Who Runs Our Higher Education?

A recent report published in the Observer revealed the absence of women in senior roles in UK higher education, with figures showing only 14.2% of Vice Chancellors are female. 

Another report published by the UCU suggested one in five professors are women (20.5%), despite the fact they make up almost half (47.3%) of the non-professorial academic workforce.

Living in the UK, in the 21st century, it is easy to assume that we live in a progressive society where sexism is almost combatted and there are equal opportunities for most… However, the issue of gender imbalance in a workplace is still is as prevalent as ever and although we now openly talk about sexism and women’s rights, not enough change is taking place around us. Sadly, this is particularly true for the higher education sector.

And this is not only a UK picture. In Australia, for example, research shows that despite policy reforms, inequity in terms of pay and status continues to be a problem, with few women academics employed in senior positions. It is particularly concerning that some of the fastest growing higher education systems have the poorest records on gender parity. Whilst China is promising to be the largest higher education system with some 37 million students by 2020 (UniversityWorldNews), female leaders are a rare breed in their traditionally male-dominated society. The most famous women in Chinese history – the Empress Dowager Cixi and Jiang Qing, wife of Mao Zedong – were the partners of powerful men.

Gender gap in leadership in the 21st century by Leading Women:


At the British Council’s Going Global conference in Dubai in 2013, a manifesto calling for university rankings to take the gender gap into account was discussed by an international grouping of senior women. It is part of a range of measures demanded to redress the poor representation of women in academic leadership and research in many countries including the UK.

I feel this is an important challenge to address and a conversation to contribute to. We are in discussions of how best to do that and fully understand the opportunity we have to affect this.


Here are some suggestions from Dr Anamaria Segesten, a political scientist and an assistant professor:
– Explicit targets to improve gender balance and action plans to reach them must be included in the overarching gender strategy of scientific institutions. Gender issues must be an integral part of internal and external evaluation of institutions.
– Institutions should seek to improve the quality of their leadership by creating awareness, understanding, and appreciation of different management styles. This can be achieved through training, self-reflection, and various feedback mechanisms.
– Institutions should promote gender diversity of research teams through a variety of incentives and through transparency in hiring. Key decision-making committees should also be gender diverse.
– As part of equality initiatives that shape institutional strategy, mentoring can help to address the gender imbalances that exist within the higher education sector.

(You can read more here: http://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/blog/2011/oct/12/women-in-research-equality)

Together, we ought to make this conversation a global one.

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