Women now outnumber men among Australian postgraduate students and are rapidly approaching numerical equality on higher degree courses obtained through research and coursework.
Figures from the Higher Education Council show that the number of women studying for higher degrees almost doubled in the five years to 1994, whereas for men the rise was 60 per cent.
Last year, ,300 women were taking a PhD or masters', as were 33,000 men. But the gap is narrowing every year as female enrolments far exceed those of males.
In 1987, the total number of women enrolled at university was greater than that of men for the first time. But it was not until two years ago that women achieved dominance among postgraduates as well - and then it was because they were concentrated in diploma and certificate courses.
Since 1990 the year-by-year growth in higher degree enrolments has slowed because, with more jobs available, fewer graduates are "sheltering" on campus. Yet the rate of increase in female numbers has continued.
Between 1993 and 1994, male higher degree enrolments rose by 7 per cent, compared with almost 11 per cent for females.
The rise in the number of women graduating with PhDs and masters' degrees is certain to affect the position of female academics whom males have long outnumbered.
Women comprise only about 10 per cent of academics occupying posts above senior lecturer and one in five of those holding senior lecturing posts. Among lecturers, women occupy 40 per cent of the positions yet they comprise more than half of all tutors and contract and sessional staff.
While the increasing flow of young women with PhDs will boost their chances of finding jobs in academe, changing entrenched attitudes among university administrators could delay achievement of true gender equality.
A recent investigation by the National Tertiary Education Union found that men have disproportionate access to continuing employment while women are concentrated in casual jobs.
Nearly half of all female academics are in casual or sessional work, a report of the study says; in contrast, nearly half the males have tenured positions. The union says the findings will be critical to enterprise bargaining claims about pay equity and the regulation of casual and fixed-term employment.