Extension Knowledge

Posted March 1996

Enrolment of Women in Agricultural Studies at Intermediate and Higher Levels of Education

by L. Van Crowder
Agricultural Education Officer
Agricultural Extension and Education Service (SDRE)
FAO Research, Extension and Training Division

A recent FAO Expert Consultation on "Strategy Options for Higher Education in Agriculture" urged that special efforts be made to recruit and support female students from rural areas who could become extension agents, agricultural researchers, teachers and policy-makers. One of the reasons why there are few women extension workers, researchers and other agricultural professionals is the small number of female graduates from intermediate and higher level agricultural education institutions.

Yet, there are various countries where the enrolments of women are proportionately high. On the average in Africa, there has been a 10 percent increase from 1983 to 1993 from about 15 to 25 percent female enrolment in agricultural education institutions. To address the issue of women's enrolment in agricultural education institutions, the Agricultural Education Group of the Agricultural Extension, Education and Training Service (SDRE) is preparing a series of case studies intended to focus on factors, including political, social, economic and policy factors, that have contributed to, and can help explain, trends in increases and/or decreases in female enrolment rates. Case study are being conducted in Côte d'Ivoire, the Philippines, Nigeria, the Caribbean and Jordan

According to a 1994 publication commissioned by the Working Group on Higher Education, constituted by the Donors to African Education (DAE), and under the auspices of the Association of African Universities (AAU), "Gender is the single most important basis of inequality" in education. As this report explains:

"The general under-representation of the female population in African universities, and the relative absence of female students in certain fields (and their clustering in others), are a reflection of a complex combination of historical, socio-economic, socio-cultural, and past and current policy factors".
Certainly, awareness of female/male educational disparities, and in particular literacy disparities, has grown during the last decade. At the global level, the disparities in literacy have been slowly diminishing. In Sub-Saharan Africa, the combined male/female literacy rate grew from 33 percent to 47 percent of the adult population (15 years and over) from 1980 to 1990; male literacy increased from 43 percent to 60 percent while female literacy increased from 23 percent to 36 percent (1993 World Education Report, UNESCO). Literacy is a pre-condition for women's access to the knowledge and skills, both through informal sources such as extension training and advanced formal education, which can improve their overall socio-economic status, and specifically their contributions to agricultural and rural development.

Gains in enrolment of women in third-level education in developing countries have been modest: as a percentage of total enrolment, there has been an increase globally from 43 percent in 1980 to 45 percent in 1990. In Sub-Saharan Africa, where female enrolment rates have been among the lowest, there was an increase in third-level (college and university) female enrolment from 21 percent of total enrolment to 26 percent from 1980-90.

The enrolment of females in the natural sciences, engineering and agriculture at the third-level varies greatly from country to country. For example, in 1990 the percentage of female students in these fields of study ranged from 48 percent in Jamaica to 27 percent in the Philippines to 19 percent in Nigeria to 6 percent in Zambia.

The above figures may mask certain aspects of female enrolment in third-level education. For example, while female representation in all institutions of higher education is generally low compared with male, the proportion of females is even lower when universities alone, as opposed to the inclusion of professional and vocational institutions, are taken into consideration. This implies that female students are more likely to be tracked into professional/vocational (including agricultural) "short-stream" institutions rather than higher-level academic institutions. As the 1991 FAO Expert Consultation observed, "too few young women follow the science stream through secondary school and continue the study of agriculture in colleges or universities."

These factors are main determinants in the location of women on the occupational ladder. As the AAU report notes, "One of the visible characteristics of most African universities is the invisibility or the virtual absence of female faculty in some departments". This is phenomenon that is not unique to African universities, and is an observation that frequently applies to departments and faculties of agriculture. A recent study of higher agricultural education in Tunisia found that of 303 academic staff, 48 were women (16 percent); of the 118 staff with PhDs, 4 were women and of the 185 staff with MSc degrees, 44 were women.

One approach to address these problems has been some form of affirmative action policy. For example, in Uganda a policy of "gender weighting" of examination scores was adopted in 1990 in favour of women. This has led to gender parity in the proportion of applicants admitted at Makerere University, from 45 percent males and 36 percent females in 1987/88 to 36 percent for both in 1989/90. However, while gender parity may be achieved, the problem of female under-representation still exits since the initial number of female applicants is three times lower than that of males.

When the case studies are complete, a comparative summary will be prepared. Information is being gathered through surveys, informant interviews and from documents and other materials on female enrolment and causal factors at the particular institution and the country/region as appropriate. Causal factors refer to socio-economic and cultural factors; political and legal factors; historical factors; and government and institutional policies that have influenced, or can influence, female enrolment. Attention is also being paid to the occupational status of female graduates.

Individual case studies will provide appropriate background information on the institution and its programmes of study in agricultural and related fields. The case studies will present figures on female and male enrolment, currently and in an historical perspective, by fields of study as well as graduation rates. Issues that can help explain increases and/or decreases in female enrolment will be investigated. Guidelines for action to address female enrolment in agricultural education will be provided for use by institutions, governments and technical assistance agencies.

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