South Asian women ‘missing out on university leadership roles’

Women in higher education in South Asia are not being identified and prepared for leadership roles in universities, a new report suggests

February 10, 2015

The British Council-commissioned research, which was based on six countries across South Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka), has found that many women academics in the region are reluctant to aim for senior leadership and perceive it as an unattractive career option.

The report, Women in Higher Education Leadership in South Asia: Rejection, Refusal, Reluctance, Revisioning, by Louise Morley and Barbara Crossouar, from the Centre of Higher Education and Equity research at the University of Sussex, found that there are complex and multi-dimensional barriers to women taking up leadership roles.

These range from social, cultural and economic barriers in each country, the organisational culture in universities, discrimination in recruitment and selection, and unequal power relations.

Another recent report has also suggested that a rise in female educational enrolment in South Asia is not leading to careers in research, to the long-term detriment of the region.

According to Defined by Absence: Women and Research in South Asia, prepared by the Economist Intelligence Unit on behalf of the British Council, there are not enough women taking up careers in research in the region, and there are inequalities in the hiring process and unfavourable workplace practices.

The report states that “the rise in female higher education participation has been driven by rising incomes, the creation of a rapidly growing labour market for the higher skilled and gradually changing attitudes regarding women in the workforce”.

“Higher education has become both more affordable and often a pre-requisite to a region’s competitive labour markets. However, female enrolment in postgraduate degree programmes has not risen as rapidly, and women as researchers are notably missing.”

The report examines the barriers that women researchers face in South Asia, and it urges education institutions to adopt changes in work practices and support mechanisms designed to allow women to commit to a career in research beyond PhD level.

Strong leadership is also recommended to push institutions to act as there is lack of influential voices at the highest level.

Rob Lynes, director of British Council India, said: “To create long-term, sustainable and mutually beneficial education links with South Asia, it is critical for the UK to understand the context in which South Asia operates.

“Gender and equality opportunity is an important area. We welcome the delegates from across the region and hope this dialogue helps them build links between countries in the region and with the UK.”

Findings from both research reports will be shared and discussed at the Global Education Dialogue on Women and Leadership, being hosted by the British Council on 10 and 11 February in Delhi.

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