Minister of Education and Research Kristin Halvorsen. (Photo: Rune Kongsro)

The KIF Committee will continue

The Committee for Gender Balance in Research has been appointed until the end of 2013, but what will happen after that? Minister of Education and Research Kristin Halvorsen is now indicating that the committee will be extended for another term.

October 31, 2012

It is more than seven months since Minister of Education and Research Kristin Halvorsen assumed responsibility for the entire ministry, including research and higher education. She confirms that the focus on gender balance in research is just as strong as before responsibility for everything from pre-schools to research was consolidated under a single ministerial post.

“Tora Aasland was concerned about gender equality, and so am I. Our commitment to gender equality has not changed”, says Halvorsen.

Yes to internationalization!

The KIF Committee has provided input to the new white paper on research, including on the internationalization of research policy. The committee wants the Ministry of Education and Research to promote a gender equality perspective within the EU and Horizon 2020, the EU’s next framework programme for research.

“We are now working on the new white paper on research, and it’s too early to be specific about how the field of gender equality will be addressed there,” says Halvorsen. She can say, though, that she is very positive towards the KIF Committee’s input, including its proposal on internationalization.

“Norway has been, and will continue to be, a driving force for gender equality in international research cooperation. In connection with the development of the European Research Area and Horizon 2020, Norway has placed gender equality high on the agenda in its input. Norway has emphasized the importance of gender equality in the research institutions at all levels, and that the gender dimension must be incorporated into the content of research and innovation projects. We are now seeing these attitudes being adopted at the European level,” says the minister optimistically.

NOK 7 million to BALANSE

Halvorsen is also pleased with the Research Council’s Initiative on Gender Balance in Senior Positions and Research Management (BALANSE). For the first time ever, the Ministry of Education and Research has set aside funding of NOK 7 million from next year’s budget for the BALANSE initiative.

“Although women in most subject areas complete just as many doctoral degrees as men, the progress on gender balance at the highest level is very slow. The Research Council has worked hard to give the BALANSE initiative a good, relevant design. This is why we are now investing in this programme. And of course we expect results,” says Halvorsen.

“We must work to improve the gender balance in subjects that are especially uneven. And there are too few women at higher position levels in research. The latest edition of the journal Research Policy says that Norway scores quite high among the countries it is natural to compare ourselves with when it comes to the percentage of female professors. Finland and Iceland have the largest percentage of women in senior-level positions with about 24 percent, followed by Norway and Sweden at 23 and 20 percent, respectively. But even with the reasonably positive numbers, I would expect Norway’s excellent welfare policy to have resulted in more women in professor positions. We still have a challenge in this regard,” she says.

The incentive scheme is extended

Due to the gender imbalance, the Ministry of Education and Research launched a three-year incentive scheme in 2010 aimed at increasing the percentage of women in the highest position categories in mathematics, natural science and technology subjects. Now the ministry wants to extend the scheme for one more year, until the end of 2013, pending an evaluation.

“The authorities launch incentive schemes for one purpose: to increase activity. All measures in the area of gender equality in academia are implemented following a thorough assessment, and this includes the incentive scheme. Now we’re excited to see what this measure leads to, and I anticipate there will be results,” says the minister.

What about the action plans?

Previous reviews of action plans for gender equality at higher education institutions have shown that only about half of the universities and university colleges have operative action plans. The KIF Committee has long been concerned that a closer follow-up by the ministry is needed.

Committee chair Gerd Bjørhovde. (Photo: Erik Martiniussen)

“What will the Ministry of Education and Research do about this in the future?”

“The ministry raises the issue of gender equality with the institutions in connection with the agency management process . For instance, we make the boards aware that they are responsible for having updated action plans for gender equality,” says Halvorsen, who will not reveal any more before the white paper on research is submitted in the spring.

“Then instructions will be given for key processes. But nobody needs to wait all the way until spring to get clarification on whether I want more dialogue between the ministry and the university, university college and research institute sector. Quite simply, the answer is: YES.”

Nonetheless, plans call for replacing the annual agency meetings between the ministry and the higher education sector with meetings every other year.

A more sought-after Gender Equality Award

One of the ministry’s measures to boost the gender equality efforts at universities, university colleges and research institutes is the Gender Equality Award, which goes to institutions or research institutes with the best measures to improve the gender balance.

The award has attracted a lot of attention outside Norway, but last year only three institutions applied. The KIF Committee assesses the candidates and recommends the winners. The committee is concerned that a small number of applicants does not lower the requirements of the award winners. Last year’s winner, the University of Tromsø, was called “…one of Norway’s foremost players in the field of gender equality”. Now the ministry has announced the award of NOK 2 million for the sixth time.

“It’s wonderful that the Gender Equality Award has attracted attention from abroad. By the same token, I’m aware that very few in the sector have applied for the award., whichThis is a specific measure to get more institutions in the higher education and research institute sector to make an all-out effort for a good gender equality policy.  I hope the award will be more sought after. I’m looking forward to keener competition among the applicants,” says Halvorsen, noting that this year’s application deadline is 23 November.

Translated by Connie Stultz.