NEW CHALLENGES FOR GENDER EQUALITY IN HIGHER EDUCATION

Argentina, Algeria and Thailand: these three middle-income countries which belong to three different continents have the highest female tertiary enrolment rates in the world. These figures are extracted from PAXTER NEXT15years, a study and website that provide information and serve as a tool to support strategic decision-making for tertiary institutions; they provide a good illustration of how important it is to have reliable statistical information to identify the real issues of the sector. As a matter of fact, it can be stated that women’s access to higher education is currently not an issue anymore in a majority of countries.

Argentina, Algeria and Thailand: these three middle-income countries which belong to three different continents have the highest female tertiary enrolment rates in the world. These figures are extracted from PAXTER NEXT15years, a study and website that provide information and serve as a tool to support strategic decision-making for tertiary institutions; they provide a good illustration of how important it is to have reliable statistical information to identify the real issues of the sector. As a matter of fact, it can be stated that women’s access to higher education is currently not an issue anymore in a majority of countries.

PAXTER NEXT15years presents a synthesis of the most important statistical data regarding higher education in 66 countries that represent 90 of the world’s youth, including the general higher education enrolment ratio and the feminisation rate of tertiary enrolment.

The general higher education enrolment rates of Argentina, Algeria and Thailand are, respectively, 80.1%, 35.9% and 53%, that is, three very contrasted levels with the first rate standing very high, the second being pretty low and with the third country having a medium higher education enrolment rate among young people of a certain age group. Yet, with female tertiary enrolment being 61%, 59.7% and 58.3%, respectively, these countries are a good reflection of one of the current trends in higher education worldwide: women are increasingly over-represented among students.

How can it be stated from this study that women’s access to higher education is no longer an issue?

The feminisation rate of tertiary enrolment exceeds 45% in two thirds of the countries covered by the study.

A more refined analysis reveals that the 22 countries with a low proportion of females in tertiary enrolment not only have issues with women accessing higher education but with young people in general, whatever their gender. All countries with less than 45% of women among students also have a tertiary enrolment rate inferior to 15%, i.e., very low. Most of them are African countries. Besides, the per capita GDP of most of these countries is inferior to $4,000, except for a few ones whose economy is inflated by oil revenues. So, we see that all high and middle-income countries covered by the study, as well as a large number of countries classified as poor, are experiencing a real feminisation process of their student population. As a consequence, it seems reasonable to assume that there is a global convergence on the topic and that the fight for women’s access to higher education is being won, provided that poverty is won too.

Does this mean that gender equality has been achieved in higher education?

When it comes to gender inequalities, female statistics only have long been considered. Asking the question from a male perspective introduces a shift. The study PAXTER NEXT15years has shown that the male tertiary enrolment ratio stood below 45% in 14 countries in 2014 or 2015: gender inequalities have somehow been “reversed”. These countries are spread across all continents and can either be high or middle-income.

The challenges posed by these statistics, built on official data and revealed by PAXTER NEXT15years, are confirmed by numerous complementary, more locally-based studies. Indeed:

  • In the United States, 72.5% of female secondary school leavers had enrolled into higher education in 2015, for only 65.8% of their male counterparts. [1]
  • Canadian women aged 25 to 64 are 17% more likely to graduate from higher education than their male counterparts. [2]
  • For the whole European Union and whatever the degree, the European statistics reported 57.9% of women among all tertiary education graduates in 2014. [3]

When dealing with equal opportunities for men and women, it appears necessary to also pay attention to this deficit of males that can be observed in many countries and seems to primarily affect the poorest sections of the populations.

Anne Righini


 

[1] https://www.theatlantic.com/business/archive/2017/11/gender-education-gap/546677/ (accessed on 11th June 2018)

[2] https://www.conferenceboard.ca/hcp/Details/education/gender-gap-tertiary.aspx?AspxAutoDetectCookieSupport=1 (accessed on 11th June 2018)

[3] http://ec.europa.eu/eurostat/documents/2995521/7535602/3-29062016-AP-FR.pdf/86915424-67f4-4223-9ffc-f04a06f8e7c9 (accessed on 11th June 2018)

 

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