x Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 24 July 2017

Lack of women leaders in education is not unique to UAE

In the UK, just 14 per cent of vice chancellor positions are held by women. Sweden ranks highest with 43 per cent and, in stark contrast, Hong Kong has none.

DUBAI // The UAE is not unique in its lack of women in higher education leadership roles.

At Going Global, a conference this week organised by the British Council, Dr Louise Morley from the University of Sussex presented findings of continuing research on the topic.

In the UK, only 14 per cent of vice chancellor positions are held by women. Sweden ranks highest with 43 per cent and, in stark contrast, Hong Kong has none. Turkey has just 7 per cent and India 3 per cent.

"The whole history of higher education has been characterised by exclusion, inequalities and elitism," said Dr Morley, director of the Centre for Higher Education and Equity Research.

Chairing the panel, Dr Mary Stiasny, from the International Institute of Education at the University of London in the UK, agreed, saying across time and cultures inequality still exists.

"Whatever the cultural context, the political context, the societal differences, our experiences of differential treatment is still the same."

Dr Morley spoke of the "massive under-representation" of women not only from such positions as vice chancellor but across the board: from research-funding panels and boards of journals, to being involved in the recruitment process of other leadership roles.

"There are plenty of women in middle management and assistants, deputies, heading up audit and student experience and welfare but they aren't getting to the top," she said.

While countries such as the UAE and Japan have witnessed massive rises in female student enrolment, these changes "have not translated into leadership roles". In Japan's 86 universities, there are just two vice chancellors.

"Women aren't keen to work in a competitive, globally driven corporate environment," said Dr Morley, adding that the culture in higher education, often sexist, deterred women from aiming for such positions.

"It's an unattractive career path. Many women don't even see the point in applying for these positions because they only see men appointed anyway."

Pakistan-based Dr Tanveer Naim, a consultant at Comstech, a scientific research branch of the Organisation for Islamic Cooperation, said the issue of gender equality was still prevalent across many fields.

"In Pakistan we've had a woman as a head of the state bank, a woman prime minister and there are many women heading the banks," Dr Naim said."We have women fighter pilots yet the majority of women in Pakistan live in poverty and miserable conditions. There are huge inequalities."

mswan@thenational.ae