “gender equality” where that used to mean equal opportunity for women within third level education.

As the Charter now sets out – and this is the current updated document you find when you navigate the links – that in order to comply, an institution must commit to Principle 5 “recognising that individuals can determine their own gender identity, and tackling the issues faced by trans and non-binary people.”  

Why ought this be a criteria for an Irish educational institution to be given state funding? 

Believing that a biological man or woman, possibly suffering from the psychiatric condition known as gender dysphoria, can simply decide that they are of a different gender is a subjective and ideologically based opinion. It is not a scientific fact, and nor ought public affirmation of it be a criteria for anything, least of all the granting of Irish taxpayers money to universities. 

The same could also be said of other commitments in the Charter. “(A)ddressing structural inequalities and social injustices,” and “intersectional inequalities” are political and ideological mission statements of the liberal left. There is no reason why they ought to be imposed on people teaching or learning Latin or physics or even one of the “social sciences,” assuming that the faculty might contain some neanderthal reactionary. This is especially true when non-compliance will lead to the withdrawal of funding, or more likely the sacking of dissenters. 

Not that there appear to be many such dissenters here. With the exception of Colette Colfer of Waterford Institute of Technology, who last year wrote to the Sunday Independent to highlight what she described as the link between the acceptance of the Athena SWAN commitments to transgender ideology and state funding, I know of no other person in Irish education who has challenged the nonsense that some English leftie NGO ought to be setting “standards” on anything in our universities.

In contrast, some Cambridge University academics challenged this tendentious nonsense  and pointed out that the Charter was promoting, as binding axioms, beliefs that are subjective and contested. They were successful in forcing them to back down in some disciplines.

Less fortunate was Professor Kathleen Stock who was hounded out of her job at Sussex University by left extremists.  She described the Charter as “sinister” and said that existing equality legislation in UK, and similar exists here, means that there is no need to enforce “extra performances of obeisance to radical political positions.”

Just how radical those positions now are is indicated by the fact that there is now operating under the Athena SWAN banner, and approved by the Higher Education Authority, an Intersectionality Working Group who are driving the pushing out of the original Charter way beyond the commitment to equality for women in academia.

Among their recommended “actions,” referenced approvingly in a HEA commissioned report on Race Equality in the Higher Education Sector co-authored by the ubiquitous diversity guru Lucy Michael, are that universities conduct a campaign to encourage students and staff to “voluntarily disclose their ethnicity at multiple opportunities.” For why? Well, so that the HEA can compile an “evidence base” of “categorisations of ethnicity.”


Gript has previously submitted Freedom of Information requests regarding the involvement of Advance HE/Athena SWAN in the Irish education sector. The Department of Education failed to supply the information despite the fact that there is a clear and documented relationship. 

A response to a PQ from Carol Nolan TD in May 2022, not directly related to Athena SWAN, referred to the NGO having received part of €536,144 HEA funding for “gender equality initiatives.” No doubt further research will reveal more. 

It is not the case either, that the Irish state is unaware of Advance HE’s pushing out of the Athena SWAN remit to monitor “equality” among the Paddies and Patsies. On May 17 last year, immediately after stating that Athena SWAN accreditation was something that all institutions involved in research must meet in order to be eligible for funding from the Irish Research Council, Minister Simon Harris went on to state that “Athena Swan is currently undertaking a review process with a view to broadening its remit from gender to address wider equality, diversity and inclusion (EDI).” 

In pondering all this and the Irish elite’s bizarre relationship with an English leftie NGO, the phrase “living rent free inside their heads” initially seemed an apt epithet. But of course that would be inaccurate, because they are well rewarded for their being inside the heads of a bankrupt elite that appears to be intellectually adrift among a sea of domestic and foreign sharks pushing all sorts of snake oil.

Now, it seems, they have traded control over the direction of the ethos of Irish education and research for the wampum of shiny certificates. Dia linn….

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