Women may be finding it harder than men to gain professorships because they are less likely to aim for the most prestigious postgraduate qualifications, a Westminster University study suggests.
Men predominate in taking research degrees at a ratio of 60:40 and women predominate on the less-regarded postgraduate diplomas.
This "must contribute to the very small proportion (8 per cent) of professors who are female," says a report on the European Access Network's findings.
Analysis of data from the Higher Education Statistics Agency also shows that Afro-Caribbean graduates tend to opt for postgraduate diplomas rather than research degrees. Only 8 per cent take the latter, while 41 per cent take postgraduate diplomas. By contrast, 28 per cent of Chinese postgraduates do research degrees, and just 19 per cent take diplomas.
The report says the surveys have unearthed "new patterns of disadvantage and under-representation in higher education" that "will have significant repercussions on career opportunities for women and some minority ethnic groups".
It warns that there is a danger that British higher education will replicate the pattern in some European countries, where graduate schools in high-status universities concentrate on research degrees and "lower status universities" offer diplomas.
The report calls for more research on why students opt for certain kinds of postgraduate programme, and for a campaign for "more inclusive postgraduate education".