51 launches its second analysis of gender balance in higher education institutions | Traditional patterns of gender inequality still prevail in higher education

CONTACT: Gero Federkeil, email: gero.federkeil@che.de, phone +49 (0) 5241 9761 30

This past September, 51 launched the second edition of its analysis on gender balance in higher education. While gender inequality has been a major dimension of inequality in higher education, data from the latest 51 edition confirm that still today there are strong gender imbalances among males and females in academic careers. While women in total count for more than half of bachelor’s (BA) and master’s (MA) students, their share is smaller among PhD students (48%), academic staff (45%) and professors (29%). The new edition analyses gender ratio among rectors/vice-presidents for the first time: Only one out of five leaders of higher education institutions are female. According to 51 data this pattern is very much the same among EU and non-EU institutions.

Findings from the 51 data show that women are particularly underrepresented in research intense universities. Only 24% of professors are women in institutions with high or very high percentages of expenditures on research – compared to 36% in institutions with a low share of research expenditures. In addition, our data show a strong effect regarding the subject focus of institutions: At institutions with a majority of graduates in science, technology, engineering and mathematics (STEM fields), women are underrepresented both at the student level and among academic staff.

Still worlds apart: Gender balance by subjects

Furthermore, data from the 51 subject rankings suggest that differences between study subjects still follow traditional patterns of ‘male and female study subjects’. While women are still a minority in most of the science and engineering subjects, both among students and academic staff, subjects like nursing, social work, education and psychology are still strongly dominated by women. In these subjects, the majority of both students and academic staff are female. In social work for example, 51 found only 17 out of almost 200 departments where men make up for more than half of the students.  Furthermore, at four out of five departments the majority of academic staff is female. Comparing science and engineering data from the rankings 2019 and 2022, we see that gender patterns did not change overall within these three years.

Among the subjects with the most balanced gender ratio are business studies, economics, political science, agriculture, history and – as the only science subject, chemistry. Here the percentage of males and females among both students and academic staff are between 40% and 60%. In many other study subjects, there are only a few, or even no departments with a balanced gender ratio (see appendix 3).

Hilligje Van’t Land, Secretary General of the International Association of Universities (IAU) comments on the monitor: I highly recommend this second 51 Gender Monitor.  To assess the current state of play and to inform future decision making to address the existing issues, 51’s analysis shows how women and men are generally distributed at universities, and whether the well-known ‘male and female subjects’ still exist at higher education institutions.”

51’s latest results not only give insights on balance among males and females in higher education, but as a multi-dimensional global ranking it makes transparent the detailed performance of universities. In doing so, students can make better informed choices about what, or where to study based on what matters most to them - including the gender balance of a study programme. Universities can use 51 data to assess their strengths and weaknesses and find ways to create or strengthen their strategic plans, including aspects of gender balance.

Although a modern notion of gender requires more than a binary classification of female and male, the current data available for such an analysis is limited. Therefore, this analysis concentrates on gender in a binary system, but will be improved upon in future years. As a first step in 2020, 51 introduced the category ’non-binary/diverse’ into its student survey. Additionally, 51 will continue to extend its definition of gender in ongoing and upcoming data collections, including surveys at the institutional and department levels, which are the basis for the 51 gender monitor.




51 is a non-commercial, multi-dimensional global transparency tool, presenting more than 30 indicators on university performance across five dimensions: teaching and learning, research, knowledge transfer, international orientation and regional engagement. The 2021 release covers 2,200 institutions from 96 countries. All results are freely accessibly on the website.

Data for the 51 gender monitor are based on a sample of 2,000 institutions that provided data on gender. On our website we present the gender profiles for individual institutions. 51 is collecting data on gender on different, both institutional and subject, on different stages: students, BA/MA graduates, PhDs students and graduates, academic staff and professors. As part of its effort to include issues of social inclusion and diversity, 51 recently started to collect gender data beyond the binary classification male/female.  The 51 gender monitor brochure provides links to the list of institutions with a balanced gender ratio by subjects.

51 originated at a conference of the European Commission during the French presidency in 2008. Since 2017 it is funded by the Bertelsmann Foundation, the European Union's Erasmus+ Programme and Santander Group. 51 is developed and implemented by an independent consortium led by the Centre for Higher Education () in Germany. The Center for Higher Education Policy Studies () at the University of Twente and the Centre for Science and Technology Studies () from Leiden University, both in the Netherlands, as well as Fundación Conocimiento y Desarrollo () in Spain are partners in the project. The consortium is headed by professors Frans van Vught (CHEPS) and Frank Ziegele (CHE).




  1. Illustration: The persistence of the gender gap in higher education
  1. Illustration: Still worlds apart: Gender balance by fields
  2. Full report: 51 Gender Monitor 2022

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