Rise of short-term contracts 'hinders route to top posts': University teachers' body says career opportunities for women are worsening. Donald MacLeod reports

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The Independent Online
LONG-TERM promotion prospects for women in British universities are worsening as more short-term contracts are introduced, the Association of University Teachers said.

Yesterday's debate in Oxford highlighted the difficulties in the way of women reaching the top of the academic profession.

In the old universities the proportion of women professors has increased from 3 per cent to 5 per cent in the past three years. The one in five university staff who are women are still concentrated in the most junior academic and related jobs.

The association pointed out that women professors are still paid on average pounds 1,500 less than their male colleagues, and expressed concern about the long-term trends. Universities are appointing more and more academic staff on short-term contracts and a disproportionate number have been women.

Adrienne Aziz, the association's deputy general secretary, said yesterday: 'The picture is not terribly good and this casualisation makes it worse. More than 60 per cent of the intake into short-term contracts has been women.'

She added that the large increase in the numbers of women graduating - now nearly half of the total student population - was not being reflected in academic career prospects. 'Most of them are shoved into the ever-increasing army of short-term contracts where you don't get promotion. You are lucky if you get renewal at the same point on the scale.'

In the 'new' universities, the former polytechnics, 12 per cent of posts above senior lecturer are held by women, but as women comprise 24 per cent of academic staff they are still under-represented.

The situation varies from subject to subject. There are no female professors of veterinary science, agriculture or forestry. But even in areas where there is a higher proportion of female professors, such as education (16 per cent) or languages and literature (11 per cent), women are not fully represented.

The association has called on the higher education funding councils to use their financial muscle to push the universities into improving their appointment and promotion procedures. This would lead to more women professors, it argues.

The Committee of Vice-Chancellors and Principals, which represents the heads of the universities, has responded to criticism by setting up an equal opportunities forum. It has yet to meet.

----------------------------------------------------------------- UNIVERSITIES: WOMEN STAFF AND STUDENTS ----------------------------------------------------------------- Old universities New universities Professors/ Men 4,916 673 senior posts Women 248 (4.8%) 92 (12%) Total 5,164 765 Academic staff Men 39,964 12,429 Women 11,157 (21.8%) 3,971 (24%) Total 51,121 16,400 Students Men 51.4% 51.1% Women 48.6% 48.9% ----------------------------------------------------------------- Source: 1991-92 University Statistical Record -----------------------------------------------------------------