Women and Higher Education

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For the academic year 2008/09, 57% of first degree grades were awarded to women (HESA, 2009). With this in mind, it is somewhat hard to comprehend the disproportion of men to women in Higher Education, or the lack of senior posts that are occupied by women. As of 2008, only 16% of the Vice Chancellors in the UK were women (Nielsen, 2009). From this, we can question why women are under represented at senior levels? Is it purely out of choice, or are they discriminated against in a profession dominated by men, whereby by they are simply “travellers in a male world?”

Davies and Holloway (1995) states that the lack of senior roles occupied by women is partly due to the research process and the hurdles in which women have to jump in order to gain academic recognition, of which can stem back as early as the 1980s. In 1981, the Universities Grant Commission (UCG), made a 15% reduction in government funding available to higher education (Williams, 1992). From this, it became apparent that in order to survive, a further source of income was required, which would be in the form of research.

In most cases, acclaimed research requires time, dedication, and vigour, all of which are not realistic for a woman who has parental responsibilities. HESA (2009) indicates that 67.3% of UK part-time staff are female, thus leading us to believe that they have other commitments outside of their occupation. Current statistics show that on average women spend ?? hours more than men on research, however they are still unable to achieve occupational recognition for their work. Neilson (2009) suggests that this is partly due to the lack of published work, reluctance to move and financial value acquired to your university, all of which are needed in order to gain promotion. Handley (1994) agrees by further stating that academic patriarchy amongst female academics often results in them not being taken seriously due to the build up of part-time employment and limited published work. Nonetheless, one female senior lecturer argues that women are partly to blame as they are not “prepared to commit the energy and hours to get promotion” (Metcalf et al, 2005: 193).

HESA states that 2008/09 saw ??? women occupied managerial roles. Much literature provides explanations of why figures are so low, with the majority indicating that women are both unable and reluctant to reach managerial positions due to hostile and in habitual working environments of which are dominated by men. Brookes (1997) identifies that gaining academic footing in a male dominated hierarchy often results in prevalent sexism. Handley (1994) adds to this by signifying that due to the competitive environment, male homosociability exists making it difficult for the professional inclusion of women. Morgan (1992) defines homosociability as:

‘...a collective name for an important set of relationships, referring to the preference of men for each others' company'.

Oakley (2001) expands on this by indicating that academic women find it hard to gain recognition as the majority of the time they are being judged by men, against “male standards and criteria”. Priola (2007) maintains this by stating that a dominant masculine culture can help to explain the low proportion of women at both managerial and professorial level. For 2008/09, only ??% of women in UK HE institutions were women (HESA, 2009). In Metcalf et al (2005), one lecturer stated:

“There's general intolerance and discrimination. They don't treat female colleagues as evenly and as well as they should…. The culture here is very male dominated” (pg 191)

However, Neilson (2009) contends that male dominance at the top is partly due to the management style adopted by some universities, whereby work-related bullying takes place. (STAT FOR BULLYING AT WORK?). Further to this, an anonymous senior lecturer at South Bank University indicates that a male dominant environment can provide a antagonistic and intimidating atmosphere to work, which accounts for the minority of women working in certain disciplines (Woodward, 2000).

* Sexual jokes

* Harassment



Williams, G. (1992) Changing Patters of Finance in Higher Education. 1st edn. Great Britain: St. Edmundsbury Press



Appendix shows the hierarchy of the teaching and research career path.