The state of gender equality in universities

Based on its Impact Rankings 2022 list, Times Higher Education examined the performance of universities on SDG 5: Gender equality. We spoke to Ellie Bothwell, Rankings Editor at THE, to learn about their latest Gender Equality report and the overall state of gender equality in universities.

In short

Times Higher Education Impact Rankings: Gender equality top 10

According to the Times Higher Education Impact Rankings 2022, here are the best-performing universities when it comes to gender equality:

  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)

Why universities play an important role in promoting gender equality

Based on its Impact Rankings 2022 list, THE dived deeper into SDG 5 (gender equality), analyzing the state of gender equality in universities. This culminated in their Gender Equality report – part 1 and the Gender Equality Report – part 2 produced in collaboration with the UNESCO International Institute for Higher Education in Latin America and the Caribbean (IESALC).

“The idea was to look at how universities across the world are performing when it comes to gender equality – in terms of their student and academic recruitment, in terms of their teaching, their research, and also their outreach work in the local community,” Ellie explains. (00:31)

While gender equality has come a long way in recent decades and years, there is still a ways to go. According to the World Economic Forum, it will take another 136 years to close the global gender gap.

As vital centers of learning and growth, universities have a huge role to play in advancing gender parity. As Ellie says, “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 – they can ensure that female students have equal chances, they can teach curricula where women are represented. Also, through their research, they can expose some of the types of discrimination and ensure that datasets include the perspectives of women, and they can ensure that there is equality when it comes to recruitment and promotion and pay.” (02:43)

“As pillars of their communities, [universities] can help [to] address gender equality in the wider society,” Ellie adds. “I think universities have a really unique role to play in terms of making progress towards gender equality.” (03:40)

The state of gender equality in universities

According to THE’s Gender Equality report, universities have made substantial progress in contributing to gender equality.

For example, “We can see from the data that female students now outnumber male students globally,” Ellie tells us. “We also can see that although there do tend to be fewer women in STEM subjects, there are actually some countries that have a higher share of women enrolled in STEM than in the arts and humanities, which seems to be a really positive development.” (04:13)

However, Ellie also notes a few areas of improvement. While most universities have policies and services to advance gender equality – such as anti-discrimination policies, mentorship programs, and scholarship opportunities for women – many universities cannot showcase the effectiveness of those policies.

Ellie explains, “Universities weren’t able to provide us with the relevant evidence of those policies and services, which we see as a problem for a few reasons. Partly, it suggests that while certain guidelines or codes might ostensibly be in place, they’re not necessarily being implemented properly or they’re not being communicated properly. That then means they’re likely to have a limited impact. It also raises questions about how transparent universities are about their progress towards gender equality.” (05:29)

Another interesting finding relates to getting more women into STEM subjects. THE found that there is actually an over-representation of women in some STEM subjects and an under-representation of men in other disciplines, such as psychology and education. Therefore, THE suggests having “more nuanced discussions and actions around gender equality than simply recruiting more women into STEM.” (06:59)

Gender equality in universities: Global & regional trends

As THE’s Impact Rankings feature universities from around the world, there are some interesting regional trends related to gender equality. Here are just a few:

  • Universities in Australia and New Zealand tend to be furthest ahead in their commitment to gender equality.

  • While more and more universities are reporting data on their performance on gender equality, we see particular growth in Asia.

  • In Asia, there are several countries where there is a higher share of women in STEM degrees than there is in arts and humanities – despite the lower levels of gender equality in senior leadership teams at Asian universities.

  • African universities tend to have the most equal shares of female students across different subject areas.

  • In Africa and Asia, the main types of measures to promote gender equality focus on access in terms of getting women into universities. On the other hand, in regions like Oceania and North America, universities are more likely to focus on supporting those students and academics when they get into the institutions.

How to be part of the change

As students, you can make a huge difference in furthering gender equality at your university.

“I’d certainly encourage students to get involved, to make their voices heard, to work with staff and academics where they can to help bring about change, and to try and use their voice effectively,” Ellie urges. (12:44)

There are a few examples in the Gender Equality report of some student-led initiatives at universities. #CampusMeToo, for instance, is a pan-African movement that aims to end sexual harassment on university campuses. In Mexico at the University of Guadalajara, students started an initiative called “Men’s Circle,” which offers training and spaces for male students to discuss the role that they can play in the promotion of gender equity.

As mentioned previously, universities also have to step up. “There are reasons why universities should care about [gender equality], not just from a justice perspective but also from a business perspective,” Ellie says. “In terms of the Sustainable Development Goals, we’re not going to develop the world sustainably if the needs of more than half of the population are not addressed.” (11:27)

In short, for institutions and students alike, we can all make our voices heard and help be part of the solutions to bring about change.

Share this article: