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Oxford bucks national trend, increases number of female professors

Despite the startling nationwide figures, Oxford has increased female representation at the top of academia

Oxford University has bucked a nationwide trend to increase its percentage of female professors.

Research by Times Higher Education (THE) has revealed that the proportion of professorships held by women has recently declined in universities across the UK.

Although the total number of women with the title of professor grew by almost a quarter between 2012-13 and 2015-2016, 37 per cent of institutions with a statistically significant number of professors saw a drop in the proportion who were women.

The Equality Challenge Unit’s Athena SWAN charter scheme, established in 2005, seeks to encourage gender diversity in higher education in terms of both standard and students.

The nationwide trend in decrease in female professors has occurred despite the increase in charter members from 61 in 2011 to 143 in 2017.

However, despite the nationwide trend, the University of Oxford has increased its proportion of female professors to 24.2 per cent in 2015- 16, an increase of a fifth from 2012-13. This is slightly higher than the national average of 24 per cent.

The University’s website cites a gender equalities strategic plan 2013- 18, and also notes that all departments in Mathematical and Physical Life Sciences Division (MPLS) and Medical Sciences Division (MSD) have achieved Athena SWAN awards.

Data compiled for the EU by its She Figures 2015 report indicates that the number of female heads of higher education in Europe rose from 15.5 per cent in 2010 to 20 per cent in 2014.

While the latest news regarding the amount of female professors at the University may be cause for celebration, earlier this month, it was revealed that Oxford’s female academics earn 86 per cent of what their male counterparts are paid.

According to recent statistics also released by THE, the average total earned by female academics at the University from 2015-16 was £43,502, compared to £50,618 paid to their male counterparts.

The gender pay gap at Oxford has decreased by just one per cent since 2014-2015, despite the University’s “committed” position on female promotions, the figures showed.

At the beginning of this month, A University of Oxford spokesperson told Cherwell: “The University is committed to increasing the proportion of women in senior roles.

“At Oxford, both the overall proportion of female professors, as well as the proportion of professors in STEM departments is closely aligned with national and Russell Group averages, and has increased in recent years, as part of a proactive commitment to equality and diversity across all university activities.”

However, some academics believe that gender is no barrier to succeeding at Oxford.

Hannah Smithson, Associate Professor of Experimental Psychology at the University, said: “I’ve never been made to feel that my gender was a barrier to success in Oxford. I always wanted to be a scientist and an academic, and I’ve been fortunate to work in supportive departments, both here and elsewhere in the UK and USA.

“Oxford offers joint appointments in the sciences between departments and colleges, and at present both my Head of Department and Head of House are female—that’s actually quite inspiring.”

Although Oxford did see an improvement, the largest improvements in female professorship occurred at Liverpool (from 16.5 per cent to 27.4 per cent) and Kent (from 19 per cent to 27.2 per cent).

Cambridge saw an increase of only 1.3 percentage points in the three years before 2015-16—a growth to 16.9 per cent of professors being female.

Rebecca O’Brien, the Gender Equalities Representative at Pembroke College, said that although it is good that Oxford is above the national average in terms of female professors, there is still work to be done.

“There should be an aim to employ a diverse group of women; women of colour and state-school educated women for example, so that students have many different role models and so these professors can bring their varied experiences to their teaching” she said.

Agnes Headlam-Morley of St Hugh’s was the first female professor at the university, appointed Montague Burton Professor of International Relations in 1948.

Louise Richardson, the first female Vice-Chancellor, was appointed in 2016.

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