Swiss to balance gender scales

September 7, 2001

Switzerland is pouring millions of francs into tackling the gender imbalance in universities.

The Swiss confederation has earmarked SFr16 million (£6.5 million) for general universities and SFr10 million for technical universities.

Three measures are being taken that will affect universities in the French, Italian and German-speaking cantons:

  • SFr1.35 million will be distributed according to the number of newly employed female professors at individual universities
  • Funding will be provided for additional childcare places to meet the needs of students and university staff
  • Funding will be given for a mentoring policy, with an emphasis on women in science and technology.

The Swiss Federal Office for Education and Science (SFOES) said that the changes were a response to the inadequate representation of women at the higher levels of the university structure.

Even though females make up 43 per cent of the student population, only about 7 per cent are employed as professors, placing Switzerland below the 10 per cent average for the Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development.

Elisabeth Bronfen, professor of English at the University of Zurich, said:

"The project for helping women in the academy is crucial since the number of female students and female professors is still staggeringly unequal."

The SFOES is implementing the action plan at technical universities. It said that the underrepresentation of women in research and teaching was a waste of educational, economic and social resources.

The funding will be ploughed into projects that promote "favourable conditions" for females studying information technology and business and economics, and into motivating women to study technology.

Cantonal universities are implementing mentoring programmes that cater for female postgraduates pursuing an academic career. An initiative involving 50 mentees in the German-speaking cantons, for example, began in January 2001 at the University of Berne and will support participants on an individual and group basis until October 2002.

The University of Lucerne is sponsoring online "e-mentoring" and the University of Zurich plans to set up a "democratic" mentoring process with specialist workshops run by the mentees.

Other initiatives include the Interdisciplinary Centre for Women's and Gender Studies, which opened at the University of Berne in January. It aims to "improve the coordination and visibility of existing activities in the fields of women's and gender studies".

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