APAC universities are at the forefront of gender equality

Universities have a responsibility to promote gender equality and empower women across all positions. That means having gender parity among the students, faculty, staff, leaders, and researchers. Find out which schools are leading progress on SDG 5 (Gender Equality), according to the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2022.

In short

Two steps forward, one step back: Gender equality in higher education

When it comes to the state of gender equality in universities, there is still much work to be done. Even though most university students are women, they remain underrepresented in research positions and leadership roles.

On reaching gender equality in higher education, Ellie Bothwell, Rankings Editor at Times Higher Education, says, “We know that, broadly, gender equality has come a long way in recent decades and years. We know that there are more women with access to education and in senior leadership positions. We know that there’s more gender equality when it comes to civil and political rights. But we also know that we’re not completely there yet and we still have a way to go to reaching full parity. You know, women and girls continue to suffer discrimination. Women, on average, earn less than men, that they’re still not present in equal numbers in business or in politics.” (02:02)

There is some good news. Women lead four of the top five universities in THE’s World University Rankings 2023 for the first time ever! These universities are Oxford, Harvard, Cambridge, and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). However, while this number continues to increase year after year, only 24% of the top 200 global universities are led by women. In addition, only 2.5% of the top 200 universities are led by women of color.

The top universities tackling gender equality

SDG 5 aims to achieve gender equality and empower women and girls. For universities, this means committing to the recruitment and promotion of women within their institution, and researching gender equality.

“We know that universities hold a unique position in society that makes them critical actors for change in the fact that they educate students. They can have a huge influence in terms of how they promote gender equality,” Ellie explains. “Sometimes they’re among the largest organizations in their cities, and so they can ensure that there is equality when it comes to recruitment and promotion and pay and workload. As pillars of their communities, they can help address gender equality in the wider society. So, I think universities have a really unique role to play in terms of making progress towards gender equality.” (02:43)

According to the THE Impact Rankings 2022, the universities that score highest on SDG 5 (Gender Equality), are:

  1. Chiang Mai University (Thailand)
  2. University of Indonesia (Indonesia)
  3. Western Sydney University (Australia)
  4. Glasgow Caledonian University (United Kingdom)
  5. Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University (Saudi Arabia)
  6. King Abdulaziz University (Saudi Arabia)
  7. Universiti Sains Malaysia (Malaysia)
  8. Amrita Vishwa Vidyapeetham (India)
  9. La Trobe University (Australia)
  10. University of Auckland (New Zealand)

To rank universities’ gender equality efforts, THE used the following metrics:

  • Research (27%)
  • Proportion of first-generation female students (15.4%)
  • Student access measures (15.4%)
  • Proportion of senior female academics (15.4%)
  • Proportion of women receiving degrees (11.5%)
  • Women’s progress measures (15.3%)

For research, THE examined the proportion of female authors across universities’ publications, the proportion of papers on gender equality in top journals, and the number of publications on gender equality. Meanwhile, women’s progress measures include factors like maternity and paternity policies, accessible childcare facilities for students and staff, women’s mentoring schemes, and policies of non-discrimination against women and transgender people.

APAC universities are leading the way in gender equality

Most rankings lists feature the same set of schools across predominantly western countries, such as the United States and the United Kingdom. So, it’s exciting to see the top 10 universities leading the charge toward gender equality are primarily from Asia-Pacific (APAC) countries.

In the #1 spot, Chiang Mai University in Thailand offers a Women in Engineering program to promote more female participation in engineering courses. The university also provides legal training to rural women in Thailand through its Centre for Women’s Studies. In the #2 spot, the University of Indonesia ranked particularly high on indicators such as the number of gender equality publications, applications from women in underrepresented subjects, anti-discrimination policies, and maternity and paternity policies.

“In terms of some specific metrics, we can see that [the top three] universities score highly in terms of having quite a high number of research publications that relate to the topic of gender equality,” Ellie adds. “They also all encourage students to apply in subject areas where typically women are underrepresented. And they have not only anti-discrimination policies, but they have policies that sort of protect those within institutions who report discrimination, which is obviously really important in terms of making progress. Those are some of the specific metrics, but in general, to perform well, you have to be doing work across the four key areas that we measure.” (10:21)

A surprising result from Saudi Arabia & the future of SDG 5

THE’s gender equality ranking also features a few universities from an unexpected country. As one of the least gender equal countries in the world, Saudi Arabia is surprisingly home to two universities advancing gender parity. Founded in 2010, Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman University is the largest women’s university in the world. The university aims to empower women through equal access to education, encouraging women to participate in male-dominated fields such as computer science, management, and medicine. In 2018, after it was legalized, the university also became the first university in Saudi Arabia to offer a driving school for women.

Universities should care about gender equality because it’s the right thing to do. However, there are many factors at play beyond just doing what’s right. Ellie shares, “I think we also know that there are reasons why universities should care about it not just from a justice perspective, but also from a business perspective. So, we know that the more diverse and inclusive organizations are, the more creative and innovative they are too. That’s true for students in the classroom, for academics in research, but also in terms of the administrative side of organizations.” (11:14)

To conclude, we are slowly making progress when it comes to gender equality in higher education – but more needs to be done if we really want to achieve SDG 5. As Ellie points out, “We’re not going to develop the world sustainably if the needs of more than half of the population are not addressed.” (12:00)

Want to study at a graduate school that cares about gender equality? Reach out directly to master’s ambassadors for their experiences.

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