Gender tables turned in key Australian university posts

January 29, 1999

A change that will shatter male domination of Australian universities forever has occurred over the past ten years.

The lonely female pioneers who made their mark in the leading professions in the 1970s and 1980s are being joined by a tidal wave of female graduates in law, medicine, accounting, engineering and other fields.

Among graduates under 25, women now comprise the majority of accountants, doctors, teachers, lawyers - and even those with business and administration degrees. Only in architecture, computer science and especially engineering are women still in the minority. But here, too, change is on the way.

A decade ago, for the first time in Australia's history, there were more tertiary qualified women than men in the 20 to 24 age group. By the early 1990s, women were the majority in the 25 to 34- year-old category and this year they will have extended that dominance to include everyone up to the age of 44.

In 1981, women made up just 35 per cent of legally qualified Australians between the ages of 20 and 24; ten years on they were in the majority for the first time.

Women have made spectacular progress in accounting, business and administration, veterinary science, dentistry and medicine.

Studies by Monash University sociologist Bob Birrell and colleagues at the university's Centre for Population and Urban Research reveal that as well as outnumbering and outperforming males at university, women are also advancing beyond them in obtaining key professional credentials.

Women are also gaining access to Australia's top universities at much greater rates than their men. Of the major capital city institutions, women comprise well over half the first years.

"Graduation from these institutions opens a pathway to the nation's social, economic and political elite," Dr Birrell said.

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