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Four ways in which the British Council is helping higher education institutions to narrow the gender gap

by Irene Paganelli
Higher Education Institutions, Further Education Institutions

In this blog we look at how we are working with higher education institutions around the world to tackle gender inequalities.


1. Encouraging women to pursue a career in science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM)

British Council programmes support women and girls at different ages and stages of their STEM education and career, ranging from initiatives to inspire young girls to study STEM to supporting women working in STEM fields to reach positions of leadership.

By autumn 2022, over 200 women from 25 countries will have benefited from a British Council Women in STEM Scholarship to study a master’s degree or an Early Academic Fellowship at one of 28 UK partner universities.

All scholars selected in the programme’s inaugural year come from a disadvantaged background and would otherwise lack the economic means to pursue master’s-level study in the UK. The first cohort of scholars is currently enrolled on a range of general and specialist STEM courses including Artificial Intelligence, Climate Science and Health Sciences.

The scholarship provides comprehensive support, with the value of each scholarship averaging £35,000. Of the 115 women that we supported in the first year, 13 mothers were selected and nine travelled with their children, with costs covered by the scholarship.

This scholarship has the power to transform my life,’ says Ana Maria Villareal Vives from Mexico, studying MSc New and Renewable Energies at Durham University. ‘Without it would not have been possible for me to travel and live in another country and to study at a high-level university.’

As alumni, this group of scholars is expected to play a key role in the advocacy of girls and women in STEM, supporting the training and capacity-building of women and men in their home countries. This year will see the consolidation of the Women in STEM scholars’ network, with activities around the world.

After completing my master’s here in the UK, I want to go back to Bangladesh and enter academia to help disseminate my knowledge, carry out cancer research and build a strong research community,’ says Nashrah Mustafa studying Disease Mechanisms and Therapeutics at Brunel University.


2. Addressing women’s under-representation in higher education leadership

The Women Leadership Programme in Pakistan is strengthening the capacity of senior and mid-career women leaders working as deans, heads of departments, and registrars in public sector higher education institutions.

I am good at teaching computer science,’ says Dr Ayesha, Dean of Computer Sciences at Bahauddin Zakariya University who was part of the first cohort of women attending the leadership training course ‘but I am not confident that I am good being a dean. I know that I am not the only one who realises this, as most of my colleagues on the same level talk about lack of training and mentoring. We learn the hard way. This is the first time I have attended a course that will help me in my role.’

You can see an in-depth analysis of the issues related to women in leadership roles in Pakistan in the British Council report Understanding Meaningful Participation of Women in Leadership.


3. Preventing violence against women (VAW)

As part of the Strategic Partnerships for Higher Education Innovation and Reform (SPHEIR) programme, we delivered safeguarding training for higher education institutions in low-income countries. The training focused on various aspects including how to develop a robust safeguarding policy, dealing with concerns at the appropriate level and establishing and introducing a code of conduct which holds all staff and volunteers accountable to standards of behaviour.

'The programme approach to safeguarding was an eye opener. At the start of the TESCEA project safeguarding was an unfamiliar concept to most partners. The training on safeguarding that was conducted by SPHEIR contributed greatly to capacity building among the partnership. Following the introduction of this by SPHEIR, all members of the TESCEA partnership have developed safeguarding related policies although most of these are still in approval process by the institutions.' – Professor Flora Fabian, Safeguarding Lead at the University of Dodoma, Tanzania


4) Guiding higher education institutions on how to use gender equality frameworks

We delivered training on how to incorporate gender equality considerations into international development research and innovation projects to UK higher education institutions applying for Newton Fund opportunities. We worked closely with UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) on developing guidelines that would help UK higher education institutions develop a gender equality statement – as required when applying for Official Development Assistance (ODA) funding. We provided guidance on the process of reflecting on the potential impact that research projects could have on a specific sex, whether meaningful opportunities have been put in place for people of different genders to be involved throughout the project, how to mitigate unintended negative consequences on gender equality, and how to measure outcomes.


Find out more about our work

Going Global Partnerships: progressing gender equality within tertiary education

The Gender Equality Partnerships grant scheme was launched in January 2022 to help progress gender equality within higher and further education, and to build on the sector’s potential to influence wider society. The fund is enabling partnerships between higher education institutions in the UK and targeted lower and upper middle-income countries to build partnerships focusing on all of these issues.

This month we are launching the Gender Equality in Higher Education: Maximising Impacts report which draws data and information from more than 300 sources and includes a rich collection of case studies from both within and outside the British Council offering accessible inspiration for effective ways to address gender inequalities in HE.  Read about some of the report's key findings here.

The report will be launched on 10 March 2022.  We will be hosting a digital launch event from 12.30 to 1.30pm (UK time) — join us to hear the headlines from the report, followed by a panel discussion with higher education leaders from around the world.

We aim to draw out lessons on how the sector can work collectively to address the challenges of gender inequality both in the UK and around the world. Confirmed speakers include:

  • Maddalaine Ansell. Director – Education, British Council 
  • Alicia Herbert, OBE. Director of the Education, Gender and Equality Directorate (EdGE), Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office 
  • Dr Pratibha Jolly. Principal Investigator, GATI: Gender Advancement for Transforming Institutions, Department of Science and Technology – India 
  • Dr Helen Mott. Research consultant
  • Professor Ramneek Ahluwalia. CEO – Higher Health, South Africa.

Read the report here from 10 March 2022

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