Deepening the European Research Area through gender equality

On 8 July, our President Rik Van de Walle gave an invited contribution to the GENDERACTION conference organised under the auspices of the Slovenian Presidency of the Council of the EU.
12th July 2021
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Dear Chloe, thank you for giving me the floor. Thank you also to Marcela, the Genderaction team and the Slovenian Presidency for the invitation and for organising this important event.

The topics of Equality, Diversity and Inclusion (EDI) are high on my agenda, both as Rector of Ghent University and as President of CESAER. In my role as President of CESAER, I have personally committed to contributing to the European Research Area (ERA) and therefore also to the topic of today, which is an integral part of the ERA.

There is strong and consistent evidence (think of the She Figures from the European Commission) that gender inequality is a long-standing challenge, particularly at universities of science and technology.

That is why we as an association in 2013 reaffirmed our commitments. We have carried out and published white papers and Equality Surveys in 2014 and 2018, including data and sharing best practices.

We have also adopted a Declaration on EDI in 2019 with concrete pledges. This Declaration is publicly available on our website and we will publicly report on these achievements in 2024.

To support our Members in achieving the pledges, our Task Force Human Resources and our network of EDI Liaisons are organising a range of activities and efforts.

Importantly, and what I feel sometimes is lost in these discussions, is the reason why we put such a strong focus on EDI at Ghent University and at CESAER.

There is a persistent misconception that EDI is something you do on the side of your other activities, as a bonus if you have additional time and resources.

This is, of course, incorrect.

EDI is an enabler, a foundation towards achieving the highest quality in all of our research, education and innovation activities. I am therefore proud that our General Assembly earlier this year adopted ´safeguarding equality, diversity and inclusion´ as one of our six strategic principles underpinning all our efforts.

Coming back to the starting point around current gender equality priorities in relation to the new ERA I wish to finish with an invitation: while gender equality is high on our agendas,and rightfully so! - I invite all of us to broaden our scope, whenever possible, to the full spectrum of EDI.


Earlier we discussed activities and efforts ongoing in our association, e.g. surveys, white papers, our Declaration and workshops. Here I want to highlight the importance of leadership, both inside and outside the university, to advance EDI.

Inside the university we must address and live values as foundational for promoting EDI. This includes safeguarding research integrity, academic freedom and institutional autonomy as laid down in the Magna Charta Universitatum (MCU). In light of the changing context in which universities operate - think of despotism and authoritarianism within the EU and beyond - this is not a trivial thing.

We from Ghent University just signed the new 2020 version of the MCU and I encourage all universities which have not done so to do so. Essentially, this set of values lays the foundations for university leadership to come into action, and the defense of these very values by other societal players is essential for universities to assume their role in society.

The point really is that we must address and live these values, especially in light of the troubling developments in which EDI has come under attack within the EU and beyond.

To do this, sustainable support and leadership outside the university is also needed. For example, to effectively support EDI universities depend on a range of professional staff and must be able to flexibly offer diverse and long-term career options to its talent in this area. Take the example of science management, which includes professional support to design and support the implementation of gender equality plans. Too often today, universities do not have the sustainable funding needed for long-term support of talent in this area, but are instead often forced to cobble together this support in ad hoc ways. We were therefore very pleased that gender and diversity was mentioned in the Vision 2030 report as part of the Transformation Modules and that there is a willingness from the Commission to support ERA stakeholders with this.

To summarise, in addition to ongoing activities around developing and sharing best practices, leadership in the university must address and live values with the MCU as a key reference point.

Leadership outside the university is needed to support these values, and to provide the conditions and sustainable funding levels needed to ensure long-term support for talent in all aspects of what universities do, including supporting and advancing EDI.

Thank you for your attention.

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