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South Asia – Women Missing from Universities

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Women are under-represented in higher education in SAARC nations. Sri Lanka fares the best. Afghan women are least represented. India is catching up. Bangladesh is placed better than Pakistan.

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Women are underrepresented in the higher education leadership in South Asia, a region with countries like India, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Bangladesh, Nepal, Sri Lanka, altogether constituting a fourth of the global population. Despite nine-fold increase in the government expenditure on the sector between 2007-2012 in India, the period designated for the implementation of the 11th Five-Year Plan, the women are found absent in the sector. A Report titled “Women in Higher Education Leadership in South Asia: Rejection, Refusal, Reluctance, Revisioning” by Prof. Louise Morley and Dr. Barbara Crossouard of University of Sussex, Centre for Higher Education and Equity Research, England, says the following:

  • Higher education enrollment in Afghanistan is one of the lowest in the world at 3%.
  • Women comprised 19% of all students enrolled in public universities and higher education institutions in 2012.
  • It is estimated that there are 19 public universities and 12 public higher education degree-awarding institutes and approximately 68 private higher education institutions, which offer degrees and professional courses
  • Representation of women vice chancellors is only 0.4%.
  • In absolute numbers male academics over this period has almost doubled, rising from 1,613 in 2004 to 3,009 in 2012, and the absolute numbers of female academics reflects a similar level of increase, rising from 273 in 2004 to 510 in 2012. However, this also means that the relative proportions of male to female academics show no change, being 14.5% in 2004 and in 2012, with only minimally higher representation of women during the intervening years.
  • Afghanistan is the only Muslim country to have signed The Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) without qualifications.
  • Afghanistan ranked 147th in the Global Gender Gap Index in 2012, a place above Yemen which was the lowermost.


  • Bangladesh has a total of 87 universities, only 32 are public and 4 award Ph.Ds. Only32% of students in public universities were women. Gross enrolment ratio in universities is 11%.
  • In 2014, only 0.01% of vice chancellors are women.
  • B.Desh is home to Asian University for Women, located in Chittagong. It has students from 12 countries (Asian as well as Middle Eastern). Among its 15-member Board of Trustees, there are 10 males and 5 females. Among its board of Directors, there are 6 males and 5 females. Its chancellor, vice chancellor, dean of faculty and dean of students were females.
  • 2012 figures suggest that 80.5% (total no. 8,555) of university academics in B.Desh were males and 19.5% (total no. 2,068) were females.


  • India has registered nine fold increase in planned higher education expenditure between 2007 and 2012.
  • Gross enrolment ratio (GER) is reported to be 19.4% (for those of 18-23 years of age)
  • Women constituted 44% of the 27.5 million students in Indian higher educational institutions in 2013. But situation varies between states e.g., 57% of all enrollments in Kerala being females, while in Punjab, women were only 35%.
  • Women constitute 1.4% of the professoriate and 3% of Vice-Chancellors.
  • Of a total of 666,971 academics in India in 2013, 64.3% are male and 35.7% are women.
  • The representation of women in Bihar was the lowest, i.e., 15%. It was more than 50% in Kerala, Meghalaya and Chandigarh. It was 48.5% in Jammu and Kashmir, 49.2% in Delhi and 49% in Nagaland and Goa. (Data pertains to 2011).
  • While in all categories of academic positions women are under-represented, this increases for higher positions. Thus only 25.5% of Professors, 31.1% of Readers and Associate Professors, and 38.5% of Lecturers or Assistant Professors were women.
  • As the community wise disaggregated data shows, there were 15,000 male Muslim academics (66.5%) in the total while Muslim female academics numbered 7,553 or (33.5%).
  • Women with disability represent only 1.9 per cent of the overall total number of academics in India
  • India ranked 114 out of the 142 countries on Global Gender Gap Index 2014.


  • Nepal started late in higher education. Tirubhuvan University was started in 1959. There were only three Higher Educational Institutions (HEI) in Nepal and three more on the anvil in 2010.
  • In 2013, 317,000 students enrolled in the Tirubhavan University.
  • There were no women vice chancellors.
  • Generally genderwise data is not available.
  • Nepal ranked 114 out of 142 countries in Global Gender Gap Report 2014.


  • There were 138 degree-awarding institutions in Pakistan, of which 75 were in the public and 63 in the private sector, with six new universities established in 2010-2011, four of which are in the private sector. The Higher Education Commission (HEC) reports enrolment to have risen from 276 million students in 2001-02 to 869 million in 2009-10, with a further 16% increase in 2011-12. While this report suggests that in 2010-2011, 45% of HEI students were female, AEPAM (2011) puts female participation at only 33%. It reports the higher educational instituion sectors as representing only 0.5% of Pakistan’s educational system; gross enrollment is similarly around 0.5%.
  • (The figure of 276 million seems to be flawed. Pakistan’s total population stands at 180 million.-Islamic Voice)
  • Women vice chancellors are estimated to be only 0.4%.
  • Although no data are given for HEI staffing, they show female participation to be lowest at PhD level, being only 28% in 2003-04, although at least rising in absolute numbers from 2001-2002 from 689 to 1810 and also in terms of representation (i.e. from 22% in 2001-2002).
  • A major local initiative has been the women-only Fatima Jinnah Women University (FJWU). This was established in 1998.
  • Pakistan ranked 141 out of 142 countries in the 2014 Global Gender Gap Report 2014.

Sri Lanka

  • Sri Lanka has 15 universities (public) and a 16% gross enrolment rate.
  • Girls and women fare relatively well in the education system. More women than men are enrolled at the undergraduate level (54,000 women versus 38,500 men at end of 2011).
  • Study by Gunawardena (2013) shows that almost 50% of lecturers and probationary lecturers in Sri Lankan universities were women at the end of 2011, against only one in four professors. The EIU (2014) estimate that 21.4% of Vice-Chancellors are women.
  • In 2012, against 2256 male lecture (representing 56.4%) there were 2,256 female lecturers (43.6%).
  • Sri Lanka ranked 79 out of 142 countries in the 2014 Global Gender Gap Report 2014.

(This report has been compiled by Islamic Voice on the basis of report titled “Women in Higher Education Leadership in South Asia: Rejection, Refusal, Reluctance, Revisioning”).
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