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Gender inequality in HE leadership mapped in report

Higher education institutes are perpetuating existing gender inequalities, a new report from the British Council has found. 

Women are disadvantaged in higher education at both student and staff level Photo: Pexels

Men in academic careers are awarded more prizes, receive higher salaries and are consistently rated higher than female teachers by students

Gender equality in higher education, released today, outlines the disadvantages women face across the higher education sector at both staff and student level, including the under-representation of women in leadership positions, the prevalence of violence against women, and unequal pay. 

The report notes that while more women enter higher education than men, senior academic positions are “disproportionately held by men” in what it calls “a leaky pipeline”. 

Research from the Higher Education Policy Institute has found that women make up 55% of the total university staff population in the UK, but only 29% of vice-chancellors and 37% of senior leadership teams are female.

“For too long, enrolment numbers have been used as the measure of gender equality in higher education”

“For too long, enrolment numbers – that is the numbers of women or men who take up place in courses – have been used as a, or indeed, the measure of gender equality in higher education,” said Helen Mott, research consultant and author of the report, speaking at a launch event on Thursday.

“If we use that measure selectively, we could convince ourselves that – as more women than men enrol in higher education globally – higher education as a system is therefore delivering in a net positive way for women and for gender equality.”

The report is clear that this is not the case, calling higher education institutions “high-risk” environments for violence against women, with students – particularly international ones – more at risk of sexual harassment and violence than the general population. These factors negatively affect women’s decisions to become “teachers, researchers or learners”. 

Simultaneously, men in academic careers are awarded more prizes, receive higher salaries and are consistently rated higher than female teachers by students. 

The report notes compound disadvantages for black, latinx and disabled women, while acknowledging “specific challenges” for transgender men and women, including transphobia and ignorance. 

Recommendations for higher education institutes to address gender inequality include developing gender expertise, tackling subject segregation including increasing the number of women in STEM, and ensuring that online projects are designed with equality in mind.  

Maddalaine Ansell, director of education at the British Council, said it is “essential that HEIs globally become more accountable and adopt measures to address gender inequalities”. 

“This includes supporting women’s leadership and careers in STEM and taking action to prevent gender-based violence,” she added.

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