New figures from Hefce reveal that almost half of all teaching academics are now female. Anna Fazackerley and Letitia Hughes report
The number of female academics in English universities is rising, as more men turn their backs on lecturing, new research indicates.
A report on the university workforce in England, published this week by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, reveals that the proportion of female lecturers rose from 34 per cent in 1995-96 to 46 per cent in 2004-05.
The proportion of women in top jobs also rose markedly during this period, although the numbers remain strikingly low. In 2004-05 28 per cent of senior lecturers and researchers were female, and 14 per cent of professors.
Meanwhile, the number of male lecturers dropped dramatically from about 22,000 to below 18,000. Hefce has found that the probability of a male lecturer leaving increases with age. His probability of getting a promotion decreases as he gets older.
Carol Dyhouse, a research professor at Sussex and an expert on gender in education, said: "It is good to see that the numbers of women are going up.
One would hope that that would be the case, given that women now outnumber men as students."
But she said: "One shouldn't be too complacent as it could well be argued that, as the status of teaching goes down and the rewards become less obvious than in other professions, one would expect men to desert and more women to join."
Sally Hunt, joint general secretary of the University and College Union, said: "Fair, open and transparent recruitment and promotion procedures for senior jobs are in everyone's interests, not just women."
She added: "Institutions must act to ensure equality of opportunity at every point so that women who are at the start of their academic careers will face fewer obstacles getting to the top than those who came before them. Women want equality now, rather than to wait until their daughters and granddaughters start work."
Kelly Coates, a lecturer in teaching and learning in higher education at the Institute of Education, said that men were probably leaving in search of a bigger pay cheque.
She said: "Academia is becoming a less attractive proposition because of the (low) pay levels and increasing hours."
But the report shows that there is still considerable gender-balance variation across the disciplines.
Younger women are beginning to dominate the life sciences: in 2004-05 there were 311 female biology lecturers under 35 compared with 300 males, and there were 51 female lecturers under 35 in veterinary and agricultural sciences compared with 23 men.
However, the physical sciences and engineering continue to be dominated by men. In 2004-05, only 81 female lecturers under 35 worked in engineering departments, compared with 8 men of the same age. There were 19 young female lecturers in physics and 74 young males.
Women continue to be paid less than men. The mean salary for female academics at this time was about £38,000, while the average for male academics was nearly £43,000.
The report also applauds the sector for improving the representation of ethnic minorities. The number of professors from ethnic minority groups increased by 265 per cent between 1995-96 and 2004-05, and the number of ethnic-minority senior lecturers and researchers rose by 144 per cent.
According to Hefce, the growth in ethnic minority representation, as with that of female academics, happened from a low starting point. The report says: "We do not know how much of the increase might be due to rising numbers of black people (including women) attending university in the past three decades, rather than positive action by employers."
But one stakeholder told Hefce that heads of institutions were now much more likely to ask how they could address equal opportunity issues rather than why they should.
Flexible and friendly
Sarah Pearson, a principal research fellow in social policy at the Centre for Regional, Economic and Social Research at Sheffield Hallam University, believes her department may be more attractive to women than men. The centre has a broadly 50:50 women-to-men mix, according to Ms Pearson, who feels she has never been disadvantaged as a woman.
It offers a "relatively flexible working environment and is reasonably family friendly", she said.
Ms Pearson works a four-day week and reports "no negative feedback" from colleagues, either male or female. And, while a number of women in the office also work part time, she was not aware of any male colleagues who did so.
Although the number of women is high in her department, she says another issue is that positions at senior staff level are still predominantly occupied by men.
"Sometimes, I've felt a little bit on my own being in a middle management position," she said. Ms Pearson compares it to an old boy network.
"Having fewer women in academia, historically, means that it has been more difficult to create the sense of collegiality that male colleagues might have," she said.
"With more women now in academia, these networks are starting to build. You would hope that this would be an easier and more favourable environment for women to pursue academic careers."
Ms Pearson remains positive and does not see her gender as a problem. She said she was likely to try for promotion in future.