India needs to take immediate steps to support and encourage women to pursue academic or scientific careers, in order to improve their gender balance ratios in top Indian universities, warn experts. According to an article by Times Higher Education, educational data of the country highlights that India has the lowest average female student ratios among other nations, with almost 10 institutions earning a spot in the World University Rankings.
The findings also indicate that on average, only third of undergraduates at Indian universities were women, and India was one of the four nations of the world where the average proportion of female students at top universities was less than 45 percent.
Moreover, data from the United Nations indicate India has increased their general enrolment rate for women in higher education institutions in recent times. The share or proportion of women in all tertiary programmes was 48.1 percent in 2017, up from almost 40.5 percent in 2013. Also, at the doctoral level, the progression was much slower, with female enrolment ratios at 42.1 percent in 2017, in comparison with 41.8 percent in 2013, per the findings of United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation figures.
The statistics for top-ranked universities which include science-centred universities such as the Indian Institutes of Technology, along with doctoral candidate ratios suggest that increase in female participation was inclined towards certain fields of education and few types of HEIs only.
Kristen Renn, professor of higher, adult and lifelong learning at Michigan State University, and author of the 2014 book titled ‘Women’s Colleges and Universities in a Global Context’, said that some of the overall changes within the Indian educational milieu could possibly be the by-product of an increasing number of institutions and rural colleges, specifically for women.
Renn added that in order to increase enrolments at top-ranked institutes different measures such as supporting female secondary schools students to increase their interest and skill set in the fields of science and technology, was a must, as these fields had the lowest gender parity figures.
If more women enrolled in graduate degree programmes and after completion joined leading universities as teachers or educators, the act could possibly have a knock-on effect on others creating “more role models and mentors for undergraduates in these fields,” she added.
Antara Sengupta, a research fellow, majoring in higher education at the Observer Research Foundation, a think tank based in India, said attainment of true gender parity ratios would take time “given the prevailing culture of a patriarchal Indian society where women are considered secondary citizens in several parts of the country”.
“The problem is rooted in the Indian school system itself as most girl students drop out in the adolescent stages – that is, in senior secondary levels. There have to be sensitisation programmes for women in science and such fields to educate them and their families about future possibilities of academic and professional careers.”