Women in Higher Education

When the resolution to award full degrees to women on an equal basis to men was first voted on in 1897 at the University of Cambridge, protests erupted across the city.[1] Male undergraduates strung an effigy of a female scholar from a window. When the resolution fell through, those students ‘maimed and decapitated the effigy before pushing it through the gates of all-woman college Newham’.[2] While women were allowed to study and sit examinations at the university, they were not allowed to receive a degree. This was the type of attitude that women had to contend with as they ventured into higher education.

Flash forward 120 odd years, and according to the BBC, women in the UK are 35% more likely to attend university than men, and this gap is increasing year on year. If the current trend continues, then a baby girl born in 2016 is 75% more likely to go to university than a boy.[3] Moreover, more than 80% of Higher Education institutions now have more female students than male students. There can be no doubt that we have made progress. However, while a cursory glance at these dazzling statistics would lead to the conclusion that a decided victory has been achieved for women in HE, everything is far less rosy than it seems.

We may have achieved the equal right to study and receive degrees, but women still face discrimination when they decide to pursue a career in academia. According to a 2016 report published by the University and College Union, only 8 higher education institutions pay women equally or more than men, and at 154 institutions, women are paid less. On average, female academics face a shortfall of £6,103 per year.[4] Furthermore, a study published last year by Sue Shepard from the School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research at the University of Kent, highlights the significant gender imbalance in terms of leadership in HE: women make up 45% of academic staff but account for only 22% of professors.[5] The figures are even more dismal when it comes to BME representation: in the UK ‘only 85 professors are black, of whom just 17 are women’[6]. Also, only 20% of UK vice-chancellors are female.[7] This shows that an institutional level of discrimination exists in HE in that there are not enough women in senior positions. Unfortunately, this reflects the wider trend in the job market. For example, 10% of FTSE 100 companies are headed by female CEOs, and currently, only 6 out of 23 Cabinet posts are occupied by women.[8] True, we have come a long way but the battle for equality is far from over.







[1] Victoria Finan, ‘A brief history of student protests: From ‘no women at Cambridge’ in 1897 to ‘cops off campus’ in 2013’, in Independent, (published 11/12/2013), < http://www.independent.co.uk/student/news/a-brief-history-of-student-protest-from-no-women-at-cambridge-in-1897-to-cops-off-campus-in-2013-8997569.html> [Accessed 05/03/2018]; ‘A History of Women’s Education in the UK, <https://www.oxford-royale.co.uk/articles/history-womens-education-uk.html> [Accessed 05/03/2018]

[2] Finan

[3] Sean Coughlan, ‘Why do women get more university places?’, (BBC, 12 May 2016), < http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/education-36266753> [Accessed 05/03/2018]

[4] ‘UCU names and shames colleges and universities that hold down women’s pay’, <https://www.ucu.org.uk/article/8130/UCU-names-and-shames-colleges-and-universities-that-hold-down-womens-pay?list=1676> [Accessed 05/03/2018]

[5] Sue Shepard, ‘Why Are There So Few Female Leaders in Higher Education: A Case of Structure or Agency?’, < https://core.ac.uk/display/78074896> [Accessed 05/03/2018]

[6] Jack Grove, ‘Universities confront ‘horrifying’ figures on BME promotion’, in Times Higher Education, (published 25/01/2016), <https://www.timeshighereducation.com/news/universities-confront-horrifying-figures-bme-promotion> [Accessed 05/03/2018]

[7] Louise Tickle, ‘Why universities can’t see women as leaders’, in The Guardian, (published 08/03/2017), <https://www.theguardian.com/higher-education-network/2017/mar/08/why-universities-cant-see-woman-as-leaders> [Accessed 05/03/2018]

[8] Tickle

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