Wednesday, 30 October 2013

Admitting women

I think I'll save the material about the impact of the Great War for the book itself, but thought today I'd post a little bit about women in universities. There is more to say about this in later chapters, but for now:

Women were excluded from the oldest universities, though not for as long as might be expected. Melbourne and Sydney changed their rules to admit women from 1881. Adelaide sought to do so in 1874, but did not receive formal permission for some years, so it could not enrol women until 1881 either. The first university ever to admit women was the University of London, whose rules had changed just three years earlier, in 1878: Australia’s universities were not resistant to this change, which was based on the inability of many members of the local ‘aristocracy’ to support their daughters financially.

Indeed, the University of Tasmania, the next to be established, never excluded women. This university evolved out of a very small system of qualification run by the Tasmanian Council of Education, which sometimes struggled to make its quorum of five people. The ‘Associate of Arts’ (AA) was awarded as something in between high school matriculation and a tertiary qualification. From its instatement in 1859 it was intended to convert to a university system when possible. In the meantime, the colony established two scholarships for two outstanding graduates of the AA to study at a university in Britain. While nearly one quarter of the AAs ever awarded went to women, who were included from 1872, they were not eligible for the scholarship. Men who did not achieve the grades of some women in the AA went on, not only to receive degrees from Oxford, but also to hold esteemed positions in the history of Tasmania. For young women, outstanding AA grades marked the pinnacle of their academic careers. This pattern continues. Women were admitted to Australian universities more than 130 years ago and yet they still cluster at the bottom of the system’s pay, rank and esteem scales. While there have been some women at the top levels of universities, the further up one looks, the more men there are. This distribution is discussed further…[later in the book].

--- This is a segment of my first draft of Chapter 1: Ideas of the the University in Australia, from the book I am writing Knowing Australia: a history of the modern university, for UNSW Press. ----

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