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Interventionism is suddenly all the rage with the Westminster Conservative government, and higher education is feeling the impact as new policies and legislation are brought to bear on the sector, writes Johnny Rich, Chief Executive of Push and of the Engineering Professors’ Council.
Mike Boxall, an independent researcher and consultant on higher education policies and strategies, and a senior adviser to PA Consulting, considers the emerging post-COVID world and its implications for the future of universities. His blog is based on a paper published recently by PA Consulting, and co-authored with its HE lead, Ian Matthias.
Reviewing a week in which issues affecting women’s lives were in the spotlight, Sandra Booth, Director of Policy and External Relations at the Council for Higher Education Art and Design (CHEAD), sees hopeful signs of moves to address gender equality in higher education.
In the week of commemorating International Women’s Day, it is impossible to ignore the terrible news of the Sarah Everard murder case which has dominated the headlines. Whilst this might be an isolated occurrence, the need for change is reinforced by an APPG for UN Women campaign showing the scale of gender motivated incidents with 70 percent of all women and 97 per cent of young women in the UK having experienced sexual harassment. Despite deflection and minimisation by some groups, Marina Hyde in the Guardian powerfully recounted the extent of harassment facing women on our streets every day.
Higher Education is not immune from these impacts with emotions and anxiety felt by staff, students and parents across the country as university leaders press for most students to be allowed back to campuses after Easter. Many will be returning with intensified awareness of the need for campuses to be safe and inclusive public spaces for all and to be set free from gendered harassment and aggression.
The pandemic has exposed patterns of gender inequality in society and has greatly exacerbated social divisions, including the disproportionate impact of Covid-19 amongst Black and minority ethnic women, and the burden of increased childcare for parents. Female academics are often picking up the additional workload of pastoral care, whether at home, on campus or online, and the invisible labour associated with running the domestic domain whilst maintaining a career. Ironically, Emma Hardy, shadow further education and universities minister, has resigned in order to prioritise how she can "spend more time with her constituents".
Celebrating International Women’s Day and British Science Week, a University Alliance publication identifies steps Alliance universities are taking to improve the R & D talent pipeline for women, embed equality, diversity and inclusion across their research programmes and to support more underrepresented groups into academia. HEPI has also published a blog identifying ways in which the pandemic is heightening disadvantages for women in higher education - including the gender imbalance in publishing rates and differences in reporting mental health issues – whilst in a WonkHE blog, Simonetta Manfredi, Associate Dean for Research and Knowledge Exchange in the Business School at Oxford Brookes University, examined why fewer women are pursuing careers in university spin-outs.
The research agency Public First reported on its detailed survey ‘The Other Pandemic’ examining the impact of the pandemic on people’s lives indicating how difficult it has been, with women and the poorest facing some of the biggest challenges, amid fears emerging of an overwhelming student mental health crisis.
If we are to narrow these divides in society ‘build back better’ must result in HE addressing concerns surrounding staff and student wellbeing, gender imbalances and how structural inequalities have manifested in institutions. These are issues which have been amplified across communities this week by media coverage of the revelatory Meghan Markle interview and renewed outcries for our streets and campuses to be made safer for women.
These reports and the events of a fraught week further highlight the inequalities that exist in society and will be a rallying cry to those in academia who see the pandemic as a catalyst for radical change.
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