New Athena Swan and New Application Process

by | Apr 30, 2020 | All posts, Equality, Equality and Diversity, Health Sciences | 0 comments

Advance HE (previously called Equality Challenge Unit) recognised the need to simplify the processes and data around the Athena Swan to create a shift from judging impact to supporting progress. This resulted in a publication of Future of Athena SWAN Report. Here is also a reply of Advance HE to the recommendations of the report.


Key messages are:

  • Athena SWAN should continue to be a major driver of gender equality practice in the UK higher education sector.
  • It is timely for the Charter to change to address concerns raised by colleagues across the sector.
  • The application process must be streamlined and the administrative burden on staff, particularly female staff, reduced.
  • The assessment process must ensure consistency and transparency of award outcomes to have the confidence of the sector.
  • The important role of positive and supportive cultures in driving gender equality must be a key part of the assessment.
  • The Charter must embrace the wider definition of gender.
  • Advance HE must provide more training and support for Athena SWAN applications.
  • The governance structure must ensure that the Charter is owned and led by the sector.


Scope of the Award: 

  • The Athena SWAN Charter continues to focus on gender equality but that it broadens its scope to reflect gender as a spectrum, rather than focusing on the binary definition of men and women.
  • The application process allows applicants to address issues relating to the intersectionality of gender with other protected characteristics in their action plans as appropriate.
  • The Charter continues to cover the full spectrum of academic disciplines. PTO staff should be included in that narrative but the data presented should relate only to the academic staff.
  • The Charter is expanded to enable staff in the PTO directorates to apply for their own departmental awards, thus creating an inclusive Charter that supports the development and career progression of all staff, irrespective of their roles in the institution.
  • Advance HE, in consultation with the new Governance Committee, develops a new set of award criteria that reflects the career paths of those in the professional and support services.
  • The Charter rebrands as Athena Swan (as opposed to ‘Athena SWAN’) to reflect the expansion beyond STEMM subjects.



  • The current system of institutional and departmental awards is maintained. However, the scope of departmental awards broadens to enable cognate departments to make joint applications, and other groups (e.g. schools, faculties or colleges where there is a degree of cultural homogeneity) to apply as a single unit. Similarly, PTO directorates will be permitted to make joint applications.
  • Institutional awards focus on institutional policy and practice; the action plan should be designed to bring about institution-wide benefits and to spread good practice.
  • Departmental awards focus on i) the implementation of institutional policy at departmental level, ii) departmental policies/practices and iii) culture and leadership.

Award Structure:

  • The current system of Bronze, Silver and Gold awards is maintained for institutional and departmental awards.
  • Applicants seeking a Silver award for the first time must currently hold a Bronze award to enable progress against the action plan to be evaluated; similarly, applicants seeking Gold awards must hold a Silver award.
  • Awards are held for a maximum of five years, commencing from the date of the award letter, not the date of the application. Existing awards are extended to five years from the date of the award letter with immediate effect.
  • Institutions and departments wishing to progress to the next level of award are permitted to apply at any stage during the tenure of their award.
  • The requirement for institutions to hold departmental silver or gold awards before applying for an institutional silver or gold award is abolished.

Application Process:

Support for applicants

The level of support provided by Advance HE to applicants is increased, in particular for first- time applicants. Such support could include webinars providing advice on how to apply for an Athena SWAN award, on-line question and answer sessions, and access to exemplar applications (successful and unsuccessful) for each award level via the web. The effectiveness of the support provided will be monitored by anonymised feedback and reviewed annually by the Governance Committee.


Introduction of an on online system with a standardised application form

Advance HE (a) develops an on-line application process with access via a dedicated portal and (b) introduces the new application forms designed by the Steering Group to ensure a standardised approach to the inclusion of data, and a reduction of issues related to formatting and to reflect the different requirements for new awards and renewals. A separate set of forms will be developed for research institutes.


Reducing the data burden

Advance HE and JISC create an on-line data resource accessed via the portal described above, enabling institutions to download, cut and analyse EDI data collected centrally by HESA, OfS, UCAS and SFC. With the exception of data on applications for jobs and promotion which should be limited to application numbers and final outcomes, all data which are mandatory for the application are downloaded from this source, thus reducing the burden on applicants and enabling benchmarking where appropriate. Mandatory data requirements:

  • Numbers of students by gender at foundation, UG, PGT and PGR level.
  • Degree attainment and completion rates by gender.
  • Numbers of academic staff by grade, contract function (teaching and research, teaching only, research only) and gender. At institution level, for PTO posts too (excepting contract function).
  • Numbers of academic staff by grade, contract type (fixed-term, open-ended, zero-hours) and gender. At institution level, for PTO posts too.
  • Applications and appointments made in recruitment to academic and research posts, by grade and gender.
  • Applications and success rates for academic and research staff promotion, by grade and gender.

Applicants include relevant additional internal data to support their action plans and to demonstrate progress against previous plans.


Evaluation Institutional/Departmental Culture

Departmental applicants are required to consider departmental culture in their application and to include the data from a standardised sector-wide culture survey conducted amongst their constituents.


Simplifying the renewal process

Submission of Applications

There are six deadlines for applications per year.

Applicants normally hear the outcome of their applications within two months of submission.

















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