‘Important for management to prioritise gender equality’

The Swedish Higher Education Authority, UKÄ, is to contribute to more gender equality in higher education. The gender mainsteaming efforts have worked well overall but challenges include lack of time and knowledge, says Agnes Ers, coordinator of gender mainstreaming in government agencies at UKÄ.

Agnes Ers at the Swedish Higher Education Authority

Agnes Ers at the Swedish Higher Education Authority

In an interim report submitted to the Government on 22 February, UKÄ describes the results of its gender mainstreaming efforts in its operations 2015–2017. This report follows up a number of measures.

This includes everything from professional development measures for employees to integrating the gender perspective into our communications, our quality assurance and our regulatory oversight.

Agnes Ers thinks the gender mainstreaming efforts have worked well overall. She mentions a well-functioning internal organisation, that gender mainstreaming has been integrated into the organisational planning, training has been held for managers and employees, and that gender equality has been an obvious aspect of improving quality assurance and oversight of the higher education institutions’ operations.

Must be integrated in the statistics

It is also an advantage that UKÄ has responsibility for defining what statistics are collected and their scope, which means that UKÄ has long tracked gender-based statistics and participates in follow-ups conducted by Statistics Sweden (SCB) in this area.

But it is no longer sufficient to “just” count heads. Now we need to analyse the actual conditions and develop additional methods for integrating a gender perspective into our statistical work.

Since the UKÄ has been commissioned to develop a new national quality assurance system for higher education during the period, gender equality has also been integrated there. For example, it is a major challenge to train these assessors that gender equality is a quality aspect in higher education and how the assessments should be conducted.

Lack of time an obstacle

Agnes Ers argues that lack of time is a challenge for gender mainstreaming.

‘It is of course good that gender mainstreaming in government agencies is conducted as part of the regular budget and operations so that it becomes part of day-to-day work. At the same time, there is little room for new assignments within current operations.’

Agnes Ers thinks that there are some obstacles to gender equality in academia. Even in gender equality efforts, there is a silent resistance that expresses itself in disinterest, ignorance, and even “wilful ignorance”, that is, employees consciously avoiding to learn or understand these issues.

It is important that management be clear here that gender equality is prioritised and that it is not something that can be ignored.

A natural part of UKÄ's core operations

Since its start in 2013, UKÄ has been tasked in its government assignment to integrate a gender equality perspective into its operations. But within the gender mainstreaming in government agencies framework, this work becomes a natural part of its core operations.

This mandate means that UKÄ’s efforts are more carefully followed up and the pressure to actually implement these ambitions is increasing.