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A gender equal Research Bill is a question of quality

Håkan Lindkvist_2012_webb_sv

In this sector, it is a widely-recognised  truth that the balance between direct and internal research resources must be altered. The report entitled Fostering Breakthrough Research (Öquist and Benner, 2012) that showed that countries with a higher proportion of direct resources managed to achieve greater impact in their research, convinced its readers that higher basic government grants are necessary. And the latest Research Bill does contain a certain, albeit limited, reweighting. So far, so good. But is it enough? Or we must also look deeper and discuss how resources should be used?

Swedish universities are experiencing gender equality problems. Female university teachers’ careers move, for several reasons, at a slower pace. Many of those who do succeed in becoming professors, become tied up with assignments they are given just because they are one of the few women available. And gender inequality also applies to students. Swedish higher education is strongly gender-segregated despite the fact that female students are in the majority. And the major female-dominated courses such as nursing and teacher education are also those with the fewest research links. The availability of PhDs is strongly limited, regrowth is weak and few teachers on these courses have the opportunity to become active researchers. The lack of gender equality among research and teaching staff and students is basically a quality problem; research and education will be poorer quality when there is gender inequality. However, if the government Research Bill substantially increases basic government grants, universities will be able to take greater responsibility for addressing some of these imbalances.

Today, research is not always based on the needs of society but on the needs of research financing. With more direct resources allocated to the universities themselves, they will be able to connect research and education through graduate programmes in areas of shortage, and allow  PhDs who are teaching courses to conduct research. This increases the quality of the courses. It is well-known that the labour market will require nearly half a million people over the next decade who not only possess greater knowledge but also a greater ability to absorb and utilise research produced after they graduate. Healthcare, education and social services will gain higher quality in this manner.

Also when it comes to gender equality among teachers/researchers, more direct government grants can affect the balance. The report entitled His Excellency (Sandström, Wold, Jordansson, Ohlsson, Smedberg 2010) showed that women are systematically disadvantaged by assessment processes, especially as concerns large-scale grants to outstanding researchers. External funding also largely determines who is employed at universities. Those who have the funding get the jobs, which means men are more often employed for this reason, and often ‘the ability to obtain external funding’ is stated as a criterion in ads for both lectureships and professorships which is, of course, indirect gender discrimination because women, regardless of merit, have lower success rates with larger-scale grants. With a greater proportion of basic government grants,  universities will be better able to recruit more gender equally than they can today.

A gender perspective is essential to fully elucidate why universities need higher basic grants. Other arguments for higher basic grants – for example requirements for counterfinancing and overheads – weigh in significantly lighter than the fact that both research and education will be of higher quality if a gender equality perspective is applied.

Håkan Lindkvist

Håkan Lindkvist, 1st Deputy Chair of SULF
Håkan Lindkvist, 1st Deputy Chair of SULF

Leader in Universitetsläraren No. 7/2015

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