Pan African University gender desks to tackle inequity

The Pan African University, or PAU, is to establish gender desks with permanent staff in all of its four operational institutes to address an acute problem of gender disparity in enrolments. Males comprise nearly 70% of all students admitted so far.

The continental university’s management has come up with a set of recommendations that it plans to start implementing this year, among them the gender desks and strengthening the visibility of the university and its institutes among stakeholders.

“PAU has vowed to be at the forefront in promoting and mainstreaming gender equity in all its spheres of operations,” said a statement posted on the university’s website last month.

“Among the recommendations is the establishment of a fully-fledged gender desk with full-time staff at all PAU institutes, responsible for implementing diverse commitments related to gender equality and empowerment of women.”

The postgraduate training and research network is an initiative of the African Union and comprises five nodes of research and postgraduate training excellence in Africa’s five regions. Four of them – in Central, East, North and West Africa – are operational while political bickering stalled a fifth node in Southern Africa.

Paper highlights gender bias

The decision to take concrete steps to address the gender imbalance followed the tabling of a paper by German academic Professor Claudia von Braunmuhl at a PAU gender forum attended by the institution’s top officials and representatives of various institutes.

It showed worryingly low female admissions in most PAU institutes, including fewer than one in 10 students initially being women at one institute – but strides had since been made to improve the situation.

Only 9.5% of students admitted to the Institute of Life and Earth Sciences at the University of Ibadan in Nigeria in 2012-13 were women, but by 2014-15 participation had shot up to 30%.

The situation was also dire at the Institute of Basic Sciences, Technology and Innovation at Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology in Kenya, where only 13.8% of students admitted in 2012-13 were women – but this rose to 28.9% the following year.

According to Braunmuhl, the Institute of Governance, Humanities and Social Sciences at the University of Yaoundé in Cameroon recorded 27.4% women students in its inaugural 2014-15 academic year and this figure rose to 37.7% in the current year.

Finally, the Institute of Water and Energy Sciences at the University of Tlemcen in Algeria attained an impressive 43.7% women students in 2014-15.

Despite hitches that plagued the initial stages of the creation of the various nodes of the PAU, those at the universities of Yaoundé and Tlemcen are on course to graduate their first batches of masters students later in 2016, according to Professor Belay Kassa, the interim deputy rector, who said students were putting final touches to their research projects.

The University of Ibadan graduated its inaugural batch of 20 students in 2015 while Jomo Kenyatta University of Agriculture and Technology graduated 54 PAU students in 2014 and hopes to graduate a second group in 2016.

Progress remains slow regarding the Institute for Space Sciences to be hosted by South Africa, which it is hoped will admit its first students this year.