International Women’s Day – the situation of women in academia today

08 March 2018

Credits:@ EUA

International Women’s Day is celebrated every year on 8 March and is a global day to honour and proclaim women and their achievements in all spheres of life. This also includes reflecting on progress made and calling for changes to achieve gender equality. What therefore is the present situation of women in academia?




Gender in university leadership

Universities are still male-dominated institutions. Currently, 12% of rectors among the 47 EUA member countries are female, compared to 88% of male rectors. In the 28 EU member states, only 21% of rectors are female. However, the figures for female vice rectors are more uplifting - some EUA member countries do have gender parity (e.g. Latvia, Croatia or Norway) and, on average, a third of vice rector positions in 2010 were taken up by women in countries with EUA members.

Male female rector per country

Male female vice-rector per country


Male female vice-rector per country 2018






What are the main obstacles?

Despite female rectors being under-represented, where management positions do not require the status of Grade A researcher - such as heads of administration - gender equality in EUA universities is basically in place. The hindrance for female leaders, therefore, seems either to be the achievement of full professorship, or becoming top-level institutional leaders, as opposed to serving in high-level management positions.

Professor Martine Rahier, Vice-President of the European University Association, explains that, as far as PhD holders are concerned, in some fields of the humanities there are more women than men, whereas in other fields, such as engineering, the situation is the opposite. The real bottleneck for women, however, is moving towards professorship: “If you look at equally qualified jobs, administrative, in public administrations, you do find 50% of women. So, there is what is called ‘leaky pipelines’ and these mostly concern the higher-level positions, university leadership, rector, vice-rector, president, vice-president, professorship still in some disciplines.”

So, what could be done to break the barrier? “I think that mentoring programmes can be very useful, they can be very useful to accompany the young women when they are preparing an application for a job where they are asking all sorts of questions like ‘am I good enough for that?’.” states Professor Rahier, although stressing her belief that the most important aspect is the recruitment process. “The groups of people that do this recruitment should be aware that there is a large reservoir of women qualified for professorship, qualified for leadership positions in academic life and I think one should not be afraid to specifically aim at women’s applications, to encourage women to apply for these jobs, I think the whole process of recruiting at the professor’s level could be tuned up to encourage women to apply. They don’t apply, or they apply a lot less than men.”

Watch the whole interview with Professor Martine Rahier:

Initiatives in academia

Leila Saadé, President of RESUFF, announced in her keynote speech at Think Education on 30 January 2018 at Paris Dauphine University, the upcoming launch of a francophone observatory on gender issues in universities, and the European Women Rectors Association (EWORA) has announced its 2nd General Assembly and 1st EWORA Workshop entitled "Change Management and Resistance” which will take place at the University of Lisbon Nova on 24- 26 May 2018.



EUA members taking action

A number of EUA members throughout Europe are taking action to celebrate International Women’s Day. Below are some examples:

  • Crue Universidades Españolas (Spain) has drafted a manifesto, committing itself to continue working towards equal treatment and opportunities within the university community.
  • University College Dublin (Ireland) is hosting a ‘fireside chat’ with a panel of national journalists and academic leaders, as well as coffee mornings, talks and seminars, workshops and other such events.
  • The University of Limerick (Ireland) is holding an International Women’s Day conference, which has attracted 150 participants from across the university sector, together with local business networks and the local community.
  • The University of Leicester (United Kingdom) organises a full week of events every year and leads various initiatives in the framework of the United Nations’ HeForShe campaign. Paul Boyle, Vice-Chancellor and EUA Vice-President, has been nominated as Ambassador of the campaign.
  • In addition, a range of activities, including exhibitions, conferences, workshops, and more, will be taking place at French Universities from 5 to 31 March.

More activities can be found on twitter, using #PressForProgress and #InternationalWomensDay

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