TU Dublin researchers secure funding from HEA for two new Gender Balance Projects

15 Jan, 2021

Researchers from the School of Computer Science at TU Dublin have received funding from the HEA’s Gender Equality Enhancement Fund for two new research projects entitled 'TechMate and ‘pSTEM Role Models’.

TU Dublin will take the lead on the ‘TechMate’ project, which will create a brand new toolkit for best practice in gender equality in Higher Education. Meanwhile, TU Dublin will join lead partner UCD in the pSTEM Role Models project, focusing on encouraging more young women into STEM by identifying contemporary female role models and sharing their stories online. The under-representation of women in particular STEM areas and the absence of prominent, contemporary female role models in pSTEM are the key motivations for this project. 

TechMate Toolkit

Led by Prof. Sarah Jane Delany and Dr Susan McKeever, the 'TechMate’ project aims to create a toolkit in best practice for sustainable acceleration towards gender equality in the technology disciplines at Higher Education Institutes. They will be joined in the project by research peers Dr Catherine Mooney (University College Dublin), Dr Keara Barrett (IT Carlow) and Dr Rosemary Monahan (Maynooth University).

As fellow computer scientists based at TU Dublin Prof. Delany and Dr McKeever were both motivated to develop this new toolkit out of what they saw as an urgent necessity to address the gender imbalance within computer science professional and an academic level. Computer science (CS) discipline remains one of the most heavily gender imbalanced areas in Higher Education. For example, whilst there has been some improvement in the past few years - TU Dublin has increased it female intake into its CS-related courses from 30% to 35% since 2015 - the number of new female entrants into IT programmes across all Higher Education Institutes in Ireland remains at approximately 15% over the past decade. These figures are also represented in the professional and academic sphere with female staff in Ireland’s CS faculties currently representing less than a quarter of all staff (24%). For Professor Delany, the TechMate toolkit is a way to create the right type of learning environment to address these gender imbalances properly.

“We are delighted to have been successful in getting funding for this focussed gender equality initiative. The pipeline of female students coming into undergraduate computing and technology programmes at third level is crucial, as it underpins the potential to achieve gender balance in computer science staff, research, and in industry. Providing an environment for female students to have a positive experience at third level and so become ambassadors for the sector will be key to any pipeline strategy.

‘TechMate’ Proposal

The project proposes to research and develops a new toolkit ( TechMate ) of best practice techniques and methods for recruiting and retaining female students on technology-focused programmes. The development of TechMate will involve research into best practices nationally and internationally. A key input will be the practical and guiding experiences of the proposal partners, representing both university and IoT profiles. As the lead partner, TU Dublin will draw on its experience over the last 5 years of increasing its intake of female students to its computer science programmes. The idea will be to support these experiences by identifying the best practices with all partners - supplemented with solid, research-driven approaches.

The HEA’s Gender Equality Enhancement funding will fund a postgraduate student for one academic year to conduct this research. The postgraduate student will be registered as a research postgraduate at TU Dublin and will be co-supervised by Professor Brenda Murphy, a founding member of Department of Gender & Sexualities at the University of Malta expert in gender studies.

 INGENIC

TechMate will be circulated to all HEIs nationally through the INGENIC (Irish Network for Gender Equality at National 3rd Level Institutions for Computing) network. Consisting of representatives from 18 different third-level institutes across Ireland the INGENIC network’s stated aim is to help third-level institutes collaborate and work together to create learning environments that will lead to a greater intake and retention of female students.

“TechMate, like any gender initiative, has to reach and be relevant to all third levels in Ireland  - and that’s where INGENIC comes in. We’ve worked hard at creating this unique cooperative network of 18 computer science schools across Ireland.  Under TechMate, we can work with our partners across INGENIC to gather and give best practice across the country”.  

For the School of Computer Science at TU Dublin, these newly announced projects are part of a much broader vision of creating a more inclusive and accessible learning environment. In the past few years, implementing this new vision has led to adopting several initiatives, including CodeFirst Girls;  ESTeEM Mentoring programme and success in the Senior Academic Leadership Initiative (SALI). This vision for the School is now reflected on a national level with the release in 2018 of the National Action Plan of the Gender Equality Taskforce.