Do gender differences exist in academia today? Who are the better instructors: men or women? How is the quality of research evaluated and how can women advance to more senior ranks in academia? These questions are at the core of an innovative new research study, the first of its kind, which examined the evaluation of research and teaching output in the higher education system in Israel from a gender perspective. In brief, the findings of the study indicate a clear correlation between gender and excellence in academic teaching, with the female instructors being more highly esteemed than the male instructors – yet in terms of monetary rewards for excellence men still have a clear advantage.
The starting point for the researchers – Professor Nitza Davidovitch, head of Quality Assessment and Advancement of Teaching at Ariel University, Professor Zilla Sinuany-Stern and Eran Drukman – was that the representation of women on academic faculties, including their research and teaching output, is significant and has an impact on higher education in Israel, as in the rest of the world. In order to find out what if anything can be done in this area, the study examined the connection between the personal characteristics of academic faculty members – gender, age, seniority and country of birth – as well as their rank and the faculty with which they are associated on the one hand, and their achievements in research and teaching on the other.
The study examined data over a span of ten years, between 2003 and 2014, explains Professor Davidovitch, and it was aimed at isolating factors that would enable us to predict success in academia in order to enable more women to break through the glass ceiling and get ahead.
The study was first made public last September at the 10th conference on Quality, Mobility and Globalization in the Higher Education System held at Ariel University. The conference dealt with the challenges of university teaching from a broad perspective and represented extensive collaboration among researchers and colleagues from around the world with the aim of bringing academia to the forefront in leading changes and providing answers to current challenges.
Age and teaching quality
The study included 1,356 subjects (397 men and 977 women), and the researchers focused on two indices by which the lecturers were evaluated at Ariel University (when it was still a college) during the period of the study: the teaching index and the rewards for excellence in research index. The quality of teaching was measured by student evaluations at the end of a semester and the quality of research was measured by internal criteria established by the Council for Higher Education, such as scientific publications, research grants, reviewing for scientific journals, awards and so on. Lecturers rewarded for excellence in research enjoy prestige as expressed in their salary and promotions, whereas quality in teaching is not rewarded at all.
The study found that there is no significant correlation between gender and excellence in research activity. However, a significant correlation was found between gender and excellence in academic teaching as manifested in student feedback: the evaluations of the female lecturers were higher than the evaluations of the male lecturers. However, the men had a significant statistical advantage when it came to being rewarded for excellence in research.
The study also found that the proportion of men in the senior ranks was higher than that of women. The findings indicated that in the case of women there are additional variables which must be examined and which might explain the lower achievements. These have to do with the amount of leisure time women have for refreshing their knowledge, their central role in the family and the fertility years that characterize a considerable proportion of the women in the senior faculty who, on average, are younger than the men.
Another interesting finding indicates that age is a factor that can predict the quality of a lecturers teaching to a large extent. That is, the younger the lecturer, the higher he or she will be rated by the students. Since the age of most of the women lecturing in academia is significantly lower than that of the men – by four years on average – the women were found to have been ranked significantly higher than the men. However, as far as excellence in research is concerned, the men received higher marks than the women. On this measure, the factors influencing the evaluation are mainly seniority, age and rank. A greater proportion of the men have higher academic ranks than the women.
Research as the dominant criterion
Nevertheless, even though the proportion of men receiving rewards for excellence is greater than the proportion of women, the gap between them has shrunk over time. So much so, that in the years 2011-2012 the difference between the percentage of men and women who received rewards for excellence was not statistically significant. However, since the dominant criterion for advancement in the academic world is research, the findings of the study express the risk that womens advancement in academia will continue to be slow because their research activity, as reflected in rewards for excellence, is not sufficient – and this activity also affects their rank in the advancement stage.
In explaining the implications of the study, Professor Davidovitch says: The findings raise the question of the initiatives that should be taken in order to achieve gender equality in academia, in research and teaching. We believe that women who are able to and want to should have the possibility of integrating into the academic faculty both at universities and at colleges. Efforts should be made to encourage women in academia to realize the value of research and the possibilities they have to break through and get ahead in order to put an end to the gap between women and men at the senior academic ranks, in tenure and in taking part in academic leadership.
Courtesy of Academia, Haaretz Commercial Department, January 2016