Universities bemoan gender disparity
Universities South Africa (USAf), has broadened its investigation into gender disparities at tertiary institutions, looking not only at barriers at the upper echelons but obstacles at the lower rungs.
USAf members comprise the heads of the country’s 26 tertiary education institutions.
Only four women hold vice-chancellor positions at universities in South Africa. They are: Mamokgethi Phakeng, who became vice-chancellor at the University of Cape Town in July; Professor Thoko Mayekiso, who is vice-chancellor of the University of Mpumalanga; Dr Sibongile Muthwa, who was appointed head of the Nelson Mandela University in the Eastern Cape in October 2017; and Professor Xoliswa Mtose, who is the hot seat at the University of Zululand.
The country’s fifth female vice-chancellor, Professor Cheryl de la Rey, has left the University of Pretoria to assume a similar role at New Zealand’s University of Canterbury in February.
Professor Ahmed Bawa, USAf chief executive officer, said the gap must begin to represent itself in the staff structures of universities. “And indeed, there are more women than men at lecturer level. However, we are not seeing the same trend at the senior levels. And this clearly must be an area of investigation,” he said.
The issue of gender at universities came under the spotlight after businesswoman Judy Dlamini became chancellor of the University of the Witwatersrand on December 1, the first woman to hold the role in the university’s 96-year history.
While only four women are vice-chancellors out of 26 tertiary institutions in the country, there are nine female chancellors. Sixteen men are chancellor at universities in the country. The post at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University is vacant after the death of its chancellor, Edna Molewa, the minister of environmental affairs, on September 22.
While women are struggling to break through the glass ceiling, there has been transformation on another level. Whereas universities were once led by “pale-males”, currently only three white males are leading higher education institutions in the country: Lourens van Staden, Walter Sisulu University; Professor Henk de Jager, Central University of Technology; and Professor Christopher De Beer at Sefako Makgatho Health Sciences University.