A Dutch university is appointing only female academic staff for at least the next 18 months to improve its gender balance.

Eindhoven University of Technology, located in an area known for its hi-tech business, has the Netherlands' lowest proportion of women in its academic workforce.

After years of missing targets, the university has taken what it calls a "bold" move. A new programme, the Irene Curie Fellowship, named after the daughter of Marie Curie, the celebrated scientist, has been established to appoint only female professors, associate and assistant professors.

"Our objectives to increase the number of women are years old, and we are not getting there," said Ivo Jongsma, a science information officer.

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"It's difficult to pinpoint the specific reason but we are convinced that we have this implicit gender bias, and even women who are hiring think a man will do the job better."

Frank Baaijens, the university's rector, is also convinced that "a diverse workforce performs better" and so for the next 18 months, all available jobs will be allocated to the Irene Curie programme for female applicants.

The scheme will run for five years, and positions for the first six months will be advertised from next month.

At present, only 16 per cent of full professors, 15 per cent of associate professors and 29 per cent of assistant professors are women. The university is aiming for at least 35 per cent.

Liza Mugge, the director of the Amsterdam Research Centre for Gender and Sexuality, praised the programme but said it could be more ambitious for associate professor ranks.

Devika Partiman, the founder of the Vote for a Woman campaign, said: "They are finally admitting that the old ways don't work to get enough balance and give women enough of a chance. And they think it's important enough to make this drastic step."

- Telegraph Group Ltd