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Thursday, 14 June 1984
Page: 3022

Senator LAJOVIC —I refer the Minister for Education and Youth Affairs to her comments in the Senate on Tuesday when she deplored the fact that only two per cent of professorial positions in Australian universities are held by women. Does the Minister agree that one of the principle limiting factors in improving the numbers of senior female academics is that the present system of academic tenure has locked up available positions for years to come? Is she therefore suggesting that, in order to increase numbers of senior female academics, the practice of tenure will have to be modified or even abandoned?

Senator RYAN —There are a number of reasons why we have a situation in our universities where only a little more than 2 per cent of the professors are women. I welcome Senator Lajovic's implication in his question that that is an unsatisfactory state of affairs. Although it is true that in recent years the effect of the tenure system, as in place at the moment, has been to deny opportunities for promotion into the senior academic ranges of newly qualified academics-be they young men or young women coming through their postgraduate work or older women who went back to do their postgraduate work at a later stage in their lives-that is not the only reason why women are so desperately under- represented at the professorial level. I think one has to go back further, to the recent years when we had problems with the tenured system, to find some of the reasons. I suppose the average age of a person becoming a professor is 40, or perhaps a little younger. We have to look at the employment opportunities and promotional practices and decisions about postgraduate fellowships that were made perhaps 20 years ago. At that stage I think there was very widespread discrimination, direct or indirect, against women aspiring to academic careers within most of our universities. Some of those discriminatory practices have disappeared and others have remained; hence the Government's policy on affirmative action. I think there are a number of reasons that have caused the very unsatisfactory situation where only a little more than 2 per cent of professors are women.

However, the current situation, where junior staff are untenured and senior staff are tenured, is certainly contributing to the problems of women at a more junior level who are aspiring for promotion through the academic ranks, women who have the research record and the reputation as scholars to be able to hold those aspirations realistically. For this reason the Government is looking seriously at the question of tenure. We have had many discussions since we have been in Government with the Vice-Chancellors Committee, with the Federation of Australian Universities Staff Associations and with the Federation of College Academics. We believe that some sort of change in the structure of employment could loosen up the situation. What changes would be desirable and what changes we would be able to negotiate agreement for with the universities and with the unions is a matter not yet resolved. But I would not deny that the present tenure arrangements are making it even more difficult for women and other young academics to pursue their aspirations towards achieving professorship.