Gender inequality in the higher education institutions in Armenia: causes and consequences

Gender equality in academia is viewed in the first instance as a human rights concern, but also as a premise for quality higher education and innovative science. Gender inequality in the academic environment became a special concern in the US in the 1970s, in the Scandinavian states from the 1980s, as well as in many EU countries from the 1990s. A meta-analysis of gender imbalance in science reveals that women are underrepresented (only 30 percent) in EU-27 according to 2006 data, but that the proportion of females is growing more rapidly compared to males (a growth of 6.3 percent against 3.7 percent per year recorded for the period of 2002-2006)[1]. Women are still underrepresented in decision-making boards in academia. According to the 2004 data, the number of women on scientific boards is between 7-20 percent in EU countries, with the exception of Norway, Finland and Sweden where women make up over 40 percent[2].

In the former Soviet republics, the proportion of women in higher education was gradually increasing in the 1990s. The increased number of females in higher education was not so much an outcome of the purposeful implementation of gender policies, but rather that of the undermined prestige of academic work against the fast-developing private sector. Under such conditions, many scholars, males in particular, opted for leaving academia. Age differences in females and males in education and science were also visible. The majority of males were either young postgraduates or representatives of the old generation, while middle-aged males were outnumbered by females of the same age. The right of deferment of military service during postgraduate studies (aspirantura) inherited from the soviet period conditioned the prevailing number of young men over women. These and other specific features of the gender imbalance during post-soviet years should be taken into account in current gender analyses and studies in the area of higher education.

The dynamics of the gender ratio in education and science in the Republic of Armenia (RA) is quite similar to that of many other post-soviet countries, yet there is little comprehensive and consistent research on gender issues in higher education. In 2010, the government of the RA adopted the Gender Policy Concept Paper[3], which also sets the main goals and objectives of the gender policy in the sphere of higher education. At the same time, however, RA state documents regulating the education and science sector do not reflect the provisions of the aforementioned concept. State reports on education and science sector fail to address gender equality in their statistical data. Documents regulating universities’ activity also lack specific provisions on equal opportunities for women and men. This confirms that de facto gender-neutral and at times gender-blind policies are implemented in education and science in the country.

This article is written on the results of “Promotion or prevention? Socio-cultural factors in women’s academic career building in the higher education in Armenia” research project implemented with the support of the Center for Gender and Leadership Studies of Yerevan State University. The study was aimed at capturing gender inequality in HEIs in terms of both horizontal and vertical segregation and analyzing the causes and consequences of it. Secondary analysis was conducted based on data from the National Statistical Service of RA. 2009-2013 data on state and private universities in Armenia were observed[4].

The analysis indicates that gender proportion is balanced in the academic (teaching) staffs of HEIs in Armenia[5]. Yet, gender disparity can be observed when looking at academic disciplines separately. On average, over the five-year period women outnumber men in the humanities (nearly 68 percent), chemistry and biology (68 percent), as well as slightly in medical science (59 percent). Closer examination of disciplines within the humanities indicates further details. Men outnumber women in history and philosophy (68 percent and 62 percent respectively), while women make the majority in philology (83 percent), males dominate the areas of physics and mathematics (almost 69 percent), technical sciences (68 percent), earth science (67 percent) and agricultural science (60 percent), as well as architecture and construction (58 percent). The gender-balanced areas are education and the social sciences. Again, a closer look at distinct disciplines within the social sciences reveals nuances: while gender-balance holds true about law, economics and sociology, women are underrepresented in political science (males make on average 62 percent), and males – in psychology (women make on average 68 percent).

On average, over the five-year period female faculty members with a candidate degree[6] are overrepresented in biology and chemistry (70 percent), education (62 percent), and also slightly in the humanities (57 percent) and in medical science (58 percent). Meanwhile, men with the same degree are overrepresented in physics and mathematics (nearly 81 percent), earth science (78 percent), as well as somewhat in the social sciences (58 percent) and agricultural science (59 percent). With a doctor’s degree[7], however, the situation is different. Men holding a doctor’s degree outnumber women in all academic disciplines, including in those ones where females make up the majority both in faculty and among holders of a candidate degree.

Comparison of the academic (teaching) staff of different disciplines reveals that women attain mostly up to candidate degree level, while they do not reach doctor’s degrees in their academic achievement. Even some increase in the number of women with academic degrees in certain disciplines over the five years does not yet entail elimination of vertical and horizontal gender segregation in the higher education.

The comparison of the gender ratio of academic staff by position shows that females are overrepresented in lower faculty positions such as lecturers and assistant professors. The gender breakdown of senior lecturers is proportionate. Relative gender balance is observed in docent’s (associate professor) position at the level of department staff, whereas there is a sharp downturn of women’s number in higher positions such as full professors in department staff, chairs of departments, deans, vice-rectors and rectors. In these positions, the number of females over the five years averages is 25 percent.

It can be observed that the number of women gradually decreases at every higher position. This regularity is partly due to the smaller ratio of women doctors and professors compared to that of men.

Women are extremely underrepresented in the governing boards and scientific councils of HEIs. Since these decision making bodies at HEIs are formed ex officio (25 percent from state officials in case of governing bodies and from heads of university subdivisions in case of scientific councils), and males holding office considerably outnumber women, there are thus serious impediments to women’s equal involvement in these bodies. According to the regulations, the other 25 percent of the universities’ decision making bodies must be selected from the academic staff. The candidates are supposed to have high academic degrees, which also limits women’s participation, since the number of women doctors and professors is considerably smaller than men.

These comparative analyses thus suggest that empowering more women to obtain a doctor’s degree and full professor’s academic rank is crucial for better involvement of women in higher positions as well as on the decision making boards of universities.

What are the main hindering factors of women’s academic career building?

Several interrelated hindering factors can be defined which explain the vertical segregation in academic environment.

Values and mentality and unintended or indirect discrimination

In spite of the public perception of universities as desirable and permissible workplaces, they do not foster women’s professional advancement and sufficient contribution. Stereotyped perceptions of a woman’s role as “family woman – wife and mother” is over-evaluated and prioritized over the roles of “a scientist” and/or “a dedicated specialist”. This circumstance is often the drawback of women’s professional development and advancement. So many women fulfill the family duties primarily and attend to their professional chores afterwards, if any time is left. There are no overt obstacles in this case, yet a lot more willpower is required from a woman to achieve her work-related goals.

Women’s self-categorization and aspiration level

In solving her “work or family” dilemma, women would opt for professional activity that will allow her to fulfill family duties and comply with the roles and expectations of a wife and a mother. Women have an aspiration of attaining to a candidate degree in their academic work, driven by the motivation of asserting themselves at university. At the same time, they avoid leadership in the same work. The burden of job responsibilities is what holds them back from high post aspirations, since they have their range of responsibilities confined to the family.

“Masculine culture” of decision making bodies and a “glass ceiling” effect

There are specific backstage and internal rules of game in the top management circles that prevent women’s involvement into that layer of relationships. It can be supposed that male-male relationships are more reliable for keeping the power leverages centered, since these relationships rely on an established masculine culture of mutually predictable behavior, expectations and arrangements. As a result, most women are left out from the competition and more frequently appear in mid-level management.

What is the explanation for women’s increasing number and academic achievements?

The increased number of women in academia and cases of women having successful careers seem to be due to concurrence of circumstances rather than intended goals and actions of support. Among such favoring conditions for women’s professional advancement are the low wages in higher education and the non-competitiveness of the field. Women are willing to work for small wages. The low salary is compensated by some advantages that academic work gives to women. For most of them, working as a faculty in university is a convenient job as it isn’t an obstacle to combine the workload with family duties.

Women’s advancement on the career ladder at universities is possible and yet somewhat limited. Women’s academic advancement is usually confined to attaining stable mid-level positions. Women’s advancement up to higher positions in some cases may happen if the generational change is urgent, as well in situations that are noncompetitive (with men).

Our analysis shows that increasing numbers of female academics in higher education and their academic advancement seem to solve first of all the issue of universities’ staffing rather than directly empower women’s academic advancement. Moreover, increasing numbers of women are due to declining rather than growing academic resources, and to the weakened competitive field at universities. These issues negatively affect the quality of education and science, and thereby also women academics’ performance.

Manifestations of horizontal and vertical segregation in Armenian HEIs are rooted first of all in socio-cultural and socio-psychological factors, backed up by a lack of specific gender policies to be implemented. This means that generational change is not sufficient to achieve gender balance in all spheres and levels of academic activity and to overcome horizontal and vertical segregation unless specific gender-sensitive programs are implemented.

This article was written by Narine Khachatryan, Yerevan State University. It is based on the larger research project conducted at Gender studies center of Yerevan State University with financial support from Arizona State University.

Questions can be directed at


[1] Meta-analysis of gender and science research. Synthesis report. Luxembourg: Publications Office of the European Union, 2012. p. 44.

[2]Mapping the Maze: Getting more women to the top in research. Luxembourg: Office for Official Publications of the European Communities, 2008, p. 20.


[4] Social Situation of the RA (in Armenian). Section 6.Tertiary education

[5] The comparative analysis has relied on full-pay staff only.

[6] Candidate of Sciences is the first post-graduate academic degree awarded in Armenia; the term is inherited from the soviet degree system. For purposes of international educational statistics and comparison, Candidate of Sciences is considered equivalent to Ph.D.

[7] Doctor’s degree (doctor of sciences) is the second, higher doctoral degree awarded in the country. While it has no equivalent, it is almost equivalent to the degree of Doctor of Science in the sense in which the D.Sc. is used in the Commonwealth.


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