Cracks appear in Canada's doctoral glass ceiling

March 10, 2011

Women have the edge over men when it comes to enrolling on undergraduate and master's programmes in Canada - but may be hitting a glass ceiling at the doctoral level.

New figures show that while women account for more than half of all enrolments at Canadian higher education institutions and nearly 60 per cent of undergraduate enrolments, the gender divide is reversed at the doctoral level.

However, the statistics, detailed in Doctoral Students and University Teaching Staff, a report released last week by Statistics Canada, suggest that while the disparity is still sizeable, matters have improved considerably over the past 15 years.

Male students awarded doctorates accounted for nearly two-thirds of the total in 1993-94, but by 2008, women accounted for 44 per cent of all doctoral degrees.

Overall, the number of doctorates granted in Canada has grown considerably in recent years.

Between 1993 and 2003, the number awarded annually rose slightly from 3,357 to 3,864. But between 2003 and 2008, the figure shot up to 5,421.

Another major gender disparity at Canadian universities concerns the proportion of full-time university teaching staff who possess doctorates - women account for only 33 per cent.

However, the Statistics Canada report shows that even this marks a significant improvement on the situation 30 years ago, when men made up 90 per cent of university staff with doctorates.

And the study contains evidence that the imbalance should continue to shift in the coming years.

According to data from Statistics Canada's Survey of Earned Doctorates, half the female students awarded a doctorate in 2007-08 stated an intention to work in higher education. By contrast, this ambition was shared by only one-third of their male counterparts.

sarah.cunnane@tsleducation.com.

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