By Ruth A. Pagell*
“Educate a man, you educate an individual, educate a woman you educate a nation” (or family, or generation)1
(1 Aug 2022) Part 2 of Gender Rankings addresses the role women’s universities play in Asian countries where women are underrepresented in ranked universities.
When I applied to college, smart men went to universities such as Harvard, Yale, or MIT with a wide range of majors and women went to women’s colleges, such as Wellesley or Mount Holyoke where the emphasis was on humanities. Much to the dismay of my high school counselor, I would not apply to the women’s colleges of her choice and went to a university with a women’s college in name only since all activities were co-ed. After researching this article, I came to realize the importance of women’s universities in environments barriers to women’s education still exist.
Data collected for RR 51 Part 1 from Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2022 and CWTS-Leiden’s Gender rankings 2021 confirmed that there are more female than male students, more male than female authors of scholarly articles, and a higher percent of male students at top universities. Most universities today are co-educational.
What is missing in the conversation about gender equality in higher education and in the rankings is women’s universities.2 The number of women’s universities decreased in most regions and has grown in Asian countries where women have limited access to higher education because of cultural, religious, and economic factors (Renn).
BRIEF HISTORY of Tertiary education for women
The earliest record of a woman receiving a university degree is Elena Lucrezia Cornaro Piscopia. She received a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Padua in 1678. (Carlton, Gregersen). There is then a gap in the history of women’s access to formal academic education. In 1839, Wesleyan College in the US became the first university in the world to offer bachelor’s degrees to women.
Much of the historical information and current rankings of women’s universities focus on the United States. The number of women’s universities in the US dropped from over 250 in the mid-20th century to under 40 today. The U.S. Women’s College Coalition | Directory of Women’s Colleges & Degrees lists 37 colleges with all female undergraduates. 14 appear in THE’s US rankings. QS includes two, both with co-ed post-graduate programs. Smith College is ranked 601 in World and Simmons University is ranked for its post-graduate co-ed Library and Information Science program.
DATA and INCLUSION
Japan has had women’s institutions since the beginning of the 20th century. India and Pakistan have added both public and private women’s universities in the 21st century. Women’s colleges are not well-represented in global rankings. There is no authoritative list or rankings of women’s universities. I created a list for this article including Japan, India, Pakistan, South Korea, Bahrain, Bangladesh, China, Iran, Jordan, Saudi Arabia, and Thailand. See methodology and the list in Appendix 51. 2.1. 67 universities, with women only undergraduate degrees were identified and included based on rankings in THE, QS, and Webometric databases and publication data in Clarivate’s Incites and Elsevier’s SciVal.
Women’s universities by country
Japan has a cabinet-level Bureau for Gender Equality, charged with improving women’s participation in all aspects of society. Even with the Bureau, Japan ranked 120 out of 150 countries in the World Economic Forum’s most recent Gender Gap Index 3. According to a 2020 report in the Japan Times, women made up 45.5% of university students, with the percent rising since 1981. However, only 25% of the 179 Japanese universities providing data to THE had more females and 60% had ratios reflecting at least a 20-point differential. Ochanomizu is the only women’s university in the top 100. THE has the highest inclusion of Japanese women’s universities of all rankings 4.
Sugiyama Jogakuen University is an example of one of the older Japanese women’s institutions that evolved from a girl’s “finishing school” into an accredited university.
|Example 1: Sugiyama Jogakuen University, began life in 1905 as a women’s sewing school. Today it is a university “designed to help modern independent women balance children, marriage, work and life. The aim is to cultivate women who contribute to society through cooperation with companies and the community.” The institution has students from kindergarten through graduate school and is listed in 2022 THE World Rankings as a reporter.
From THE’s World University overview. (https://www.timeshighereducation.com/world-university-rankings/sugiyama-jogakuen-university)
The major issue articulated by Japan’s women’s institutions is not the discrepancy in female/male ratios for top universities but accepting transgender students, to be discussed in RR 52.
Japan Rankings: One ranked university and six reporters in THE World rankings; 18 in any THE ranking and six in QS Asia
See RR 28 for background on the Japanese education system.
India lags with the number of students with secondary education, and it has the lowest percent of women with a tertiary education compared to men overall in countries covered by OECD. (OECD Education at a Glance 2021).
Anand lists 13 universities established from 1916 to 2018. Seven were founded in the 21st century, including the Delhi government’s Indira Gandhi Technical University for Women and the private Mody University of Science and Technology. Anand highlights Banasthali Vidyapith
|Example 2: Banasthali Vidyapith was established in 1935. It is the world’s largest all-women’s residential university. It has its own flying club and airstrip, graduating the first women supersonic jet pilot. According to Vice-provost Wanjari, “our goal is not just to impart education but to empower every woman who enrolls with us.” (Anand)|
New universities offer STEM subjects. Diamond Harbor Women’s University offers Atomic and Molecular Physics (2012) and Rama Devi Women’s University has a program in genetic engineering (2015). Both are public universities.
India Rankings: One ranked in THE world and QS Asia; one THE reporter and two THE impact
For background on India’s education system see RR 22
Pakistan is one of the worst performing nations for education, although worse for girls. Although compulsory education for students from five to 16 is guaranteed in the constitution there are barriers, examples being poverty, rural location, sexual harassment, and child marriage.
|“Right to Education in Pakistan “Article 25A states that the state is responsible for the provision of free and compulsory education… , it is obligatory on all the Provincial Governments including the Islamabad Capital Territory administration to ensure that the children of respective areas receive education as a fundamental right up to intermediate level. (10,2,21), Schoolvisor, https://schoolvisor.org/news/right-to-education-in-pakistan-article-25a/|
Only 13 percent of girls are in school by ninth grade. (Ali and Hilali; Rodriguez).
Women’s universities are new to Pakistan with most founded in the 21st century. HEC, the Higher Education Commission, is the accreditation body. It recognizes 16 universities with “women” in their names.
Pakistan Rankings: I identified ten universities that were on a rankings list. Three are in THE World rankings reporters. 11 more universities in THE have more women than men. Eight women’s universities made an excellent decision to participate in THE’s impact rankings.
South Korea has a higher percent of both females and males aged 25-34 of tertiary educated graduates than the OECD average, with females at 76%. The six women’s universities on the list are all private and include the world’s highest-ranked women’s university Ewha Womans University. EWHA has been ranked in THE since 2015 when it was in the bottom 20%. Today it is in the top 30% of ranked universities. It has been in QS from 2012. It is also ranked in ARWU and in CWTS where it is 73 in percent of female authors.
Saudi Arabia: I was surprised that THE’s gender ratios for Saudi Arabia showed 80% with more women than men. Saudi universities have separate classrooms, facilities, curricula, and locations for women and provide integrated data. There are two ranked stand-alone universities.
|Example 3: This is one of the largest women’s university in the world, with a campus so large that it has its own metro. It is named for Princess Nourah, known for her great wisdom and was considered to have “the minds of 40 men”. From THE summary|
Effat University is the first private institution of higher education for women in Saudi Arabia, gaining its university status in 2005. It is named after Queen Effat who is considered the founding mother of Saudi education. Princess Nourah bint Abdulrahman has a ranking in THE Impact and QS Middle East rankings.
Saudi Arabia Rankings: Two of Saudi Arabia’s top ranked universities, King Saud and King Abdulaziz have recommended women’s campuses (KSA)
China: According to data from the Chinese Ministry of Education 2018, 50.32% of academics, 40.4% of doctoral students, and 52.6% of undergraduate students are women (Tang and Horta). The article is an interesting read since it deals with the desire to increase female participation against Chinese cultural norms.
I could only identify three Chinese women’s universities. Similar to other countries, only three of THE’s top 10 universities had more female students, and data is not available for four more. The ranking data I examined in Part 1 of this article on female authorships are not reliable for China since CWTS Leiden could not identify the gender of over 60% of the authorships.
Bangladesh’s Asian University for Women is built on the U.S. Model (Ladika) and funded by the Asian University for Women Support Foundations, located in the United States. It serves women from the region.
|Example 4: Thanks to a grant of $1 million from the Mellon Foundation, Asian University for Women (AUW) is planning to launch a new Humanities major for undergraduate studies. The major will include Literature, History, Philosophy and Comparative Religion. “At AUW we think of Humanities as at the core of all of our existence.” (AUW post (6 Jul 2022).|
Conclusion: Women’s universities play an important role in countries such as India and Pakistan, where economic and cultural barriers prevent even getting a secondary education. Local women’s universities offer some help in putting education within reach. Rankings are overrated, misused, and misinterpreted. Having more publications and citations are considered symbols of top universities They are important in the current environment. This is a game that most women’s universities are not playing. Not only are they not being ranked but by not publishing more in social sciences and humanities, or using social media, they are further contributing to the push for STEM and undervaluing what they have to offer.
1 – This quote has multiple attributions and has been paraphrased many times. It has been presented as an old African proverb, a quote from Brigham Young, or a quote from Nelson Mandela.
2 – Some women’s institutions are called colleges and some universities. Often college refers to two-year junior colleges. I use the term universities when speaking generically since all listed institutions are accredited and offer at least bachelor’s degrees.
3 – The Gender Gap Index measures the differential between men’s and women’s attainment, not the actual scores.
4 – Japan does a separate ranking of Japanese universities (without gender ratios) resulting in more Japanese institutions in its overall rankings.
Ali, O.R. and Hilali, H. (15 April 2021). “Empowering girls through education in Pakistan”. Opportunity EduFinance, https://edufinance.org/latest/blog/2021/empowering-girls-through-education-in-pakistan
Anand, A. (27 Mar 2020). “Universities of their own: Why women-only institutions are popular”. Careers 360. https://news.careers360.com/universities-of-their-own-why-women-only-institutions-are-popular
Carlton, G. (22 Feb 2022). “A history of women in higher education”. Best Colleges. https://www.bestcolleges.com/news/analysis/2021/03/21/history-women-higher-education/
Gregersen, E. (1 Jun 2022). “Elena Corona Italian Scholar” in Britannica online, https://www.britannica.com/biography/Elena-Cornaro
Jamjoom, F.B., Kelly, P. (2013). “Higher Education for Women in the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia”. In: Smith, L., Abouammoh, A. (eds) Higher Education in Saudi Arabia. Higher Education Dynamics, vol 40. Springer, Dordrecht. https://doi.org/10.1007/978-94-007-6321-0_11
KSA blog (29 Dec 2020). “Saudi Universities for Females: Top universities that allow females to enroll”, https://www.ksauniversities.com/en/blog/saudi-universities-for-females-the-most-important-universities-that-allow-females-to-join.html
Ladika, S. (Jan 2017). “Women’s universities around the world develop global leaders”. International Educator Magazine, NAFSA.XXV (1), https://www.nafsa.org/professional-resources/publications/womens-universities-around-world-develop-global-leaders
Editorial staff (2022) “13 best women universities in Pakistan”, https://infotainworld.com/women-universities-in-pakistan/
OECD (2021). Education at a glance OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris. https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/education-at-a-glance-2021_b35a14e5-en
- “Japan Country Note”, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1787/1426642c-en
- “India Indicators”, https://doi.org/10.1787/b304737b-en.
- “Korea Country note”, https://read.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/education-at-a-glance-2021_9869bdbf-en#page1
- Saudi Arabia, https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/education/education-at-a-glance-2021_3f8e39f5-en
- China inequalities in education and outcomes, https://www.oecd-ilibrary.org/sites/8dd885f2-en/index.html?itemId=/content/component/8dd885f2-en#:~:text=In%20China%2C%2028%25%20of%2018,education%20at%20higher%20age%20groups
Renn, K.A. (Fall 2017). “The role of women’s colleges and universities in providing access to postsecondary education”. Review of Higher Education”. 41 (1) 91-112. Available through Project Muse
Rodriguez, L. (13 Nov 2018). “Millions of Pakistani girls have no access to an education”. Global Citizen https://www.globalcitizen.org/en/content/girls-pakistan-education-report-2018/
“With support from the Mellon Foundation, AUW to soon launch a Humanities major”. (6 Jul 2022). AUW post, https://asian-university.org/2022/07/08/with-support-from-the-mellon-foundation-auw-to-soon-launch-a-humanities-major/
Tang, L. & Horta, H. (2021). “Women academics in Chinese universities: a historical perspective”, Higher Education, v82, 865-895, https://www.researchgate.net/publication/349228586_Women_academics_in_Chinese_universities_a_historical_perspective
World Bank Gender Data Portal https://genderdata.worldbank.org/indicators/se-adt
World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap report, https://www.weforum.org/reports/global-gender-gap-report-2021/
US Integrated Postsecondary Education Data Service (US IPEDS) Digest of Education Statistics-Advance Release of Selected 2021 Digest tables – Chapter 3, post-secondary education
Use College Navigator for female/male enrollment and graduation (Output) data. Table 315.20 includes sex by rank for 2018-2020. Contrary to many articles, the number of female professors and associate professors did not go down. Full-time faculty in degree-granting postsecondary institutions, by race/ethnicity, sex, and academic rank: Fall 2018, fall 2019, and fall 2020 (ed.gov)
A list of Ruth’s Rankings and News Updates is here.
*Ruth A. Pagell is emeritus faculty librarian at Emory University. After working at Emory, she was the founding librarian of the Li Ka Shing Library at Singapore Management University and then adjunct faculty [teaching] in the Library and Information Science Program at the University of Hawaii. She has written and spoken extensively on various aspects of librarianship, including contributing articles to ACCESS – https://orcid.org/0000-0003-3238-9674