Society 03/11/2021

Only 16% of university degrees have gender-specific subjects

Female rectors, vice-rectors, deans and researchers are still a minority in Catalan universities

3 min
The historic building of the University of Barcelona, in an archive picture

BarcelonaThe academic world is a reflection of society and the gender bias that exists in all areas is no exception. Also in universities, women have less access to high positions of governance, teaching and research. Women rectors, vice-rectors, deans and researchers are still in the minority, according to the report The Gender Perspective in Teaching in Universities by Xarxa Vives, which includes all public and private universities in Catalonia and some in the Valencian Country.

This is the second report on the matter that the entity elaborates after the first one made in 2017. From the inequalities detected then, equality units were launched in the different centres of the Xarxa to try to introduce changes in governance and studies. Four years later, the new report highlights that most of the centres have made efforts to include a gender perspective in the studies they offer to students.

Eight of the 20 universities of the Xarxa Vives have mentoring programs specifically aimed at their female students, especially in those studies where the presence of women is reduced. In the majority of institutions, gender is one of the competencies that students of some university degrees have to achieve, although in only six of the 20 universities evaluated is it a common competence, which is required in the curricula of all the studies offered. The report also examines each subject individually and concludes that only 16% of the degrees at these universities have gender-specific subjects.

In fact, in 2019 the Secretariat for Universities and Research, the Inter-University Council of Catalonia (CIC) and the Agency for the Quality of the University System of Catalonia (AQU) reached a pioneering agreement in Europe to incorporate the gender perspective from the academic year 2020-2021. But the study is based on surveys carried out in the 20 universities during the previous academic year, 2019-2020. In general, it is recommended to universities to increase gender training for students but also for "teachers", so that they incorporate this perspective when teaching.

Students, "agents of change"

The authors, María José Rodríguez Jaume and Diana Gil González, from the University of Alicante, consider this to be the "most transformative challenge" facing universities. "By incorporating the gender perspective, universities contribute to promoting the principle of equality between women and men through teaching practice", the authors stress. The thesis of the authors is that if students are sensitised to identify "gender biases and discrimination", when these students graduate they will become "agents of change" because they will apply this knowledge to their work environment and contribute to ending the current gap.

Looking to the present and in terms of the governance of these centres, the study also concludes that the management of universities have to ensure a "balance" in the presence of women and men in senior positions in the institutions. According to the study of the 20 universities analysed, both women and men participate in the coordination of undergraduate, postgraduate and doctoral degrees, but when it comes to accessing senior management, teaching and research positions - which are those that are better paid and provide more merit - women continue to be the exception. Only in the management of doctoral schools is the presence of women balanced. In the rest it ranges between 10% and 34% of the total.

In fact, at the end of August, the Spanish government approved a bill to allow public universities to give priority to hiring women as teaching and research staff. "This law gives special importance to equity in relation to university employment both for reasons of gender and for other reasons and social conditions", says the draft bill, consulted by the ARA.

The study also analyses the virtual environments of universities and recommends increasing the use of inclusive language. Currently only four of the 20 centres analysed use it "habitually". On the other hand, 85% of the centres do have statistics segregated by sex on the presence of women and men at the level of teaching staff, administrative staff and students, a tool that the authors consider "favours" the taking of "decisions with a gender perspective".