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Gender debate flares up over research funding earmarked for women

It is called the YDUN. A one-off programme that in 2014 awarded DKK 110 million in grants to women researchers. But is it worthwhile? And is it fair?

The University of Copenhagen has in recent years been no stranger to debates over women in academia and gender quotas.

Only recently a controversial rule was approved for hiring new professors at the University of Copenhagen: There must be at least one candidate of each gender among applicants for a new job position. If not the job will not be filled. In everyday parlance and in practice it has been referrred to as a ‘no woman, no job’ rule, as it is designed to foster more female candidates in male-dominated fields.

The latest controversy is not about gender quotas, but about research funding explicitly targeted women. The YDUN project was a one-off programme that in 2014, awarded DKK 110 million in grants for women researchers.

Systematic disadvantage

Darach Watson and Jens Hjorth of the University of Copenhagen do not defend the YDUN programme as such, but show data that they say proves that the advantage given to women through YDUN, was in fact smaller than the systematic disadvantage that they suffer in the allocation of funding through other programmes through recent years.

Read their comment Danish gender equity programme founders while men benefit.

No disadvantage, and not right

Hans Bonde also of the University of Copenhagen and Jens Ravnkilde, a lawyer and academic, do not agree. Darach Watson and Jens Hjorth’s analysis is wrong, they say. The YDUN programme is in contravention of Danish and EU legislation, they say, and favouring women as a group is morally flawed.

Read their comment There is no gender inequality among Danish researchers.

Research funding disadvantage, a mirror of society

In a response to them, Watson and Hjorth argue that their argued research funding discrepancy is much like society. Just like society, men dominate most senior posts, and that academia should, in fact, go first and strive for genuine meritocracy.

Read their comment A genuine meritocracy supports qualified women.

Men left out = lowered level of competition

Hans Bonde counters Watson and Hjorth’s arguments in his response.

It is common sense, he says, to assume that there was less research talent to be found among the hundreds of women who only applied because they knew that their chances had drastically improved the moment men were left out, compared to the talent found among the hundreds of men who failed to apply because they predicted, correctly as it turned out, that they would get nothing, however talented.

Read his comment YDUN lowered the level of competition.

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