Gender imbalance on university court worse than average

Claire Diamond

Glasgow University Court is made up of just 24% women, slightly worse than the 25% average most university governing bodies have.

Despite the fact that females represent more than half of academics, there are just six women sitting on Glasgow University’s governing body. The University Court, consisting of 25 members, is responsible for all University decisions which are not academic. Academic matters are left to the University Senate, where only 23% of members are female.

Figures released by NUS Scotland show that on average, most university courts are made up of 25% women.  This figure was criticised for the low representation of women, with Glasgow’s being below average. Earlier in the Spring, the group that represents University Court chairs was criticised for its poor representation by the Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee.

Labour MSP Neil Findlay suggested they appeared to be “like an old boys’ network”, a phrase which in the weeks that followed struck nerves close to home at Glasgow University after the debating scandal at the GUU Ancients competition.

The Scottish Parliament’s Education Committee has since listened to evidence from Education Secretary Mike Russell. The Committee will later suggest measures to improve representation on university governing bodies. The Post-16 Education (Scotland) Bill will advocate a quota of 40% for female members of governing bodies.

Frances Bell, SRC Gender Equality Officer, agreed with the idea of a mandatory quota for governing bodies. She said: “It’s very concerning that female representation on Court is below average, especially when the average of 25% is already far too low. Diversity is essential to effective university management – a wide range of experiences and opinions are necessary in order to care for students and staff, and to decide what’s best for the university as a whole – and Court (and all of senior management) should aim to be as diverse as possible. If the university wants to show that it’s serious about gender equality, it should take the initiative and adopt the 40% quota for university governance that’s currently being considered by the Scottish Government.”

Glasgow University is currently implementing the Athena Swan Action Plan to improve gender representation on Court and Senate. This plan intends to encourage women to apply for senior positions or run for the elected positions on Court, as well as monitoring gender representation on University committees. It is as yet unclear whether academic year 2013-14 will see an improvement in gender representation on Court, but should staff remain the same the election of Jess McGrellis as SRC President will in fact increase the percentage to 28%.

A spokesperson for the University said: “The University is committed to gender equality and aims to eradicate gender discrimination in its work, learning, teaching and research environment. We have made significant progress in the last few years but recognize we have a long way to go to ensure gender equality is embedded within the culture of the University.”

Despite such efforts, the percentage of female members on such governing bodies is still low – a trend repeated across the country. Currently, all Scottish university chairs are male – a fact which attracted criticism from some.

Stacey Devine, NUS Scotland women’s officer, said: “This gender inequality is right out of Victorian times and certainly shouldn’t be tolerated in the 21st century by world-class Scottish universities serving diverse communities. Universities should be at the forefront of creating a fairer, more equal society that is representative of Scottish society, yet almost 75% of board members are men, despite women making up a majority of our campus populations.”