Gender Inequality in German Academia and Strategies for Change

By Majcher, Agnieszka | German Policy Studies, July 2002 | Go to article overview

Gender Inequality in German Academia and Strategies for Change


Majcher, Agnieszka, German Policy Studies


Abstract

Historically, women were excluded from higher education and academia. Nowadays they constitute half or often the majority of students in most European countries. Nevertheless women are still under-represented in scientific careers and leadership positions. Against this background the purpose of this article is twofold: Firstly, we want to examine the position of women in German academia and to identify those obstacles, which may affect the advancement of women in the academic hierarchy, based on the research being carried out within the WEU project framework (1). Secondly, we will give an overview of positive action measures, which are inaugurated in Germany in order to achieve equality in academia.

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Women's entry into German academia

The history of the German universities dates back to the Middle Ages. During this period, universities were not only the place where new ideas were generated, but also the place where the "servants" of the Church and the State were trained--for those positions from which women were banned. The Renaissance and Reformation gave a new impetus to the university development and a few new institutions were founded. However, this did not change the situation with regard to women. In the modern era the process of secularization started with the universities being the place where civil servants were to be trained by professors who themselves had become civil servants in 1794. (Baus 1994: 14).

The major change came at the beginning of the 19th century with the reorganization of German academia by Wilhelm von Humboldt. The reform, which later became an inspiration for reformers in many other countries, was rooted in the German Enlightenment movement laying its emphasis on Bildung--the idea of self-cultivation. The university was to preserve the tradition of humanistic knowledge and to play an important role in shaping German national identity. Moreover, the new concept of the university expressed the priority of "knowledge, which is still to be discovered" as put by Wilhelm von Humbold. (Turner 2001: 13). The scholars were given enormous freedom and autonomy in their work and the concept ignored any vocational aspect of university education with professional knowledge of graduates being a kind of by-product of years spent at the university.

In the second half of the 20th century, universities faced another kind of challenge. Demographic boom, economical development and social transformation created a huge demand for higher education. Old concepts of an elitist university could hardly cope with these pressures. In the 1960s and 1970s the system witnessed an enormous expansion, with an increasingly significant part of new entrants being women and students from lower classes. To accommodate these growing numbers of students and to allow wider access to higher education, the dual system was introduced in the 1970s with the creation of the Fachhochschulen (Universities of Applied Science). As the alternative to the university they were to provide shorter and more vocationally oriented courses in limited fields of study. The trend to stress the relevance of university education for the demands of the labor market and professional life has been firmly established since then.

The social status of women and their access to education began to change only by the end of 19th century. In 1886 they were allowed to sit the Abitur (secondary school final examinations) and at the beginning of the 20th century (in Prussia in 1908) they were allowed to enter university. At the beginning of the 1960s when the expansion of higher education started, women constituted no more than 24% (BMBF 2000) of the student population. Their number started to rise constantly, but they have not caught up with men, yet. (Fig.1).

[FIGURE 1 OMITTED]

Women's entry into the academic profession took even longer. …

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