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With 49% Women Enrolment In Higher Education, Is It Time to Celebrate Yet?

This post is a part of Kaksha Crisis, a campaign supported by Malala Fund to demand for dialogue around the provisions in the New Education Policy 2020. Click here to find out more.

Recently, the Ministry of Education released the latest edition of AISHE (All India Survey on Higher Education) 2019-20 report. According to the report, women in India now hold 49% share in total enrolment in higher education.

However, it is important to go beyond the headline numbers and analyze the performance at the micro level. Women in India are not a homogenous category and their education journey is shaped by socio-religious context.

The socio-cultural milieu of the Indian society exerts influences on all aspects of women life. Against all odds, women in India are achieving high echelon on the educational front. During the previous 5 years, women from all the sections of society has entered the realm of higher education with full gusto. At all India level, there has been an upsurge of 18% in female enrolment in higher education from 2015 to 2019.

Among all the categories of women the achievements of Muslim women is highly commendable. They have broken the shackles of exclusion and 40% more women have enrolled in higher education in 2019-20 as compare to 2015-16 (Fig 1).

Similarly, the groups of SC-ST women, for whom schools barred their doors for many centuries, have also recorded high improvement. ST women increased their enrollment by 38%, followed by OBC women at 30%.

Going Beyond Headlines

However, we need to take this news with a pinch of salt. Is increasing enrolment enough? Can we just sit back and toast to the fact that we are very close to bridging the gender gap at higher education?

The answer to these questions is an unequivocal ‘no’. As much as there is a reason to celebrate the overall increase in women participation in higher education, the averages hide a plethora of gaps.

In celebration of all the hits, most of the news coverage has ignored the misses. The share of Muslim and ST women in higher education, despite improvements, is still abysmally low at 2.7% and 2.8%, respectively (Fig 2). SC women still holds only 7.3% share. Women in PWD category occupy only 0.1% of total higher education seats.

Another issue towards which attention needs to be drawn is the persistent low share of women in the Institutions of National Importance. In these institutions, the share of women is 25% while men occupy a whopping share of 75% (fig 3). Even in the last 5 years women’s share has increased by mere 3 percentage points.

The enrolment pattern to undergraduate level (highest numbers of students are enrolled at undergraduate level) seems to follow a gender stereotype where some courses are deemed to be appropriate for female while others are for male. In arts courses, the share of male is 47.1% while for female it is 52.9%.

In science, men occupy 48.3% and women 51.7% share of the total seats. In commerce, men dominate over 51.2% while the share of women is 48.8%. Notably, even almost bridging the gender gap in higher education at overall levels, the share of female students in so called “masculine subjects” such as engineering & technology is depressingly low at 29.2%.

It has been pointed by various reports that participation of women in the STEM fields — science, technology, engineering and math’s — in India has been low. Government of India has taken various measures to address the low enrolments of women in technical education. One such measure is supernumerary seats schemes in Indian Institutes of Technology (IITs) wherein 20% of seats will be reserved for the female candidates.

Therefore, while there is a case for celebrating the improvements at the gross enrolment levels, the devil in the details cannot be ignored and it is vital that the gaps covered above are addressed through policy interventions to ensure that the women are not left behind.

Further, the policymakers also need to take cognizance of lack of transmission of higher participation of women in education to high participation in labor force. India is among the five worst performing countries in the world in the domain of economic participation of women.

There is a need for a socio-cultural change where the society recognize the intrinsic and instrumental values of education in the life of women. Measures such as “Gender inclusion Fund” and “Special Education Zones” (proposed in NEP -2020) for inclusion of socially and economically disadvantaged groups (SEDGs) can be a game changer.

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Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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