GenX women in higher ed from around the globe

Posts Tagged ‘Europe’

It’s your thing!: How the European Commission Is Trying to Attract More Women to Science

In Guest Blogger on 2013/02/12 at 08:47
Guest blogger, Curt Rice, writing from Tromsø in Norway.

Note from the editors: Today we start a new offering on our blog: every few months we will have a theme that we ask guest bloggers to write about for University of Venus. These themed blog posts will run month after month on the last Monday of the month. For January, February, and March, our guest bloggers will be writing about gender equality in science fields, and we’re kicking off our series with a post by Curt Rice, the Vice President for Research and Development at the University of Tromsø in Norway.

Dream jobs, 6 reasons science needs you and Profiles of women in science are three of the areas on a website launched last year by the European Commission to encourage teenage girls to consider science as a career—a website called Science: It’s a girl thing!

The EC’s campaign gave me the opportunity to try out an idea for making a so-called teaser clip that would attract attention to the site; I didn’t want to make the clip myself, but I wanted to see what would happen if I just announced a contest. What if I tried a crowdsourcing experiment?

The contest started when I wrote a piece about the campaign that was published at The Guardian. At the end of that article, I suggested a contest.

Maybe crowdsourcing the creation of a teaser – based on the campaign’s website – would be the best way to find out what could tempt teenage girls to study science. Let’s have a contest. Go to the campaign website and find your inspiration. Think about what could be a meaningful teaser video. And then make it! I’ll show the best one at the European Gender Summit 2012. For more details and the official rules for the contest, see The #ScienceGirlThing Contest.

The response was tremendous and the winners were announced in late November.

There were three crucial success factors, but before I tell you about them, enjoy one of the winning videos!

A few people criticized the crowdsourcing idea as a way to get professionals to do work for free. Even though I was thinking more about school kids making videos than professionals, I could understand this criticism. It was then fortuitous when Brian Schmidt, Nobel Prize laureate in Physics, read one of my tweets about the contest and replied that he would donate prize money. I didn’t know Brian then, but he thought the cause was important enough to support, and his contribution was crucial to the success of the contest. Thank you, Professor Schmidt!

Before I continue to the second important factor, enjoy another one of the three winning videos.

The second key development was when the European Science Foundation came onboard as a co-organizer of the contest. Even with something as anarchistic as a crowdsourcing contest, there is a lot of work to be done—setting up a good website, organizing the submissions, getting sensible materials to the jury members, and organizing the announcement of the winners. ESF took on these tasks and made the contest a much better experience than I ever could have done myself. ESF Chief Executive Martin Hynes also added considerable status to the event by joining the award ceremony and mentioning the contest in his remarks at the European Gender Summit.

The final thing that made a difference is coming below, but first, watch the third winner!

The contest received prize money, status, and excellent organizational support, but none of that would have mattered without the investment of the participants and other supporters. The decisions of many individuals to engage is the final crucial component.

There were tweeters and bloggers who publicized the contest, like Joanne Manaster, who put it on The Scientific American site, from which many others picked it up. There were jury members: the European Parliament was represented by member Antigoni Papadopoulou, the European Commission was represented by Laura Lauritsalo, science educators were represented by Cheryl Miller, who also gathered seven bright and influential girls who also judged the videos. The organizers of the European Gender Summit let us use their networking event to show the videos and announce the winners. To all of you I’ve mentioned here, I want to express my gratitude for making this contest a success.

But there’s one more group to mention—the most important one! The crowdsourcing contest generated about 40 submissions. Most of them can be viewed here; they are as varied and inspiring as the three winners and I encourage you to have a look.

This campaign is built on the premise that targeting teenagers is important for having more women at age 30 or 35 or 40 still in science careers. And while there are many women in medicine, veterinary sciences and biology, the situation in physics and chemistry and several branches of engineering is still quite bad. Indeed, we probably need to aim at even younger aged school children if we want the brainpower of the entire population brought to these fields. And that of course is a core issue in this movement. Drawing 90% of the physicists from 50% of the population means by definition that we’re drawing from the bottom half of the pool of men instead of the top half of the pool of women. It’s not an intelligent use of societies’ intellectual capital. This work is complicated by the increased skewing in school performance, to the favor of girls. So, on the one hand, we have work to do to keep boys in school; on the other hand, we want to break down the barriers in particular fields.

To those who participated by making a video, on behalf of myself and the European Science Foundation, as the two co-organizers of this event, please know that your efforts touched us all. You are the future of science and you let us know: Science: It’s your thing!

An earlier version of this post was published as Science: It’s your thing! 3 steps to a crowdsourcing success! at Curt Rice’s blog. To keep up with Curt’s writing on gender equality, open access and more, follow him on Twitter @curtrice.

This post was also published at Inside Higher Ed

Thinking about Academic Tribes

In Anamaria's Posts on 2013/01/20 at 04:36
Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, writing from Lund in Sweden. 
I recently read for the first time a book that for many (most?) is a classic: Academic Tribes and Territories: Intellectual Enquiry and the Culture of Disciplines, in its revised edition (2001). I admit that the idea of an ethnography of academic disciplines and their internal codes is a bit narcissistic in the sense that it belongs to the genre of academics studying and writing about academia, but then so is this blog and all the writing about the theories of pedagogy and the analyses of higher education. We as academics have a duty to critically examine our own practices, so that is enough of an argument to read the book and take part in the discussions about the delimitations we tend to draw between our tribes and territories, the two key terms used by the authors  Tony Becher and Paul R. Trowler.

“Academic tribes”, or “small worlds” or “microcultures” as they are variously called, are groupings that take place based on disciplinary boundaries. They are based on the subject and the method of academic investigation within that discipline. They are supposed to be more or less internally coherent and to be governed, however informally, by norms and values developed and internalized over time.

That these tribes exist is now commonplace. What I find interesting are two questions:

1. How widespread or broad are they?

2. How powerful are they to guard access to and the future development of any given discipline?

Academic Tribes: how broad?

The distinction between disciplines is as old as the attempt to study and think about the world. Becher and Trowler distinguish between several dichotomies based on epistemological dimensions: hard vs soft sciences, theoretical vs. applied knowledge. They also identify differences in the practice of the discipline, with variations in research styles, publishing traditions and career paths.

I find these distinctions applicable in my known universe, but also perhaps, too applicable. For example, the hard vs. soft approach to the nature of knowledge can describe the difference between natural sciences and social sciences, but also the one between ethnography and political science, both fields within the social science discipline. Moreover, political science is also divided between a more quantitative and a more qualitative methodological position. And to go to the microlevel, there are universities where political science departments are known to specialize in either the “harder” or the “softer” variant.

This has the consequence that we cannot generalize very much when we discuss “higher education” as a whole. The discussion on the future of the humanities, or their usefulness that has been quite present in the news on higher ed around the world is based on the assumption that there is a unit defined as the “humanities”. But according to the thinking behind the academic microcultures literature, the field is too fragmented to be described (and governed) as one.

The general and global trend has been towards fragmentation/interdisciplinarity and a flourishing of disciplines. There are now very specific fields of inquiry that did not exist 25 years ago, from my own area of specialization, “European Studies”, to “Queer Studies” or “Visual Cultures” or you name it – whichever specific domain that is entitled to define a territory of knowledge with its own boundaries. So, how can we have a discussion about the social sciences or the humanities or about engineering, when we see the growth of new disciplines that mix and match in a multi- or inter- or transdisciplinary fashion?

Academic Tribes: how powerful?

The other aspect I wanted to bring up here is the power of these academic tribes. Are the rules and values and practices valid within a given academic tribe so clearly implemented so that the boundaries of the tribal territory are safeguarded from “unfitting” guests?

If the ethnographic section of Becher and Trowler’s book is to be taken seriously (and I think that it should), then the answer is yes, academic tribes do guard their territories quite fiercely. The upside of this is that disciplines and various professional environments at a smaller scale are kept updated because of the constant knock at the door from new generations of scholars who want to join the tribe.

The downside of this may be the generation of very unitary departments, where hiring policies implicitly follow the principle of the goodness of fit between prospective candidates and the already existing academic culture. “If you are a qualitative political scientist do not even consider applying for a job at university X because they only do quantitative stuff” – this is the line of reasoning one can hear during a job search. Or even worse, if one’s ideological position does not fit with the tribe’s (if you are a feminist in a conservatives’ den or the other way around), the chances of getting a job there are minimal, despite one’s academic merits.

My final thought on this is that one should get to know (or define) one’s academic tribe quite early. It may help in the job search.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Baccalaureate Bologna

In Elizabeth's Posts on 2013/01/14 at 00:39
Elizabeth Lewis Pardoe, writing from Evanston, Illinois in the US.

As a result of some cosmic hiccup, I have to register my baby boy for high school this weekend. Then, one of his friends asked me to explain International Baccalaureate programs as I drove him home yesterday evening. Already in a state of middle-aged-maternal angst, I embarked upon a frenzy of IB research last night and this morning. The following paragraphs attempt to disambiguate my parental self-flagellation and pedagogical frustration from a fledgling proposal.

First, flagellation:  IB programs provide the well-rounded exposure to languages, cultures, and intellectual apparatus all children should enjoy.  Why didn’t I place my boys in IB schools?  The answer addresses the problem: national exceptionalism.  To address the low standards of a US high school diploma by any international standard, Americans invented the Advanced Placement (AP) exams.  This was how elite students proved they had already completed undergraduate (ie Bachelors Degree) level courses while still in secondary (aka High) school.  My local school system prides itself on its incredible array of AP offerings from Multi-Variable Calculus to French.  However, the programs provide a shopping list – not a system.  By contrast, the IB programs I researched offered a systemic approach to bilingualism and integrated advanced curricula that most American school systems would be hard pressed to produce.  These schools then claim their graduates hold a Baccalaureate Diploma – or translated into English – a Bachelor’s degree.  Why would such a person wish to earn a second Bachelor’s degree granted by a university?

Second, frustration:  The hand-wringing over the utility of American bachelor’s degree seeks to answer the question above.  What is the added value of an undergraduate education?  Part of the American answer is simple.  US colleges attempt to play catch up for our erratic primary and secondary non-system.  If someone holds a BA from a reputable college, a graduate or professional school’s admissions committee has confidence that he or she has achieved International Baccalaureate levels after additional years – to quote Tom Lehrer – with ivy covered professors in ivy covered halls.  However, few question the added value of a BA from Amherst or BS from CalTech over an IB from the most elite international school, but why?

Third, proposal: The answer lays in the use made of the second two years of college.  The IB and AP programs mean to take students through the basics of a subject – the same goal of most core requirements met in the first and second years of college.  After A levels in England, traditional gentlemen traveled abroad on their grand tour before they entered Oxbridge.  In the US, students took flight during their Junior Year Abroad to meet the same need for international exposure before specialization.  Elite schools, like Princeton, demanded a senior thesis in the fourth and final year.  These two things – a year abroad in an immersive language program and an independent research year – constitute the nature of an honors degree whether earned at Michigan State or Stanford.  Just as the IB outlines necessary elements of their primary, middle, diploma standards, we need an international standard for undergraduate education.

Final thoughts:  The European Union’s Bologna Accord attempted this herculean task.  They outlined what a Bachelor’s, Master’s, and Doctoral degree should mean anywhere in Europe.  To achieve this, they chopped time off the traditionally five year continental university degree to make a three year BA and if a student spent a full year abroad a four year BAPlus.  As more US students complete their BA after three years in sync with their UK cousins, US and UK institutions create new offerings for BA/MAs that concluded simultaneously at the end of year four.  Brown University recently formalized a new program to guarantee their students a BA/MA (dubbed Brown Plus One) granted with an overseas institution over five years.  If I – someone who has given public presentations on this lexical labyrinth – barely manage to translate among the options and their meanings, what will the average eighteen-year-old educational aspirant make of it all?  In my experience as an adviser, they make short-sighted decisions simply because they cannot find a sufficiently high berth from which to take in the panoramic view.  A helping hand is long overdue.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

In (re)search of success

In Guest Blogger on 2012/11/04 at 23:26

Guest blogger, Nathalie Mather-L’Huillier, writing from Edinburgh, Scotland.

As a former biomedical researcher, a field I left in favour of a different career, I was recently asked to act as a speaker at a careers’ day designed for early careers researchers and Ph.D.s interested in (or forced to explore) alternative careers to academia. Interestingly, there were more women than men both in the audience and amongst the speakers. Is it because women don’t mind admitting they are open to all career options, or is it that they have less confidence in their ability to sustain a lifelong successful research or academic career? In fact, I am not sure.

It’s not the first time that I had to present arguments as to why I decided to leave academic research and join the “other side”, (in my case, university administration) and I must admit that I always feel like I am having to defend my corner fairly strongly. But why? Is it because I feel guilty of disloyalty towards my supervisor, the institution which trained me and the funder who paid for my research? (My supervisor, just like my head of lab at the time, took a little time to get used to the idea.) Or is it because I feel the question is only asked because I am a woman. Maybe it is because, deep down, I miss the lab. Well, of course I miss the lab! And the varied nature of research, and that fantastic feeling you get when your paper is published, and the freedom to express your ideas. But as I explained to my audience, I don’t miss being in the lab late at night or the fact that my project was so specialised I didn’t have time to see the “big picture” whatever that might have been!

The other truth about leaving academic research, the thing I think I am afraid to say, is that actually, I did well! I enjoy my job (in the same institution I did my Ph.D. at, by the way). It mainly involves the recruitment of postgraduate research students. What does that mean? Well, amongst other things, I get to speak to students who are considering doctoral studies about what a great experience it is, and importantly, what an array of careers is open to Ph.D. holders.

I love the interaction with students at this stage of their careers, they are passionate, driven and a large proportion thinks (quite rightly) that they can make a difference in the world. Of course, the reality of doing a Ph.D. hasn’t reached them yet and perhaps the difference in the world will be confined to creating “an original piece of research worthy of publication”. That doesn’t mean that they won’t make a difference in the world, it depends of what world we are talking about. Perhaps it will be an impact on just the research world, or that particular body of knowledge but you have to start somewhere, don’t you? While only around a third of Ph.D. students in the UK will end up as academics, their impact to the labour market means that they will continue to make a difference to the world, in a different way.

In my talk at the non-academic careers’ day, I thought it would be useful to give a few tips to those considering alternative careers as a next step and here is what I came up with:

  • You have amazing transferable skills, even if you attended none of the courses on offer (a short-sighted move in my view), your Ph.D./research experience gave you resilience, negotiation skills, report writing skills, etc.
  • Don’t aim too high or too low
  • When applying for jobs, don’t bamboozle employers with jargon/technical speak but make sure you know the keywords/buzz words

What I find amazing these days is that you’ll find Ph.D.s in all walks of life: in industry, in the arts, in the public sector, in the third sector, in university administration…. And as far as I can see it is both men and women who choose these career paths. Maybe women are better at telling the world about alternative careers to research. In conclusion of my presentation, what I really wanted to say and managed to say for the first time in public is, “You haven’t failed. It may be the best option for you!” Do I believe it myself? Well, at least a little bit….

Dr Nathalie Mather-L’Huillier is currently a Postgraduate Research Student Research and Admissions Manager at the University of Edinburgh (Scotland), Nathalie has worked in research and graduate policy as well as a researcher in biomedical science. She is passionate about postgraduate education and enjoys interactions with prospective and new postgraduate researchers. Originally from France, Nathalie has lived in the UK (mostly in Scotland) for 17 years.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed.

The More Education, The Better

In Anamaria's Posts on 2012/10/20 at 00:29

Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, writing from Lund, Sweden. 

The more education the better for each and all. So why are there not enough resources?

Just this past week the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) has released its annual report, Education at a Glance. In a comparative fashion the study provides the most recent statistical data, country by country for all the 34 members of the organization, about the number of students, the type of education they follow and what they do after they graduate. Other measurements included in the report are education spending (public and private), teachers’ workload, teachers’ tasks and teachers’ salaries, as well as the gender gap, the social mobility and the accessibility of education to different groups in the society. A special section is dedicated to the analysis of economic and social benefits of education, measuring the extent to which having an education translates into economic gains for individuals, as well as the social impact of having a population with a large percentage of educated people.

This report is very timely, since only at the beginning of September 2012 the European Commission (EC) and its special expert group published a report on literacy in Europe, showing some alarming numbers. Even if the EC has a special campaign on improving literacy (“Europe Loves Reading”), the numbers do not show this love being spread in the general public. In concordance with earlier published numbers, 20% of the adults in Europe lack the necessary literacy skills to propel them on the job market, and 20% of the European 15-year olds did not possess sufficient reading skills in 2009, a number that stagnated until today.

Both the OECD and the High-level expert group of the European Commission concur. Poor literacy and from there insufficient education has a negative social impact on pretty much all accounts as it is connected to unemployment, social exclusion, criminality, political absenteeism. Low literacy and low education levels are also connected to widening the gender gap as well as the gap between migrants and the local population.

The numbers are clear. In the OECD population, those with a university degree tended to earn more than those without it, up to 55% more. On the contrary, those at the lowest end of the education echelon, who lacked a high school degree, were likely to earn up to 23% less than their co-generationals who graduated from secondary education. Getting a university degree makes one more likely not only to earn more but to secure a job more easily. Among those with higher education diplomas, only 17% are unemployed, in comparison with 44% of those without high school education. Finally, having a university degree improves the overall quality of life: university graduates tend to live longer, to express a higher satisfaction with life in general, and to participate more actively in politics and civil society activities.

This information is not new. The most recent reports confirm earlier trends. So the only wonder I am left to have is: how come we do not do more for education, for literacy? For governments it would be an investment in the future of their country. What can be wrong with a well-educated population that is prosperous, healthy, and takes part in politics and civic life? What can be wrong with a population that is able to read and write in a time where literacy (and especially computer literacy) is the key to having a job? This would decrease the costs of unemployment and the associated social unrest and would raise the amount of money circulating in the economy, thus making the economy grow and generating a virtuous circle (provided that some of the surplus is reinvested in education). Even for the private education providers, making education more accessible and of better quality would increase the total amount of money going back into teaching and research, as it is also demonstrated that educated people tend to invest in the education of their children or support research through donations and funds.

How come we do not do more for education? Yes, in order to answer this question one almost feels prone to believe in conspiracy theories. Or in politicians working from the assumption that voters do not care about education and can be fooled with cheap tricks like talking to empty chairs.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Finding motivation in the most unexpected places

In Ana's Posts on 2012/06/21 at 21:23

Ana Dinescu, writing from Berlin, Germany

Summer time is almost here and it is time to take a good and relaxing book and forget about the usual busy schedule of a normal day during the academic semester. However, for some of us, with academic interests but non-academic jobs, summer is the best time of the year to revisit old projects, apply for new funding and, eventually, find an academic job that will put an end to this schizophrenic way of working.

But, the chances of good scholarships and decent funding for a decent life have diminished considerably in the last months, at least in Europe, where many academic positions and funding opportunities were the first victims of the shaking fluctuations of the Euro. Thus, if you still want to keep a foot in the world of ideas, you can find a job which will not completely erase the years spent in the library preparing your Ph.D. thesis, but will waste a lot of time and energy that you should dedicate to writing and documenting new books and articles. In the morning, you can edit another person’s writings or write content for technical websites, while in the evening until late in the night you can try to read and take notes for your academic ‘hobbies’.

With such a lifestyle, no wonder that sooner or later the fatigue will cut your enthusiasm to less than half and you will end up with a writer’s block that you can hardly cure. This is what happened to me recently and lasted for a couple of weeks. And it was not only the power to write which I needed, but also the inspiration to create the framework for writing. It did not happen before, or maybe if it did, it lasted for a couple of hours, not more.

For someone whose source of income is made by juggling well with words, such a situation could create various inconveniences, couldn’t it? Thus, I needed to find a do-it-yourself method to get back my enthusiasm and interest in getting back on the writing track.

The emergency measure was to suspend my daily schedule. I announced to my writers that there would be some small delays in delivering their editing requests, and took a big break. No computer, no social networks, no deadlines and pressure to finish in time. I took my camera and went out to take pictures for a couple of hours. My mind was immediately set in a different mood and the freedom of the day guaranteed that I should not worry if I stayed out too late. I continued with an exhibition, a coffee and a long discussion with an old friend. I enjoyed a long dinner and spend a couple of hours reading a novel without any interruption .

I continued the treatment for another two days and, relieved, I returned to the writing life gently and ready to continue the projects. As in many other serious circumstances, we are what we learn from our good or bad experiences. In this case, one of the lessons was that it is never late to find some time for yourself. It is always healthy to live according to a schedule – and I was educated to take care of how I use my time, and it is very hard to get rid of this good habit – but from time to time, a break will bring more creativity and clarity into your daily life. There is no chance that one day I will discover that I can live without writing, but at least I can find a fair balance between the pressure of a writing job and the pleasure of writing because nothing else is left.

Now, I think that this experience occurred exactly at the right moment when I needed more than ever to realize that it is about time to further my academic projects. Summer will bring me, for sure, more than the optimism of the sunny days.

This post was also published in Inside Higher Ed

Our Wise Politicians

In Uncategorized on 2011/03/10 at 04:33

Ana Dinescu, writing from Berlin, Germany

Do we need politicians with a serious academic background to increase the general quality of the public debates? Or, is academia (only) a source of symbolic power and influence for politicians and, in general, public figures, and a step in their career to top positions in the establishment?

The general debate regarding the opportunity of an increased presence of “philosophers” and qualified thinkers in governments crosses the ages, from Plato’s dialogues to the optimism of the Enlightenment that reaches the present time. The manifestations of intellectuals in the public space, sometimes with a publicly assumed political option, is criticized as a possible attempt to upgrade economic status and/or celebrity by some while others consider it as a wise step forward to introducing more noblesse and intellectual accountability into politics. Most probably, neither of those two extremes is right and the situations are as diverse as human nature: some will integrate without any attempt of change, fitting perfectly into the usual ambiance; some will give up; and at best, some will use their knowledge to introduce substantial changes.

My question is coming from another direction: what do you do when the academic qualifications of a public figure turn out to be a matter of public controversy? What is the responsibility of the academic establishment in conferring the titles?

The inspiration for this article was generated by the latest discussions from the German media regarding the availability of the PhD title of the Defense minister, Karl Theodor zu Guttenberg [1]. However, he is only one of the world public figures and power-brokers facing accusations of plagiarism[2]. The public perception might differ as well; in Germany, academic qualifications represent a matter of high social status. But the debate in itself, whatever the final decision, is a matter of credibility of the universities through the professors, who bear the sole accountability in promoting and endorsing the intellectual elites. Such an issue is more important than the one concerning the problem of state funding or other possible political support for various academic projects.

A possible answer to the opening question of this article would be: yes, we do need qualified and very qualified politicians, with a solid general culture and academic qualification. But, at the same time, we need to measure their intellectual competence and educational qualities under the same strict criteria. At the end of the day, the academic choice is more than a hobby, but a life-long commitment requiring a significant amount of time for research, lectures, writing – including learning how to avoid plagiarism[3] – and confrontation of sources.

I hope that the discussion, in Germany and elsewhere, is just at the beginning, and the echoes and the articulate answers of the academics will follow intensively in the next months. Because, otherwise, we risk entering a discussion exclusively focused on people instead of looking into standards or the lack thereof.

Note: Germany’s defence minister Karl-Theodor zu Guttenberg resigned March 1st, following the accusations of plagiarism.

Berlin, GermanyAna Dinescu is a regular contributor to University of Venus and a PhD candidate in history at the Faculty of History, University of Bucharest, with a background in Political Science. She has been a journalist for ten years for Romanian daily newspapers and is currently a communications consultant, living in Berlin.

[1]http://www.dw-world.de/dw/article/0,,14858955,00.html, retrieved February 21, 2011,http://www.spiegel.de/international/germany/0,1518,745891,00.html, retrieved February 21, 2011

[2]http://www.timesonline.co.uk/tol/news/world/article695235.ece, retrieved February 21, 2011

[3]http://www.insidehighered.com/blogs/university_of_venus/are_students_intentionally_plagiarising

Gender (in)equality in higher education: Sweden, Europe

In Anamaria's Posts on 2010/03/02 at 09:00

Anamaria Dutceac Segesten, writing from Lund, Sweden.

To portray the situation of women in academia today is not a task meant for success in the space of 500 words. I will nevertheless try to describe briefly the situation in Sweden and to use that particular case as a springboard for more general thoughts about how it looks elsewhere and how it would be desirable to look everywhere in the future.

In today’s Sweden 60% of those who begin university studies are women, and this is a trend that began in the 1970s. In terms of the distribution across the fields of knowledge, men form the majority in the natural sciences and the technical subjects, but even in these areas women are the majority of graduates. Overall, two-thirds of those who finish a program of education are female.

This women dominance ends however when we examine the higher levels of involvement with research and teaching at the university. More men than women are doctoral students, for example, and the difference reaches its apogee when we look at the fact that 82% of professors are men and 18% women, confirming the well-known trend of vertical segregation.

The Swedish picture is almost identical with the general European one. There are more female bachelor level students (55%) and graduates (59%) across the 27 member states of the European Union, but only 48% of those who begin their doctoral studies are women, like the 45% of those who actually obtain their Ph.D. Even more similar is the situation at the professor level: the Swedish average is identical with the European one: only 18% of those who work as grade A academic staff are women (She Figures 2009).

How can this discrepancy be explained? Why is it so that so many women get a bachelor degree and so few continue to advance in the higher academic echelons? In a report from 2008 the Delegation for Equality in Schooling finds that this is not the reflection of the free choice of individual men and women, but rather the consequence of long-lasting power distribution patterns. To this contribute the obscure recruitment criteria and processes, and the unwritten expectations that separate men from women. For example, it is supposed that women will take on more social and administrative responsibilities whereas men are given more room to focus on the research and creative aspects of their jobs.

The most typical pattern of discrimination is invisible and subtle. It is not the case that women are actively excluded but that they are not invited to participate in what it has traditionally been a man-dominated world: they are not chosen as key note speakers at conferences, or they are not part of the informal networks created originally by men. They are forgotten, they are not seen, they are ignored.

There are still some positive trends. The younger generation in Europe, our dear Generation X, benefits from a more equal treatment that the previous cohort. Females between 35 and 44 represent 23% of grade A academics, whereas 45 – to 54-years-old females account for 21% and those over 55 only 18%. This improvement over time is reflected in the results of the three consecutive reports from the EU: the proportion of female professors increased Female grade A professors increased from 15,20% in 2000 (in the space of EU-15, the Western European states) to 19% in 2009 (in the expanded EU-27, including East European states where there was a higher degree of equality). Moreover the number of female researchers is growing faster than that of men (+6.3% during 2006-2009 compared to +3.7% from 2002 to 2006).

The numbers are bleak even if they do show a slow improvement. Who is responsible for changing the situation? How can one work against this invisible but very insidious passive exclusion of women? In Sweden, and this is a relatively unique situation, it is the government that has been actively engaged with the issue of bridging the gap. The main reason is that all Swedish universities are state-owned. Yes, you heard it right, there are no private universities to speak of. This leaves most of the responsibility of promoting equality to the politicians, who have had gender equality on the agenda for decades. And of course, it does give results (ever so slowly), but as the comparison with the general European trend confirms, it is by no means better than other strategies, where governments cannot exert control over gender issues in higher education.

How do you have it in your countries? Does this picture correspond with yours? And if not the government, who is it that took up the issue of gender (in)equality?

Anamaria Dutceac Segesten

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References:

Women and Science – http://ec.europa.eu/research/science-society/index.cfm?fuseaction=public.topic&id=27

She Figures 2009 – http://ec.europa.eu/research/science-society/document_library/pdf_06/she_figures_2009_en.pdf

Dold könsdiskriminering på akademiska arenor – osynligt, synligt, subtilt (2005) – http://www.hsv.se/download/18.539a949110f3d5914ec800079028/0541R.pdf

Delegation for Equality in School – http://www.jamstalldhetiskolan.se/Bazment/dj/sv/Delegationens-rapporter.aspx

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