Women-only universities ‘fill inclusion gaps’ left elsewhere

But co-author of Unesco report says need for them could wane with better inclusion elsewhere 

April 27, 2022
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Women-only universities across the world still help to make up for “gaps” left by gender discrimination in different societies but better inclusion for women in co-educational institutions would eventually make them less necessary.

That is according to the co-author of a new report from the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation on gender equality that includes a chapter on the role played by the private sector in providing single-sex colleges and universities in the developed and developing world.

According to the report, such institutions play an “ambiguous role” in achieving gender equality but there are examples of how they have increased women’s “access and opportunities” despite being a “segregated option”.

Depending on the national context, they may give access to students who otherwise would not have continued into higher education; offer courses and subjects that might not be available elsewhere; promote leadership and personal development; and have less sexism and gender-based harassment, the report says.

For instance, the report also points to evidence that women’s colleges and universities can help boost the number of female graduates in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM) and, subsequently, those then going on to postgraduate studies in such disciplines.

Educators have even “looked to them for ideas about how to improve women’s participation and experience in STEM fields at co-educational universities” because of their success in this area, it says.

However, the report also stresses that there is also plenty of criticism that single-sex institutions “may reinforce gender stereotypes and cultivate a gendered status quo”.

Research has highlighted how this can happen in both developed systems such as the US and developing systems with large numbers of single-sex institutions like India.

Anna d’Addio, co-author and senior policy officer of Unesco’s Global Education Monitoring Report, said that overall the findings emphasised how privately run women-only institutions tended to be established because of a lack of inclusion elsewhere.

This inclusion was not necessarily about “sitting together in the same classroom” with male students but about inclusive learning so that women had the same educational opportunities and did not encounter discrimination, she added.

“The benefits of [women-only universities] are related to the fact of having a more inclusive environment, a more inclusive pedagogy, more inclusive curricula and this is a message that matters for all countries,” Dr d’Addio said.

“If you have countries that make education more inclusive for everyone this means the need for this kind of institution will decrease. But for the moment they fill gaps that are still there.”

simon.baker@timeshighereducation.com

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