The future's female

June 25, 2004

Sooner or later, the female majority on UK undergraduate courses was bound to have an impact on the recruitment of academics, but today's figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency suggest that the shift is more significant than anyone had predicted.

Male domination of academic life has been so complete for so long that equal numbers remain a long way off - especially at senior levels - but a historic shift appears to be under way.

The increase in the number of female senior lecturers was almost twice as large as among men, and even in the professoriat there were more women appointed than men.

Equality campaigners are understandably cautious lest complacency should halt progress when it is only just beginning.

But the transformation in medical schools shows how quickly the balance can tilt: the British Medical Association estimates that on current trends women doctors will outnumber men within eight years.

There is a danger, as the unions claim, that equality will be achieved by turning academic life into a low-paid occupation shunned by men, but that is a different battle to be fought by and for both sexes.

Poor salaries may be contributing to the current trend, but it is one that can be detected throughout the public sector.

The end, if not the means, is welcome.

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