Academic Opportunities for Women Are Opening Series: WORLD MEDIA EDUCATION. SPECIAL REPORT. in This First of Three Weekly Special Reports on Education around the Globe, World Media Writers Look at the Evolving Status of Women in Higher Education (Right), Compare Primary-School Systems among European and Other Developed Countries (Pages 10-11), and Examine the Problems Facing Poor Nations Struggling to Educate Their Youth (Page 12). Sixth of 8 Articles Appearing Today

Article excerpt

DESPITE many advances in the relations between men and women throughout the world, too often old, deep ruts are disguised beneath new paths.

Developments in higher education for women offer a good example. New paths are evident. Over the past 20 years, the rate of access to universities for women has skyrocketed. In France, they gained equality of access to university in 1971. In many other countries, women are attending university in increasing numbers.

Three trends become clear from this general shift: The richer a country is, the more students it has; the more students there are, the greater the proportion of females will be; and the gap between opportunities open to men and to women nearly always serves as a yardstick of a country's development. In the poorest countries, universities always have more men than women.

In developed countries as a whole, the gap between the sexes in university populations is becoming increasingly imperceptible. And in almost all countries, the growth of education for girls has accelerated over recent years.

World statistics on university education generally do not reflect cultural differences among societies in the treatment of women. For example, Muslim countries - where women's political and social rights are sometimes circumscribed - are not particularly sexist in university access for women compared with non-Muslim countries with similar levels of wealth. On the other hand, northern Europe, despite its wealth and reputation for cultural modernity, gives clear precedence to men in higher education. Latin and Mediterranean countries are more balanced, with a slight tendency to give more weight to women.

The cultural differences in the division of roles between the two sexes would not appear to play a preponderant role in women's access to university.

Universities are far from being the same everywhere, of course. The relative importance given to the various branches - the arts, law, economics, natural sciences, medicine, engineering, architecture - can vary significantly from one country to the next.

For example, the pragmatic higher education systems that favor courses such as engineering and business studies differ from those that concentrate on more theoretical teaching like science, literature, and law.

The distinction is also reflected between moderately developed or relatively new countries like the Philippines, Argentina, Colombia, Chile, and some Eastern European countries, and nations with an older university tradition. Yet another difference is to be seen between poor countries - where basic education for development has been made an absolute priority - and the highly developed countries, which now have both techno-com- mercial teaching and the structures of the liberal university.

Within the more-or-less developed world, a cultural division is represented by, on the one hand, those countries, particularly in northern Europe, that encourage the liberal professions (law, health, architecture) and, on the other hand, those that give priority to the training of salaried management personnel. Examples of the latter are Italy, Spain, and Argentina. It is possible to see the one as fostering an individualistic, artisanal intelligentsia, while the other concentrates on engineers, managers, and technicians for bureaucratic organizations.

None of these cultural and economic variations concern the respective career choices of men and women: Countries showing a marked preference for one or the other type of training do so for both sexes. But no country reverses sexually dictated career models: Everywhere engineering tends to be a career marked out for men; whereas everywhere literary studies are more heavily undertaken by women. …


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