Scepticism surrounds EU’s SHE Glass Ceiling Index statistics: What is the truth about Irish universities’ ranking?

One of the statistics that Dr Micheline Sheehy Skeffington regularly quotes, and one we have referred to many times on this Web page, is the position of Ireland, second to worst after Malta, for the Glass Ceiling Index (GCI) for European academics. The GCI is the measurement of the percentage of women in senior posts relative to the percentage of women in all posts. If there is no difference, and therefore no glass ceiling, the index will be 1, while the higher the index above 1, the worse the glass ceiling is. Here is the figure we have been referring to, which shows the relative position of each European country, slightly adjusted for ease of reading.

GCI Ireland corrected 2009

This graph comes from the European Union’s SHE figures published in 2009. Every three years, the European Union produces this set of statistics which assesses the position of women in science (including political and social science), engineering and technology. The statistics cover universities and technological institutes for all European countries, both those within and outside of the European Union. These figures provide a comparison of the relative position of academic women in senior posts between countries, the only such comparative statistics we have.

In the next set of figures, from 2012, no data were supplied from Ireland and Malta for the GCI. Their absence left Cyprus as the worst country in Europe in terms of the Glass Ceiling Index.  We assumed that Ireland and Malta were embarrassed at being on the bottom so they did not submit data. In response, we simply kept on using the 2009 figures, but meanwhile looked forward to the publication of the 2015 SHE figures, wondering whether Ireland would reappear next time, and if so, where on the list.

The 2015 figures were due out at the end of last year but were only finally issued in early May this year. To our great surprise, Ireland had shot up the ranking so that it was now 7th from best. Ireland was up there with Norway, Denmark and Iceland, all known for their much better record for promoting women to senior posts. Even more amazing, Malta was now top! Here are the equivalent 2015 figures, the layout adjusted for ease of comparison.

GCI Ireland SHE2015

Note that the Glass Ceiling Index for every other country has improved by only a few decimal points over their result for 2009, and their relative position has changed little. The index for Ireland, however, has improved from 3.8 to 1.45 over the 6 years. Compare that to the UK,  for which the index has improved from 2.4 to 2.25.

So one of our supporters wrote to the EU to find out how this disparity might have come about. The supporter was passed to the ‘Statistical Correspondent for Ireland’, a civil servant from the Strategic Policy Division in the Department of Jobs, Enterprise and Innovation. She in turn has been in correspondence with the Higher Education Authority (HEA). After some consideration, the two departments have agreed that the data submitted for the 2015 SHE figures were inappropriate and, consequently, they have reverted to the HEA head count used in the 2009 SHE figures. As a result, Ireland is back at the worst end of the GCI graph along with Estonia, Cyprus, Luxembourg and Lithuania. Here is the same graph but with Ireland’s result corrected to the new GCI supplied by the government.

GCI Ireland corrected 2015

But we are still puzzled. The Irish GCI was 3.80 in 2009; it is now 2.32. That is still an incredible improvement compared to the 0.15 drop the UK managed in the same period, and, therefore, still not believable. The 2009 index was derived from university-only totals, according to the SHE report, while the newly proposed index includes institutes of technology and colleges for the total staff numbers. However, totals of Grade A staff came solely from universities as there is no equivalent at other institutions of learning of full Professors undertaking research, as defined in the SHE report. Correcting the index by using only the university head count as sent to us makes little significant difference to the index. So our supporter has now written back asking if the HEA might also be able to account for the still-significantly marked GCI improvement. We hope to update you. Meanwhile, we publish at the end of this post the figures the supporter was sent and how they were apparently calculated. Perhaps someone reading this post can work out how the HEA have managed this statistical feat. If so, let us know by making a comment on this post or sending us an e-mail.

And as for Malta? In the 2009 SHE figures, Malta provided data only for 2004 and had a GCI so high, it was off the graph as we printed it. In the 2015 SHE figures, Malta provided data only for 2013 and managed a GCI less than 1! This remarkable change seems likely to be due to a government not giving this statistical exercise the respect it deserves. It is important that Ireland is never again associated with such questionable results. Later this week, the HEA will present their report on proposed changes to address the lack of promotion of female academics in Irish universities. The Glass Ceiling Index in the SHE figures, which rank Ireland within Europe, will be the means of checking whether any changes which are adopted are working.

The following is the information sent to one of our supporters regarding Ireland’s GCI:

IrishGCIsent (1)


2 thoughts on “Scepticism surrounds EU’s SHE Glass Ceiling Index statistics: What is the truth about Irish universities’ ranking?

  1. Geraldine Morley

    Please could some one inform me where I can read the report of the task force on gender issues in the National University of Galway? I saw an interesting article on it in an English higher education journal, which reported that it was a very good report. Is the report available on the web?



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