Germany boosts cause of women

December 19, 2003

Germany has revitalised an equal opportunity programme for female academics with an injection of €92 million (£65 million) over the next three years.

Wolf-Michael Catenhusen, state secretary of the federal education and research ministry, believes that German universities must put more women into professorships and executive positions.

Three-quarters of the money will be spent on women qualifying to become professors through the "H abilitation " (second dissertation), as well as to finance doctoral candidates.

The rest will be devoted to promoting women's and gender studies at German universities and increasing the number of women students taking science and technical degrees, many of which are offered by Fachhochschulen (polytechnics) and universities of technology.

Only 11 per cent of German professors are women, compared with 18 per cent in Finland, and 17 per cent in Portugal. The Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development average for general professorships is about 10 per cent.

In Germany, women professors employed at the very top of the profession, with the highest salaries and cast-iron tenure, total 8 per cent.

"Men compete more for professorial positions in Germany because they are so highly paid and prestigious, unlike Turkey and Spain where they have less social status, so there are more women doing the job," said Brigitte Mühlenbruch, director of the ministry-funded Centre of Excellence Women and Science (CEWS) at the University of Bonn.

She added: "Germany really needs to catch up - we are spending so much money on promoting the advancement of women in tertiary education, but we are still behind other European countries.

"The 'critical mass' of women professors needs to be increased until it starts to regulate itself automatically - that means more women in the system will ensure less gender discrimination."

The €30 million annual budget for equal opportunity is to be considered an "obligation" for government and universities, according to Dr Mühlenbruch and Mr Catenhusen.

"Now Länder (states) and universities will be under an obligation [to employ more women]," Mr Catenhusen said.

The comparatively large budget for this anti-discrimination policy is being shared by the federal government and the Lander, while universities receiving grants will be required to account for how they spend the money.

Dr Mühlenbruch said rectors and university administrators were under pressure to increase the number of female professors and doctoral students but were not being forced to introduce a quota for women academics.

A governmental quota remains controversial in Germany. The German Association of Tertiary Institutions said its 18,500 academic members were opposed to a quota for women academics.

Its spokesman, Kristijan Domiter, said: "A quota would discriminate against men and universities would not be able to choose the better candidate.

However, we realise financial aid cannot solve the biggest obstacle for women - combining family life and an academic career."

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