Startpage for Swedish National Agency for Higher Education

Please note! The Swedish National Agency for Higher Education was closed down on 31 December 2012. Instead two new agencies have been established: the Swedish Council for Higher Education and the Swedish Higher Education Authority. This website will continue to operate as the new agencies will have links to information it contains.  

2005:53 R

Academia's different worlds

The aim of this report is to identify critical phases - on the basis of existing statistical data on higher education in Sweden - in the transition from undergraduate to postgraduate programmes and from postgraduate programmes to appointments in higher education in terms of gender and the posts for which PhD´s are required. The report will also study what impact focussing on horizontal processes in the existing statistics could have on possibilities of qualifying hypotheses about the gender imbalance that still survives in the respects referred to above. A third objective is to plot directions for continued studies in this field.

This survey is explorative and should be viewed as a pilot study to identify areas for continued studies. This also includes a previously published report, Equal opportunities in higher education - a bibliography with a commentary (National Agency Report 2003:22R). The current report and the report issued in 2003 were funded by the National Agency for Higher Education´s Council for Gender Equality. The report presents a brief account of gender equality measures adopted in higher education in the post-war period, the material used for the analyses, the designations that have been given to areas and to staff as well as changes in the classification used in Statistics Sweden´s data on higher education and the comparisons that can be made chronologically as a result of these changes.

The report focuses on changes in the gender balance in higher education during the 1990s based on the premise that developments towards righting the balance are proceeding too slowly. Changes in the ratio of women are described for the years 1987, 1993 and 2002 and these can be read on an aggregate level (vertically) as indicating a gradual increase from the bottom upwards over time towards attainment of equality defined in terms of an equality interval. For instance, it can then be shown that the proportion of women among those awarded PhD´s was 44 per cent in 2002. Horizontal analysis discloses, however, that this 44 per cent is composed of a number of asymmetric ratios in which five areas of research lie outside the equality interval. In two of these areas women predominate while at the same time the number of PhD´s awarded in them are small. The three areas in which male PhD´s predominate accounted for about 40 per cent of all the PhD´s awarded during 2002. Analyses were also made of the staff categories, disciplinary areas and gender a well of those awarded PhD´s, disciplinary area, gender and post-doc research assistantships. Comparisons are also made between those awarded PhD´s, gender and professorships.

The authors also study, for instance, changes in the ratios of women in postgraduate programmes as well as the transition from undergraduate to postgraduate study. The overall figures for this transition, where the starting point is that about a third more undergraduate degrees are awarded to women than to men, shows that the frequency of transition for women is 4.8 per cent and 10 per cent for men. The undergraduate subjects in which women predominate have, apart from medicine, very low transition rates.

The study also contains analyses relating to the gender balance and gender imbalance in higher education in Sweden. Here it is pointed out that in Sweden the collective term higher education embraces different worlds which each function on their own terms. What is particularly evident is the numerical relationships between the provision of professorships and the number of undergraduate students. Medicine is a field, for instance, that is characterised by most professors, large numbers of PhD´s (of which about half are awarded to women) and relatively few students taking undergraduate degrees. The social sciences, to take another example, have many students taking undergraduate courses, award few PhD´s and have only a few professors.

Education and the caring sciences are two areas in which women predominate entirely in terms of those awarded undergraduate degrees. The transition rate from undergraduate to postgraduate programmes is very low in comparison to other subject areas. Professors are few in number, as are academic career openings.

It is pointed out in the study that focusing principally on the vertical process in descriptions and analyses of gender ratios is problematic as stress will then be placed on how slowly changes are taking place. Analytical focus on horizontal processes will instead help to identify areas where changes are taking place and those where nothing is happening. Differences in the material circumstances of various programme and subject areas are made visible by studies of horizontal processes, not least those affecting career prospects for women and men. The balance between women and men, on the one hand, and between access to postgraduate study and employment, on the other, are not the same in the different programme and subject areas.

The report contains a discussion of the premises on which to base a programme of research and formulation of a frame of reference for continued studies. Here reference is made, on the one hand, to the circumstance that attempts to explain the low ratio of women in academia are premised to varying degrees on discrimination or self-selection. On the other hand there is also discussion of whether academia differs in any real respect from the rest of the community. There are some who claim this is the case, while others maintain that there are factors suggesting that academia is special in comparison with other sectors, with its centuries of male predominance and more than a century with a strictly meritocratic system that has to be negotiated to achieve any position. These standpoints provide the basis for classification of attempts to explain why women are underrepresented, particularly at more senior levels in higher education in Sweden. Four categories can be then be discerned:
(1) Explanations based on self-selection within academia
(2) Explanations based on discrimination within academia
(3) Explanations based on self-selection outside academia
(4) Explanations based on discrimination outside academia.

It is pointed out that the majority of the studies undertaken so far can be placed in category 1 and to an even greater extent category 2, to some extent in category 3 while there have been hardly any studies in category 4. Studies related to category 3 often focus moreover on the role played by family circumstances for women´s academic careers. The report finally contains a number of outlines for further studies.