33 SES 11 B, Gender Equality in Higher Education
Calls for excellence in higher education are taking place all over Europe and are getting stronger and louder for years. In Slovenia, they are lively in the time when the biggest and the oldest University of Ljubljana announced a need for new entry criteria for students that allows the entry only to the most deserving and the most capable. At the same time, administration is determined to rise the habilitation criteria for university professors again in the name of quality in higher education and scientific excellence. We are aware that ideas of excellence and calls for “true meritocracy” are not new. We can trace them in waves all through the 20th century and they continue in the new millennia. Yet before we comfort ourselves with unreflective celebration of the renaissance of meritocracy, we should have in mind the reach and limits of the concept and practice of meritocracy. Especially those concerning the questions of equity and gender equality in the academic field.
In Europe after WW II, the belief that the power of education can do away with social inequalities, had become prevalent. People started to believe that if studying hard enough, they would get better positions in society. Education was going (they believed) to enable social mobility and fairness. The state, teachers and parents stimulated such kind of belief. Elites in power had promoted this attitude because they were aware of unexploited potential in the nations. Yet, during the second wave of increased access to education, it become obvious that educational institutions has limited power in relation to the social mobility of the individual.
Equal formal chances of education for all brought about important changes in education for children of the working class and especially for girls and women, but true equality and equity through the education was never achieved. Despite the illusions about equality, educational system inherently carries numerous mechanisms of social reproduction.
The paper tries to give basic outlines on the following: in the first part of the paper the authors try to answer what did the concept of meritocracy bring to the system of education and to social mobility, especially for women in the times of socialism and in post-socialist era in Slovenia. In this part of the paper we will tackle the meritocratic concept as inclusive mechanism. In addition, paper reveals weak points and contradictions of meritocratic principle concerning gender equality in the field. It will also consider the concept as very excluding and problematic mechanism. In this respect the authors try to answer the question how gender interferes in the concept of meritocracy and reconsider how and to what degree gender differences can affect the basic definition of excellence.
In the second part, the authors try to demonstrate the main problems and obstacles that women in Slovene academia are facing today. In doing so, we’ll analyse official documents and national strategies concerning the academic field to revel prevailing discourses on the subjects of excellence, meritocracy and gender equity and equality in higher education. Finally, we would like to address the question to what a degree these pleadings of excellence in higher education are yet another type of neo-liberal rhetoric. Rhetoric, which aims for formation of professionals (this time women) with the highest possible capabilities to produce extra profits for the famous less than one percent of population while they cannot care less for the more than 99% of the population of the globe.
In the present paper mapping of the structuring of the educational field, with special focus on meritocracy as mechanism of inclusion and exclusion of women in Slovene academia is based on examination of the most important systematic measures in the sphere of education, national statistics, relevant analysis, policy papers and other official documents as well as national strategies concerning the academic field.
In our paper we try to demonstrate how important was and still is the concept of meritocracy for equality of women and men in the field of education/academia. We also want to warn against unreflective celebration of the renaissance of meritocracy, hidden behind the idea of excellence. Logic of meritocracy is necessary; it has a powerful function of interpellation. Yet, it should be criticised, as it is not sufficient criterion for greater equity and gender equality. Namely, we are convinced that it allows reproduction of hegemonic structures and practices that have nothing to do with academic merit, as we show in the second part of our paper. That is why we believe principles of meritocracy should be contested. We know now for decades that there are great problems with the principle of meritocracy and that is why the step toward modification or even redefinition of the concept and its contemporary derivatives is necessary. We believe meritocratic principles and hegemonic structures they support should be questioned, criticised and changed.
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