Advance HE reveals ‘reformed’ Athena SWAN

New processes, “coupled with our active support for applicants”, will significantly reduce the administrative burden while “retaining the rigour of the Charter”, said the Advance HE chief executive

Advance HE has published its revised Athena Swan Charter, which has undergone a “paradigm shift from prescription to autonomy”, the organisation said.

The reforms follow a March 2020 review of the charter commissioned by Advance HE, led by Prof Julia Buckingham, vice-chancellor of Brunel University London, and involving an array of sector heavyweights, including David Sweeney, executive chair of Research England.

Prof Buckingham said the charter had “been instrumental” in improving gender equality but warned many in the sector had “well-founded concerns” about its design, which should be “simpler and less burdensome, as well as more transparent and consistent”.

Since then, the government has announced that the National Institute for Health Research would scrap its requirement that funding applicants have at least a silver Athena SWAN award.

In this reformed funding landscape, the new charter will halve the data requirements on applicants, shorten applications procedures and administration and enable applicants to set their priorities rather than following prescribed ones. The new guidelines tighten the alignment to award criteria, making clearer the requirements at each level, and aim to offer more support to applicants. “People of all gender identities and people facing intersectional inequalities”, as well as technical and operational staff, are also acknowledged for the first time.

“I am extremely pleased that we have addressed the concerns held by many relating to the administrative burden of applying for Athena Swan awards, which often fell to the people the Charter intended to champion,” said Alison Johns, Advance HE chief executive. “New processes, coupled with our active support for applicants, have significantly reduced this workload while retaining the rigour of the Charter.”

Johns thanked the independent review panel, the Athena Swan Governance Committee (ASGC) and HE employees for engaging with the reforms.

I believe this Charter is a great step forward in the drive for gender equality in higher education and research institutes
– Prof Parveen Yaqoob, deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Reading

Prof Parveen Yaqoob, the ASGC Chair and deputy vice-chancellor at the University of Reading, said: “The long-term goal for success for Athena Swan is evidence that the sector views the Chartermark as an improvement tool rather than an end product, is open to sharing good practice, and is genuinely committed to dismantling inequality. I believe this Charter is a great step forward in the drive for gender equality in higher education and research institutes.”

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