Higher Education

, Volume 24, Issue 1, pp 57–75

New perspectives on an old problem: the position of women academics in British higher education


  • Sandra Acker
    • Department of Sociology in EducationOntario Institute for Studies in Education

DOI: 10.1007/BF00138618

Cite this article as:
Acker, S. High Educ (1992) 24: 57. doi:10.1007/BF00138618


Women academics in Britain are an elite group among women. Nevertheless, there is abundant evidence that they are disproportionately in lower grades and less secure posts than their male counterparts. These are longstanding inequities which appear to have been met with complacency rather than commitments to bring about change. This paper draws upon feminist theory to outline a range of perspectives which can be used to analyze this situation. Different approaches define the problem differently: it can be located in sex-typed socialization; family-career role conflicts; under-investment in women's education; sex discrimination; or the working of capitalism and patriarchy. The strategies which follow from each approach are discussed and evaluated. Certain features of the British university system may operate to the detriment of women, and there is no network of powerful liberal feminist organizations that can act as a watchdog to safeguard their interests. The unsettled situation of higher education in Britain would seem to make this an inauspicious time to initiate reform, but there are contradictions which might be a basis for feminist action. Socialist and radical feminist frameworks go further than liberal ones in making sense of the entrenched inequalities and resistance to change. Yet there is a case for pursuing liberal feminist strategies, at least in the short run.

Copyright information

© Kluwer Academic Publishers 1992