Women will soon outnumber men at lecturer level, but professorial posts still elude them. Tony Tysome reports.
Female lecturers will outnumber their male counterparts at UK universities in just two years if present higher education recruitment trends continue, an analysis of new figures has revealed.
But it will take women 50 years to catch and begin to overtake men at professorial level, according to projections based on the latest staff data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency.
The analysis by John Pratt, emeritus professor of institutional studies at the University of East London, also shows that, on present trends, it will be about 15 years before women form a majority of full-time academics overall.
Hesa data on full-time academic staff for 2005-06 confirm the trend of a rising proportion of women in the academic workforce, which can be traced back over a six-year period.
Based on the figures, Professor Pratt projects that by 2009 there will be more than 18,000 female full-time lecturers, excluding researchers and senior lecturers, but fewer than 17,000 males.
Analysis of the figures shows that while the number of full-time female lecturers has been rising by about 0.6 per cent a year since 2000-01, the number of men at the same level has been declining by almost 4 per cent annually.
At professorial level, the average annual increase over the past six years in the number of women is above 10 per cent, compared with 3.68 per cent for men.
Despite this growth rate, women will still need more than half a century to reach parity, given that 84 per cent (11,620) of the UK's professors are currently men.
Professor Pratt's analysis shows that since 2000-01 the total number of full-time female academics has grown at an average annual rate of 4.26 per cent, while for men the increase is less than 1 per cent.
He said: "The changes are so fast that, short of saying 'men need not apply', institutions are making progress as quickly as they could reasonably be expected to.
"However, the glass ceiling effect is still evident. Even if institutions stopped appointing male professors, it would be 15 years before there were as many female professors as males because the starting point was so low."
The findings have been welcomed by university administrators, female academics and union leaders.