Women have more than doubled their number across the country’s engineering colleges over the past decade, pushing against one of the most resilient glass ceilings in Indian academics, the latest University Grants Commission statistics show.
A total of 276,806 women were enrolled in engineering and technology courses at the start of the 2009-10 academic session as compared to 124,606 in 2000-01, the data collected by the UGC shows.
“This is an unprecedented jump in enrolment and one that bursts the myth that women do not take up engineering. If the current trend continues, women are on their way to compete with men equally in this male-dominated field,” a senior human resource development (HRD) ministry official told HT.
Women have also increased their enrollment across all other streams – such as management and commerce (68%), education (223%), law (33%), arts (62%), sciences (72%), medicine (89%), agriculture (74%) and veterinary sciences (29%) – the data shows (see chart).
The total number of women enrolled in higher education at the start of the 2009-10 academic session was 5,649,102 – 70 per cent higher than the 3,325,927 who were enrolled at the start of the 21st century, according to the statistics.
Engineering schools across the country – and particularly the Indian Institutes of Technology – have traditionally witnessed a heavily lopsided sex ratio, with boys often constituting up to 90 per cent of the classroom population.
The arts however remain the most popular stream for women to pursue in higher education – the number of women enrolled in humanities courses at the start of the 2009-10 session was over 10 times the number enrolled in engineering.
Science and management and commerce follow the arts in popularity of streams among women, the data shows.
But India still has a long way to go in bridging its overall gender gap in higher education, the data suggests. Women students constituted 41 per cent of the total higher education enrolled student body of India in 2009-10, as opposed to 39 per cent in 2000-01.
“While the numbers clearly suggest improvement, there is still some way to go before we reach a near 50:50 scenario in terms of women and men equally making up the student body of the country’s colleges and universities,” a researcher at the National University of Educational Planning and Administration said, speaking on condition of anonymity because he is not authorized to speak to the press.
One cause for concern, government sources said, was that the hike in proportion of women in Indian higher education had risen significantly slower in percentage terms over the past decade than over the preceding one.
The percentage of women enrolled in higher education across streams was 29 per cent in 1990-91, and rose by 10 percentage points to 39 per cent by 2000-01. In contrast, the hike in enrollment percentage of women was just 2 per cent between 2000-01 and 2009-10 despite the massive jump in absolute numbers.
“What this may mean is that while the enrolment of women has increased substantially, it is largely due to the overall increase in enrolment across genders over the past decade rather than simply a sign of women coming forward,” an official said.
* The figures in the last row are the latest available with the UGC.