Thursday 10 March 2022


Gender inequality in wider society is being replicated within higher education (HE) systems across the world, and leaving women experiencing a range of discriminatory practices, according to a new report commissioned by the British Council.

HE systems reproduce discrimination against women, with unequal access to education in many countries, fewer resources available to women, the existence of violence against women (VAW), and the underrepresentation of women in leadership positions in higher education institutions (HEIs).

On a positive note, the report also shows the huge potential higher education has to positively influence wider society.

Report author, Dr Helen Mott, said: ‘The creation of HEIs and systems where norms for gender equality are practised can be amongst the most powerful tools available to society for accelerating progress towards the equality of women and girls everywhere.’

Gender Equality in Higher Education: Maximising Impacts, says achieving gender equality within higher education requires fundamental change and concerted efforts from higher education institutions, policy makers and others involved in the sector. 

Action is required to transform discriminatory gender norms – such as unequal domestic burdens falling upon women and the bias in assessment, recruitment, and promotion – as well as to address the practical barriers that disproportionately affect women because of their place in society. The prevention of VAW is highlighted as an essential condition to achieve gender equality.

The report finds that HE systems reproduce discrimination against women, often ‘by default rather than design’. Effective policies to address structural barriers, such as maternity and paternity leave and flexible working, are not in place for HEIs or research bodies in many parts of the world. 

Key findings: 

 Men as a group remain advantaged at every stage of their academic careers. While women tend to outnumber men at entry into HE, as they progress through the ranks of academia, the senior positions are disproportionately held by men. 

Throughout their careers - men receive more opportunities and higher discretionary payments and are also more inclined to cite other men in journal articles - they have been found to cite their own research 70 per cent more often than women.

Men are awarded prizes, especially prestigious prizes, at considerably higher rates than would be expected.  

The curriculum content often constructs men and boys as the default subject, and the default holder of knowledge and reinforces gender stereotypes.

STEM is the field with the most global and persistent issues of under-representation and marginalisation of women. The evidence also suggests that the gender bias in favour of men in academic research is particularly acute in these fields.HEIs are high-risk environments for VAW, with students being more at risk than those in the general population. This is also a core concern for many women managing their decisions to enter, remain or progress in HE environments as teachers, researchers, or learners.

Maddalaine Ansell, Director Education, British Council, said: ‘As reflected in this report, progress has been made towards gender equality in many countries and there are some excellent examples of policy and practice to draw on. However, much more still needs to be done. 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.’ 

Notes to Editor

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About the British Council

The British Council is the UK’s international organisation for cultural relations and educational opportunities. We build connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and other countries through arts and culture, education and the English language. In 2019-2020 we reached over 75 million people directly and 758 million people overall including online, broadcasts and publications. Founded in 1934 we are a UK charity governed by Royal Charter and a UK public body. We receive a 14.5 per cent core funding grant from the UK government