A new report has found that women in higher education in South Asia are not being identified and prepared for leadership.
There is also evidence that when they do aspire for leadership they are frequently rejected from the most senior positions. It also found that many women academics in the region are reluctant to aim for senior leadership and perceive it as an unattractive career option.
The research report, ‘Women in Higher Education Leadership in South Asia: Rejection, Refusal, Reluctance, Revisioning’ by Professor Louise Morley and Dr Barbara Crossouard, from the Centre of Higher Education and Equity research at the University of Sussex, was commissioned by the British Council. Based on research they conducted in six countries across South Asia (Afghanistan, Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka), they found that there are complex and multi-dimensional barriers to women’s leadership in higher education. These range from social, cultural and economic barriers in each country, the organisational culture in universities, discrimination in recruitment and selection, and unequal power relations. The report also found some enablers to women achieving leadership positions, including training and development, support and mentorship and international networks and mobility across the region.
“First and foremost, most selection committees have only men. Very, very few have any women. Most that I've gone through, they've been all men on the committee, for any position,” says a female dean in India, describing in the report how universities’ selection procedures were exclusionary and discriminated against women.
“My suggestion is that among the Asian countries, there should be a good network between the women. Especially between the universities, there should be a good website for them to exchange their ideas, to solve their problems, because mostly most of the Asian countries have the same problem, the same barriers,” says the vice-dean of a university in Afghanistan, in the report.
Another recent report has found that a rise in female educational enrolment in South Asia is not leading to careers in research, to the long term detriment of the region. The report, based on data and interviews with education leaders across the region, has found that there are not enough women taking up careers in research in South Asia, and inequalities in the hiring process, unfavourable workplace practices and other institutional barriers may be to blame.
Only three per cent of vice-chancellors in India are women, with six of the 13 female vice chancellors found at women-only institutions.
The report, ‘Defined by absence: Women and research in South Asia’ prepared by the Economist Intelligence Unit on behalf of the British Council, states that “The rise in female higher education participation has been driven by rising incomes, the creation of a rapidly growing labour market for the higher skilled and gradually changing attitudes regarding women in the workforce. Higher education has become both more affordable and often a pre-requisite to region’s competitive labour markets. However, female enrolment in postgraduate degree programmes has not risen as rapidly, and women as researchers are notably missing”.
“The average expectation in India was that you would first take care of being a young woman who has to settle and have a family. And then, if time permits—everything else permits— you will continue research,” says Rohini Godbole, Professor, Centre for High Energy Physics, Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore, in the report.
The report examines the barriers that women researchers face in South Asia, and recommends action to address them. In 2014, it shows that in South Asia, cultural restrictions and a lack of career opportunities play a major role in contributing to the gradual drop off of women researchers after PhD level. There is a serious lack of gender specific data on South Asia that can help evaluate the gap in the workplace. Good initiatives are in short supply, and in cases where they do exist sustainable funding can be a problem. The report suggests that this gender imbalance is not being taken seriously enough at the highest levels or by the women themselves.
The report recommends that education institutions adopt changes in work practices and support mechanisms designed to allow women to commit to a career in research beyond PhD level. It is acknowledged that Strong leadership is needed to push institutions to act and in many cases there are not enough strong voices at the highest level. However, the report warns that success demands that women represent an increasing proportion of the academic talent pool, particularly among the dwindling number of researchers.
Findings from both the research reports will be shared and discussed at the Global Education Dialogue on Women and Leadership “the Absent Revolution” being hosted by the British Council on 10 and 11 February in Delhi.
Education policy makers from across South Asia and the UK are taking part in the two-day programme, which includes discussions on
- The under-representation of women in influential and senior leadership positions in higher education institutions
- The lack of gender-disaggregated statistics with which to inform and evaluate effective higher education policy implementation
- Bringing transparency into the recruitment and selection processes for senior appointments to improve gender parity in academic appointments
Rob Lynes, Director British Council India said: “To create long term, sustainable and mutually beneficial education links with South Asia it is critical for the UK to understand the context in which South Asia operates. Gender and equality opportunity is an important area. We welcome the delegates from across the region and hope this dialogue helps them build links between countries in the region and with the UK.”