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Reviewing the past week's higher education news, Rachel Hewitt, Director of Policy and Advocacy at the Higher Education Policy Institute, takes issue with claims that UK higher education is "broken" and sees encouraging signs that it is addressing issues over diversity.
Professor Malcolm Todd, Deputy Vice-Chancellor/Provost (academic and student experience) at the University of Derby, comments on what he sees as the most significant higher education news and opinions making headlines in the first week of 2020.
Advance HE has announced plans to conduct a major review of the Athena SWAN Charter -- a flagship accreditation scheme which recognises the work of higher education institutions and research institutes to address gender equality within academia and research.
The new agency, formed through the merger of the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education, the Equality Challenge Unit, and the Higher Education Academy, said the review aimed to ensure that the Charter is fit for current and future needs of institutions, individuals and the sector as a whole.
Professor Julia Buckingham, Vice-Chancellor and President of Brunel University London, is to chair the steering group, which will be responsible for leading the independent review. A former member of the Athena Forum, an independent committee focused on diversity in STEMM, Julia is Brunel’s first female Vice-Chancellor. She is also on the board of Universities UK, Chair of the Research Concordat Strategy Group and a member of the All-Party Parliamentary University Group Council. The steering group will consult with the higher education sector and organisations that support and contribute to its work. It will also develop recommendations on the positioning of Athena SWAN and guidelines for the application and assessment of awards.
Advance HE’s CEO Alison Johns said: “The launch of Advance HE is a new opportunity to evaluate our flagship programmes and we are confident that the review of Athena SWAN will ensure it continues to be a highly valued accreditation within the sector.
“Since becoming CEO of Advance HE I have had positive feedback that Athena SWAN has enhanced careers and opportunities for many academics. However, there has also been feedback from institutions asking for the Charter to be reviewed to ensure it maintains its rigour and credibility, whilst reducing the administrative burden.
“We understand these concerns and our aim is to enable institutions to focus their energy on the changes they wish to bring about in order to make a difference.
“I have been delighted with the interest and support from the Athena SWAN network about the review, which is being carried out alongside a more wide-ranging consultation with the sector to ensure that we meet the needs of both institutions and individuals as we co-create the future offering of Advance HE" She added: “I am confident that the review will bring about positive dialogue and ensure that Athena SWAN continues to be a catalyst for meaningful change in the current and future higher education landscape.”
Professor Buckingham commented: “Advance HE’s Athena SWAN Charter is something I am very passionate about, and I believe this review will provide an opportunity to re-consider its scope, which has evolved considerably in recent years, as well as the application and review processes.
“I look forward to working with the steering group to ensure the Athena SWAN awards continue to be recognised as a hallmark of gender equality while reducing the burden of the awards application process.”
The steering group will hold its first meeting early this summer and aims to complete its work in early 2019. No changes will be made to the Athena SWAN process during the review.
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