Gender leadership gap tackled by manifesto

A document that aims to bridge the gender leadership gap in higher education worldwide has been officially launched at an international conference.

March 9, 2013

Manifesto for Change, produced by the Action for Women in Higher Education Leadership group, calls for the number of women in senior academic positions to help determine a university’s global ranking.

It also wants more data on the gender imbalance among university leaders and professorships held by women to force higher education institutions to address the issue.

The group is also calling for research funders to monitor the number of grant applications made by women, and their success rates, while it is also asking for more data on the gender bias of editorial boards at peer-reviewed journals.

Speaking at Going Global 2013, the British Council’s conference for international higher education leaders in Dubai, which took place between 4 to 6 March, Louise Morley, director of the Centre for Higher Education and Equity Research at the University of Sussex, said more transparency over the male-dominated establishment was needed to show who were the “gatekeepers of knowledge”.

“The rules of the game need to be decoded, so women know how to play them,” she said.

“We have to stop assuming that knowledge is produced naturally – knowledge is created by power relations.

“Global higher education is characterised as innovative and hyper-modernism, but no-one points out that it is underpinned by the archaism of academia’s male-dominated leadership.

“Publishing this data is the only way to affect vice-chancellors as these rankings are one of the things they care about.”

Professor Morley said the results of a British Council study had found the lack of women vice-chancellors was a problem across the world, with low numbers of female university heads in many countries in East Asia.

There was no female vice-chancellor at any of Hong Kong’s eight universities, while there was only two women vice-chancellors at Japan’s 86 public universities, of which one headed a women-only institution.

Only 14 per cent of the UK’s vice-chancellors were women, while the figure stood at 18 per cent for Australia, three per cent in India and 7 per cent in Turkey.

However, 18 per cent of Malaysia’s university leaders were women – a result of a state policy to achieve 30 per cent female representation at senior level jobs in the public sector.

Professor Morley also pointed out that the representation of women at the level of professor also varied hugely between institutions.

At Sussex, 26 per cent of professors were women, but at the University of Oxford only 9 per cent were women, she said.

She added she was not calling for preferential treatment for women, but for more data on women’s positions within academia.

 “If you ask for any type of social justice, it is always seen as a dilution of excellence,” she said.

“Equality and quality should not be pitted against each other – they do not operation in opposition.”

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