Where are the Women Leaders?

The patriarchal and patronising society and the multiple responsibilities of working women have prevented them from getting to the top rung of their career ladders in the education sector. Edex examines how this can change

Published: 15th June 2015 06:00 AM  |   Last Updated: 12th June 2015 01:26 AM   |  A+A-

Of nearly 300 Government-run universities in India, roughly six per cent have women as their Vice-Chancellors. Women continue to be a minority when it comes to positions of leadership and influence in higher education institutions in the country despite the fact that the sector has undergone a sea-change since Independence.

Even as the number of women in the sector has increased significantly in the past three decades, this does not translate into senior appointments or leadership positions within higher education institutions, when compared to other developed nations. The number of women working at the top level of academia or in senior university management positions is still far less.

Grossly under-represented, there are only a few women who have risen to the position of influence within the male-dominated Indian academic system. This despite the fact that the framework of national development recognises women as a unique power unit and a potential resource that has played a crucial role in social reforms, economic development and political process.

Although the Companies Act of 2013 mandates that every public company should have at least one woman director, there is no such legislation for government or private universities.

The Glass Ceiling in Higher Education

Back in the 90s, the Commonwealth Secretariat and UNESCO had conducted a study 'Women in Higher Education Management in India'. According to the study, seven per cent (pc) of professors, 22 pc associate professors, 38 pc assistant professors and 56 pc lecturers were women.

leaders 3.jpgAt university-level institutions, only six pc had women vice-chancellors (VCs), 21 pc had women senior administrators and 10 pc had women heads of departments and principals of affiliated colleges.

In the past one decade, there has been only a marginal improvement in these numbers, as per the All India Survey of Higher Education (AISHE) conducted by the Ministry of Human Resources Development (MHRD) for the past five academic sessions.

Even if women have achieved positions of high office, it has usually been associated with ‘soft’ subjects like Social Sciences, Humanities and Arts, and not in the ‘STEM’ subjects of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Gender disparity is visible in the VC or Director positions of some of the most popular educational institutions of the country.

Consider this: In the current session of 2014-15, of the 42 Central Universities in the country, just two — Pondicherry University and The English and Foreign Languages University in Telangana — have women VCs, Prof Chandra Krishnamurthy and Prof Sunaina Singh respectively.

In the 62 institutes of National importance including the Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs), there are only two women Directors ­­— Dr SK Pandey who is the Director of NIT-Puducherry and her counterpart in Rajiv Gandhi National Institute of Youth Development, Dr Latha Pillai. Among the 16 National Law Universities, only two — National Law University at Jodhpur and National University of Advanced Legal Studies at Kochi have women VCs now, Prof. Poonam Saxena and Prof Rose Varghese respectively.

The first woman in India to head a university as its VC was Hansa Mehta. An educator, freedom fighter and a social reformer, Mehta was the VC of the SNDT University, India’s first women's university, from 1946 to 1948 and the MS University of Baroda from 1949 to 1958. In fact, she was the first VC of MS University of Baroda but after her, only the 11th VC of the university was a woman — Padma Ramachandran.

Interestingly, the famed Viswa-Bharati University has never had a full-time woman VC in its 64 years of existence. In 1946, Indiradevi Chaudhurani was appointed VC of Viswa-Bharati University temporarily. Similarly, the country’s apex institution of medical sciences, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), since its inception in 1956, has been headed by just one woman, Prof Sneha Bhargava, from 1984 to 1990.

The first three universities in the country were set up at Bombay (University of Mumbai), Calcutta (University of Calcutta) and Madras (University of Madras) in 1857. While the University of Calcutta and University of Madras have never been headed by a woman VC till today, the University of Mumbai had two woman VCs — Dr Snehalata Deshmukh and Dr Chandra Krishnamurthy (acting VC).

The Jawaharlal Nehru University, one of India’s avant-garde institutions, has not had a single woman VC yet.

Even when it comes to the University Grants Commission (UGC), only two women have headed this apex regulatory body for higher education in India for five years each since its inception on December 28, 1953. They are Dr Madhuri R Shah, who held the position from 1981 to 1986, and Dr Armaity S Desai, who was the UGC Chairperson from 1995 to 1999.

No Capacity Building of Women Faculty

Prof Desai was instrumental in starting a ‘Capacity Building for Women Managers in Higher Education’ programme under the UGC in 2004, to help women in higher education overcome gender bias and take up academic leadership. The idea was to promote gender equality in higher education institutions, which are not gender neutral either in their structure or functioning.

“You will not find many women as VCs in India because the selection committees mostly comprise men, who do not give much weightage to women candidates. Besides, we have observed many times that women candidates do not have the confidence and are not ready to take up the role, which is why we had started the capacity building programme,” says Prof Desai, who was also the former director at the Tata Institute of Social Sciences (TISS).

The programme was carried out in three levels - SAM (Gender Sensitisation and Motivation) workshops, ToT (Train the Trainer) workshops, and MSEM (Management Skills Enhancement Modules), which is spread over five to six days each, in 10 regions covering all parts of the country. Teachers with five to 10 years of experience were identified for the workshops. The initiative yielded results with around 7,000 women faculty members being appointed as either principals, deans or heads of departments in colleges or VCs in a period of seven years.

leaders 5.jpgHowever, UGC stopped sanctioning funds for the programme in mid-2012 and it was abruptly stopped in 2013 for reasons unknown. “It is extremely shameful that an apex governing body of higher education stopped a participatory programme like this one, which actually developed management skills of women teachers, without any reason. The initiative was instrumental in bringing about a change. Women who had completed the training and gone back to their institutions saw noticeable changes in themselves and in the way they functioned,” Prof Desai says.

Currently, the women faculty members and administrators who were associated or had benefited from the programme, are networking through a closed Google Group where information, problems and suggestions on the issue are shared.

Prof Desai laments that the country is patriarchal and that that attitude pervades the higher education system as well. “Patriarchal attitudes are why women are overlooked. When they have been at the receiving end of men’s chauvinistic attitudes, most women back down and do not attempt to capture opportunities for management positions,” she adds.

Dual Roles of Balancing Career and Home

Social Scientist and former Vice-Chancellor of SNDT University, Prof Suma Chitnis feels the problem of gender disparity is a psychological one, although women in higher education are more hardworking and committed than their male counterparts.

 She says many a times it has been noticed that women join the academic profession because it is safe and gels well with their responsibilities as home-makers. “The number of women faculty members in the country has increased to a large extent, but only a handful of them rise to the positions of directors, VCs, professors and registrars,” she says. This is because, Prof Chitnis explains, women are stuck with the dual responsibilities of managing home and work, unlike men.

“As a result, they are, in many cases, unable to give their 100 per cent to work. For upward career growth and to reach managerial levels, they need to carry out research, write papers, acquire doctoral and post-doctoral degrees and other academic distinctions, attend seminars, etc. But while managing home, they do not get time to think about going beyond their academic positions,” she says.

Most women in academic posts consider their role as professionals or as one that helps supplement their husband’s income, and therefore they lack the drive to move up. Although this mindset is changing, the change is visible only in metros and bigger cities.

A pointer to this is the increasing gender disparity in the hierarchy, beginning from Lecturer to Vice-Chancellor posts.

The last available AISHE report of 2012-13 states that of 10,954 Lecturers in the country, 6,712 were women; of 2,44,242 Assistant Professors, 1,72,978 were women and there were 4,173 women Readers against 7,567 males in the post. While gender disparity in these three posts was less than 50 pc, it was more than half for the positions of Professor, Principal, Pro-Vice Chancellor and VCs, who are the administrative as well as the academic heads of institutes.

The report put the total number of VCs at 354 and of them, only six pc (18) were women. Places like Chhattisgarh, Delhi, Haryana, Karnataka, Kerala, Madhya Pradesh, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Uttar Pradesh had one woman VC each while, Odisha had two, Tamil Nadu four, and Telangana and West Bengal had two each. Of these 18 universities headed by women VCs, there are seven that are exclusively meant for women. The rest are co-educational.

Of 24,074 people holding Principal posts, 49 pc (11,022) were women and of 53,954 Professor posts, just 17,017 were women. Out of 64 Pro-VCs, only 12 were women.

Apparently, except for the AISHE data, the MHRD hardly has any information on gender composition of academic and administrative positions in higher education sector.

Involvement of Women in Teaching

As far as faculty positions are concerned, there is also a systemic gender disparity that plagues the college and university education system in a majority of States.

Although the population of the fair sex in the teaching profession at school-level is high (primary teaching is often seen as a womans job), their number declines as we go up the hierarchy.

As per the AISHE report, the total number of teachers in colleges is 6,57,376. Out of this, 64.8 pc are male teachers and 35.2 pc are female teachers. Bihar has the lowest gender proportion where there are four times fewer female teachers than their male counterparts — 77.2 pc male and only 22.8 pc female teachers; Arunachal Pradesh comes second with 63.3 pc male teachers and 36.63 pc female teachers.

Odisha, West Bengal, Jharkhand and Uttar Pradesh have only 30 to 40 pc (approximately) female staff of the total teachers available. A few States like Delhi, Chandigarh, Goa, Kerala and Meghalaya, on the other hand, have more female teachers than male teachers.

The report further states that there are merely 35 female teachers per 100 male teachers in colleges. Similarly in the SC category, the female staff is only half, that is 46 per 100 males; ST category has around 60 females per 100 males and OBC has a little more than half female teachers. As far as Muslim minority is concerned, there are around 49 female teachers per 100 male, but other minorities are inversely higher with 120 females per 100 male teachers.

Female representation in teachers belonging to Persons with Disabilities (PWD) category is half of the male teacher population in higher education institutions.

Creating a Fair Environment

Academicians feel there will be gender-friendly policies in the higher education sector only when women are involved in the decision-making process. Vice-Chancellor of SNDT University, Prof Vasudha Kamat says not just Government intervention, but attitudinal changes are also required to ensure equal opportunities and a more representative leadership in the higher education sector. Often, when it comes to rotational leadership as heads of departments in universities, women are overlooked. “And these days, women faculty members are hired on contractual or ad-hoc basis. As far as VC positions are concerned, corruption and bias have had a major impact on entry of women,” she adds.

On the other hand, social activist Asha Hans opines that equality should be made a key performance indicator in quality audits of higher education institutions. Besides, Government should again start training women faculty members to improve their participation in the management of higher education. “The academic aspirations of women in academic positions should be stimulated and they should be motivated to rethink their responsibilities as professionals,” says Hans, who was instrumental in opening a Centre for Women’s Studies in Odisha's Utkal University.

Prof Chitnis adds that women as heads of colleges and universities have a distinct role in redressing the bias against women in non-traditional professions. “They have a greater role to play in empowering their girl students by acquainting them with their social and political rights,” she says.




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