Funding groups told 'help women to be professors': Lecturers' leader says financial muscle can break male bias in top university posts

HIGHER education funding councils should use financial muscle to push universities into appointing more women professors, David Triesman, general secretary of the Association of University Teachers, said.

Only one in 20 professorships in the old universities are held by women although they make up 15 per cent of academic staff. Female professors lag behind male colleagues on pay. Women have fared better in the former polytechnics but are still under-represented in senior posts.

Mr Triesman called for an end to the 'secretive enclaves' that made professorial appointments in many universities and said that more open criteria would enable more women to gain promotion on merit.

He urged the funding councils in England, Wales and Scotland, who control the lion's share of universities' funding, to set targets for equal opportunities policies. 'I do not accept for a second that women are not entitled by merit to as many of the senior positions as men and and are not as effective and capable academic managers,' he said. 'The funding councils should start setting targets for universities to attempt to overcome discrimination.'

He said that appointment procedures should be standardised and the basis of decisions made known. Open criteria had already made a significant difference in industry. They should be included in the performance indicators for universities being devised by the funding councils.

'We expect that these methods will lead to a closing of the gap between the proportion of women in the occupation and the proportion . . . who get through to managerial level,' he said. 'Universities will say that they appoint exclusively on merit but I do not think it is conceivably right when the system produces 19 times more men in these positions than women.'

In the 'new' universities, the former polytechnics, 12 per cent of posts above principal lecturer are held by women (92 out of 765). Only 223 out of 4,509 professors in the old universities are women but three years ago the proportion was 3 per cent. They still lag behind male professors on pay with nearly half of women in the lower range of pounds 30,000 to pounds 34,000 compared to 21 per cent of men. More than a quarter of men are in the top band but only 7 per cent of women professors are.

Tomorrow, Oxford University's ruling congregation will debate a motion seeking the withdrawal of 15 new professorships in favour of creating more lower level readers' posts which women would stand a better chance of obtaining. The move, supported last week by 77 staff, has been prompted by Oxford's poor equal opportunities record. Only six of its 195 professors - 3 per cent - are women.

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