GE-HEI - Gender Equality in Higher Education Institutions

Portugal has a large proportion of women ISCED 5-8 graduates, including in non-traditional fields such as Science, Technology and Mathematics (STEMs) and yet, the number of women in management positions within Higher Education Institutions (e.g Heads of Departments, Deans, Vice Rectors, Rectors, and Full Professors) remains awfully low (She Figures 2016). Policies requiring balanced representation in decision making have been introduced in the political and company sectors. The Government plans to extend said regime to HEI as part of a more structural gender equality policy in higher education. There is a need to define and test systematic ways and produce recommendations to integrate gender equality in HE.

The GE-HEI project,  funded by EEAGrants 2014-2021, is developed in the context of the 2030 Agenda of the United Nations, specifically the Sustainable Development Goal 5 (Gender Equality). Its main goals are to identify the factors which explain gender inequalities and to acquire and develop new knowledge, tools and methods that can promote gender equality in the Portuguese higher education system.


Some of the project's results:

1. In Portugal, women make half of the academic personnel, but represent less than 1/3 of the top level in the academic career. The proportion of women in the categories of the academic career decrease as these move up, a decrease which is also seen in global data of the EU27.

2. In most countries, women in the category A (top category) represent a lower percentage of the academic personnel in comparison with the men in the same category. Portugal has the academic hierarchy with the lowest percentage of women and men in the highest career category.

3. In a comparative and diachronic perspective the data show that in the last 20 years, in Portugal, female higher education professors' participation (not including researchers) has increased. It has gone from 40,8% in 2001/2002 to 46,2% in 2021/2022.

4. The number of portuguese female researchers has also increased in the last few years, surpassing that of male researchers in every R&D domains, except in Science, Technology, Engeneering and Mathematics.

5. However, it is also in Portugal, considering the European context, that there is the largest proportion of female researchers with "precarious" contracts, in comparison with male researchers, as well as a considerably high feminisation associated with a smaller expenditure per capita in R&D.

6. Women represent aproximately half of higher education students, with a higher percentage than the EU27 average at the 1st cycle level (Licenciatura) with 54,7% and at the PhD level with 52,2%, in 2020. However, there are patterns of horizontal segregation in the proportion of female students in the various scientif fields, with an increased underrepresentation of women with PhDs in IT, in contrast with the fields of Education and Health and Well-Being.

 7. The proportion of women is even larger when we consider the percentage of graduates, with similar levels at the 1st cycle level (Licenciatura) and Master level to those of the EU27, with 59,4% and 58,6% respectively, and above the European average at the PhD level, with 52,5%, in 2020.

8. Portugal follows the European trend of the scissors effect, meaning that the proportion of women who is enroled and graduates decreases as we move up to the higher and more stable positions in academy. Such effect ilustrates the disparities in the personnal investments in education and the career paths of women and men in Portugal and in the EU27.

9. A deeper analysis through interviews with female leaders and academics and the case studies (where the head of each institution, professors, staff and students from four Portuguese higher education institutions (HEI)), lead to the following conclusions:

   9.1. There is a greater awareness regarding the need to promote gender equality in HEI, partly resulting from policies implemented by the European Commission;

   9.2. There are different perceptions about gender equality in HEI, depending on the scientific field, the number of women professors/staff/students, de need and/or the interest in the promotion of gender equality, that is their "intitutional culture";

   9.3. The leadership's perception on gender inequalities in HEI, on the need to raise awareness on this issue and on the need to implement measures on gender equality and their effectiveness also vary. We were able to identify three types of perspectives regarding the promotion of gender equality:

         Supportive: they consider that gender inequalities still persist in HEI and take responsibility on the sistematic implementation of measures, since all of them are needed;

         Ambivalent: have more difulty in identifying gender inequalities in HEI, however, they are predisposed to learn, recognising the relevance of some measure;

         Resistant: they din't recognise that there are gender inequalities in HEI and devalue the issue and the need to act on it.

10. The institutional change requires long term investiment either in terms of internvention strategies and goals and initiatives. Namely, with the formalisation of explicit commitment at various institutional levels, tools to monitor gender inequalities in HEI, the creation of teams or offices on gender equality, and so on.

11. An educational approach results in a greater familiarity with the issue and the recognition of the hindrances. It has more potentional than a compulsory or accusative approach to a consequencial and based change in HEI, which are characterised by a culture of "constant quesioning".

12. Recognising the gender imbalances in A3ES's External Evaluation Committees (boards and teams) and in the Coordination of Study Programmes Committees (boards and teams) of Portuguese HEI resulted in the introduction of changes by A3ES, such as:

   12.1. The inclusion of gender equality criteria in the appointing of External Evaluation Committees.

   12.2. The establishment of gender equality as one of the criteria for the evaluation of HEI, already present in the institutional evaluation guides.

    12.3. The introduction of gender equality as a relevant domain in the A3ES's Strategic Programme (2021-2024).


As a result from the project, it was created by the Portuguese Ministry for Science, Technology and Higher Education, an Award to the HEIs with Good Practices on Gender Equality as well as a Commitment Seal, with the goal to recognise and encourage the promotion of gender equality in Portuguese HEI.


The project is promoted by the Directorate General for Higher Education (DGES), has the Commission for Citizenship and Gender Equality (CIG) as its operating entity, and the Interdisciplinary Center for Gender Studies (CIEG) as the scientific coordinator, in partnership with the Agency for Assessment and Accreditation of Higher Education (A3ES) and the Institute for Gender, Equality and Difference, University of Iceland (RIKK).

CIEG's team is coordinated by Anália Torres. Bernardo Coelho, Diana Maciel, Fátima Assunção, Paula Campos Pinto and Sara Merlini are the members of the project’s research team.

Project Website, here.


Funded by:

EEA and Norway Grants


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