Learning from experiences of GEP implementation in Catalan universities

By Angelina Kussy (NOTUS) 

In the first half of November 2021, we had the pleasure to hold an online study visit on gender equality policies in two large and public universities in Catalonia (Spain): Rovira i Virgili University (URV) and Polytechnic University of Catalonia (UPC).

The objectives of this study visit were to know more in-depth the experiences of these universities, both with long-standing background on implementing gender equality plans (GEPs) and discuss inputs for further development of GEPs in the TARGET universities and other research performing organisations. Topics for discussion were:
– Evolution of their GEPs and main policies developed by Equality Units
– Gender equality policies in research team composition and research content
– Gender equality policies in teaching

Legal context 

Gender equality policy advancement in Catalan universities have benefited from a favourable legal framework:

  • The approval in 2007 of an equality law between men and women that included an article on the need to implement gender equality plans in large organizations. In fact, gender experts from the Gender, Race, Ethnicity and Class (GREC) research group at the URV, together with other organizations and universities, were key in the development and design of the law. 
  • Also, it is important to mention that the Catalan Agency for University Quality Assurance Agency (AQU) created in 2020 a pioneering measure in Europe with the creation of a general framework for incorporating the gender perspective in higher education teaching. It has to be applied in all degree programs at Catalan universities in assessment, monitoring, modification and accreditation. The gender perspective has to be included in teaching in all the curricula: in competences, learning results, methodology, specific subjects, etc. 

Institutional setting

Both universities approved their first GEPs in 2007 and are now implementing their third (URV) and fourth (UPC) GEP. Also, in both universities rectorate support to gender equality has been relevant:

  • In URV rectorate support started in 2006, with the team including a gender expert from the GREC. Since then, each rectorate team has been compromised to gender equality and included gender equality monitoring in their annual report.
  • As a recent event, in 2019 in the UPC they created the figure of Vice-Rectorate for Social Responsibility and Equality, which has meant a greater focus to gender equality policies, including higher resources and budget for equality policies. 

URV and UPC have an Equality Unit, an office implementing policies (despite a tight budget and staff), and a Gender Equality Commission with representatives of different university sectors that acts as an advisory and monitoring body. The UPC might face more barriers due to its decentralised structure, with faculties’ and schools’ Deans having significant autonomy and being separated geographically. Here the creation of a gender equality responsible for each centre is an important institutional element of both UPC and URV to improve coordination and implementation. 

In order to gain rectorate’s support, it has been crucial framing gender equality: 
• as a matter of university and research excellence
• and as a condition to improve research and teaching quality indicators.

Data monitoring: a fundamental step to raise awareness and tackle resistances

Both universities have shown how relevant using a reflexive approach is to advance structural change in universities. Here, data monitoring has been central:

  • Data monitoring has been an important first step in the process to tackle resistance and raise awareness. Equality Units in both universities track the evolution of annual sex-disaggregated data, including gender disparities in different professorship levels. 
  • Despite some initial resistances by some staff to accept results of the first reports, annual data has gained more relevance and acceptance through the years. Even more, the compromise of both universities with SDGs helps them to have more indicators on equality issues. 
  • In 2021 both universities still have a majority of men in Grade A positions (Full professors). Nevertheless, there has been significant progress since their first GEPs, with improvements in gender balance in this area, as well as in top-management positions. For instance, if in 2020 29% UPCs Vice-Rectorates were women, in 2021’s elections it reached 50%. 

Gender in research


  • ConFund program, with dedicated resources for PhD projects on gender studies. 
  • Promotion of underrepresented groups in hiring and gender balance in supervisory bodies and committees. 
  • Seminars to promote introduction of the gender perspective in PhDs, with 100 participants in 2020. 
  • Since 2019 gender criteria represents a 10% of the total evaluation when assigning funds to research groups.


  • Support researchers to present proposals taking into account the gender dimension, which is an important aspect in international calls:
    • generate gender-sensitive ideas for research proposals, 
    • choose a gender-sensitive methodology, 
    • collect gender-sensitive data and analyse and report data in a gender-sensitive way, 
    • use gender-neutral languages and images, 
    • and disseminate results in a gender-sensitive way.

Gender in teaching

The new framework created by AQU (see above) has motivated the introduction of transversal gender competencies in Catalan universities’ curricula, but URV and UPC have taken further innovations in this issue.


  • Inclusion of gender equality training as a transversal competency that has to be evaluated at least two times in mandatory subjects. 
  • The Equality Unit is working on gender equality modules for specific gender equality content related to subjects’ topics. 
  • A challenge here is the lack of training of teachers. Faculties with experts on gender studies have less difficulties, a type of profile that technical schools lack.
  • In 2020 the Equality Unit started a transversal gender equality course called “Gender, Science and Social Change” that Faculties can adopt as an optional course. Students can choose how many modules to do to adapt the course to their specific studies.


The AQU framework motivated the creation of the pilot project GiD (gender in teaching) in 2018, with the aim to create contents and actions to introduce the gender dimension in teaching.  Some features and results of the project were:

  • Cross-cutting and bottom-up approach
  • Aims: acquire know-how, provide specific instructions, disseminate the experience and gent institutional support
  • Initial surveys for students indicated among girls a relatively higher perception of gender bias in teaching.
  • The pilot included 41 volunteer teaching with 40% male participants 
  • Results: creation of a UPC guide with 40 actions in four levels: “fundamental actions”, “easy to apply actions”, “advanced actions”, and “expertise actions”.
  • Institutional commitment has been a key aspect for its success.
  • Future development once the project finished depends on the creation of a new framework.