University of Tromsø wins NOK 2 million

The recipient of the Gender Equality Award for 2011 is the University of Tromsø, which according to the jury is one of the key players in the field of gender equality. “It is very gratifying to have been selected for this award,” says Rector Jarle Aarbakke.

The University of Tromsø is the winner of the Gender Equality Award for 2011. Rector Jarle Aarbakke accepted the prize from Minister of Research and Higher Education Tora Aasland. (Photo: Kristin Aukland)

“This is a multi-faceted equality award and it addresses both quality in academia and the attractiveness of research as a career. We hope this award will serve as an inspiration,” said Minister of Research and Higher Education Tora Aasland when she announced the winner of the Gender Equality Award.

This is the fifth time that the Ministry of Education and Research has presented the Gender Equality Award for the best measures designed to improve the gender balance at universities, university colleges and independent research institutes. The prize of NOK 2 million was established to promote gender equality efforts and to achieve greater gender balance in the research sector. On Tuesday 17 January 2012, the Gender Equality Award was presented at an annual conference that brings together the Ministry of Education and Research and the leadership of the universities and university colleges.

In its assessment of this year’s recipient, the Committee for Gender Balance in Research (KIF) wrote: “In recent years the University of Tromsø has distinguished itself as one of Norway’s key players in the field of gender equality through its committed effort to improving the gender balance among high-level positions.”

“Our gender equality efforts have been firmly anchored in the university’s leadership for many years. A lot of people at the university will be pleased about this award,” said Rector Aarbakke in his acceptance speech.

Incorporated into all levels

Aarbakke believes there are three main reasons that the University of Tromsø received this year’s award:

“First of all, we have slowly but surely achieved better results from the gender equality activities at our institution. As a result, our work has led to visible results, so that we now have the largest percentage of female professors, over 27 percent. Secondly, our measures are concrete. One example is that we have established search committees to seek out potential candidates for specific positions,” he explains.

The third reason deals with how the gender equality activities are incorporated into the university.

“We are less concerned with committees and more concerned with anchoring our work in all levels of the institution,” says the Rector.


According to Aarbakke, a few years ago the research sector was divided into two camps.

“In general, there were two views on the future of academia. One camp had an optimistic belief that the generational shift would solve the lack of gender balance and the other camp had a more pessimistic view that more action was needed. The University of Tromsø chose the path that required action. It is our conviction that we must take decisive steps to improve gender equality,” he says.

The University of Tromsø has developed a project to increase the percentage of women who apply for promotion to professor. Female associate professors who aspire to become full professors are identified and mentored until they achieve professor-level qualifications and submit an application for promotion. In its assessment, the KIF Committee wrote: “The promotion project shows that it is possible to achieve gender balance in high-level positions much more quickly than by taking a ‘wait and see’ attitude, which still seems to be prevalent in parts of the sector.”

In addition to the promotion scheme, the KIF Committee points to the University of Tromsø’s leadership training and recruitment of women to permanent academic positions. The university’s goal is to have 30 percent women in high-level positions by 2013. Today the institution has over 27 percent women, while the nationwide average is slightly over 20 percent.

In its assessment, the KIF Committee wrote: “Among this year’s candidates, the University of Tromsø is in a class of its own. Compared to previous years, the university is a deserving winner of the Gender Equality Award for 2011.”

Members of the Rector’s team at the University of Tromsø: Vice Rector for Education Britt-Vigdis Ekeli, Rektor Aarbakke and Vice Rector for Research and Development Curt Rice. (Photo: Torbein Kvil Gamst)

Very few applicants 

Despite the possibility of winning NOK 2 million to support gender equality, only three institutions applied for the award. Why has the number of applicants dropped from eight in 2007 to seven in 2008, six in 2009, four in 2010 and now three in 2011?

“The number of applicants is surprisingly low,” Aarbakke says.

“Maybe it’s because in order to apply for the Gender Equality Award, you must first think ‘We have a chance to win, maybe even a good chance’,” he continues.

He also thinks it was important that the University of Tromsø has received the Gender Equality Award in the past. (In 2007, the Department of Marine Biotechnology at the University of Tromsø shared the award with the Norwegian University of Science and Technology.) The University of Tromsø knew it was possible to both apply for and receive the prize.

“We knew it was possible. And that it is worth applying. NOK 2 million for gender equality efforts is a substantial sum of money,” Aarbakke believes.

The KIF Committee wants to ensure that the award winners are held to the same strict requirements in spite of the small number of applicants. The committee wrote: “Because there are so few candidates this year, the committee has made it a point that this year’s winner should in no way be less qualified than award winners in previous years.”

Translated by Connie Stultz.

Gender Equality Award

The call for applications for the Gender Equality Award for 2011 was issued on 23 August 2011. Applications were received from the University of Tromsø, the Faculty of Health and Social Sciences at Østfold University College and the Norwegian University of Life Sciences by the deadline of 1 November 2011.

The award was also presented in 2007, 2008, 2009 and 2010.

The Committee for Gender Balance in Research (KIF) is responsible for issuing the call for applications, assessing the candidates and recommending the winner.

The Gender Equality Award for 2011 goes to the University of Tromsø.