Historical archive

Gender Equality in Higher Education and Research

Historical archive

Published under: Stoltenberg's 2nd Government

Publisher Ministry of Education and Research

Statssekretær Jens Revold, Kunnskapsdepartementet, Gender Equality in Higher Education and Research. Swiss – Norwegian Dialogue on Policies and Measures, 22.10.2008, Bern.

Statssekretær Jens Revold, Kunnskapsdepartementet,  Gender Equality in Higher Education and Research. Swiss – Norwegian Dialogue on Policies and Measures, Den norske ambassaden i Bern, den norske Kif-komiteen (Kvinner i forskning) og ”Working Group on Gender and Science Policy” fra Sveits, 22.10.2008, Swiss National Science Foundation, Wildhainweg 21, Plenarsaal, Bern.

Strategies for gender equality in science in Norway

State Secretary, Ladies and Gentlemen, dear friends!

 I am pleased to be invited to this conference to speak about an issue which is given high priority by the Norwegian government:

How to obtain gender equality in higher education and research! 

I will greet you from my minister Tora Aasland who certainly would have liked to come here, but had other tasks to fulfill.

We also appreciate this opportunity to come to Switzerland to have a dialogue on gender issues between our two countries. Hopefully we can inspire one another through this dialogue, and also get some new ideas about best practice. 

I come directly from the CERN/LHC inauguration and to some extent these to events are related. In Geneva it was definitively about Physics and Technology and as you know, as for gender issues in academia this is a question at stake.

I also go directly onto a very central achievement of my government also highly relevant – namely the very strong emphasis on expanding the  number of Kindergartens in Norway. We now approach 100 % coverage – a significant step important especially for women in general, but also in higher learning institutions. Some of us fought for this for years, now we are finally close to the fulfilling the aim! 


In 1912 the first female professor to be appointed in Norway was  Kristine Bonnevie, and every year a lecture is given in memory of her name and work. Now, nearly a hundred years later, the percentage of women holding a professorship has risen to 18 per cent. Not much of an increase over so many years. Therefore one of our major challenges is to raise the number of women in higher scientific positions, in particular professorships. This challenge we share with most other countries, also Switzerland. 

In Norway women are in a majority of 60 per cent among students. And in 2007 they also constituted the majority among PhD students. But the percentage varies in different fields. Women are in majority within social science, the humanities and medicine. However, they are still a minority in natural sciences, technology and agriculture/veterinary medicine. At post doctor level, the share of women was slightly above 40 per cent.

Disequalities in Norway are now quite large, 60-40 % favouring female at students level, while it is more than 80 to 20 % when you move to full professors.  Let me add: There are no objective reasons to have it this way!

Let us then take a closer look at the situation in the natural sciences and technology, where we face the greatest challenges. In the natural sciences 40 per cent of the students are women, while this applies to only 10 per cent of the professors. 

In technology women have a share of about 20 per cent on master and post doctor level. However, only 6 per cent of the professors are women. 

The next figure shows the share of women among full professors in the higher education sector by field of science. 

What we can learn from data, is that the gender balance has improved significantly. However, the natural sciences and technology are lagging behind. 

The latest PhD figures that cover the first half of 2008, show that apart from the field of technology, womens’ share of doctoral degrees is now 40 per cent or more in all fields, which is a very positive development. This is a very positive development. If we look at all fields together, women´s share was 47 per cent. (Outside this let me just mention that figures for finished PhDs show very positive tendencies, from slightly above  900 by 2006, through 1030 by 2007 and now 747 first half year of 2008. This indicates a record figure of 1300-1400 by 2008, implying a growth of 50 % over two years!) 

Within technology, however, one out of five with a doctoral degree is a woman. This shows that within the technological field specific measures are needed. The Norwegian University of Science and Technology has been working for many years to improve gender balance, and will go more deeply into this issue later today.

Women take more time than men to complete their PhD degree, 1-2 years. This is probably due to the fact that their studies are conducted in a period of life when it is natural to have children. However, figures from The Norwegian Institute for Studies in Innovation, Research and Education show that they complete their degree to the same extent as men. I like to add to this that my government has taken steps to improve the situation for maternal leaves, giving men stronger possibilities for leaves – from earlier 6 to now 10 weeks. This is a quota allocated to men. This is part of a total of 46 weeks fully compensated for to the couple.  This is an important improvement in the maternal leave arrangement, and will hopefully also have effects for women in academic careers. 

Women and men should have the same opportunities to use their talents and pursue a career in research. We also think it is important that female students have role models, in particular in fields where women are in minority. Seeing active female researchers can make young women more aware of the attractiveness of being a researcher when they start on their higher education. 

Even if the institutions succeed in recruiting female students into science and technology, they have a challenge in directing them towards an academic career in these fields. Women sometimes loose in the competition with men, when it comes to the highest academic positions. Or maybe they not to apply. That again can be due to lack of encouragement. Are we sure that women are given sufficient encouragement to make them want to stay in research?


From a general point of view, the share of women has increased considerably in lower academic positions in most fields. This is indeed a positive development and a good basis for recruiting more women to the higher positions.

As the figures showed, we still have a significant potential in increasing the recruitment of women. We have therefore taken several measures to promote women’s position in research.

Some examples:

All higher education institutions are obliged to adopt plans to promote gender equality. This issue is followed up in annual meetings being held each year between the individual institutions and the Ministry.

The Ministry acknowledges the important work that is done by the higher education institutions to improve gender equality. Many of the plans that are adopted contain ambitious aims for increasing the number of women in academic positions. Mentor projects, stipends to qualify women for higher positions and networking arrangements are often also included in these plans.

The Ministry has established the Committee for Mainstreaming – Women in Science. This committee is one of the organizers of this conference. The task of the committee is to support and recommend initiatives to improve the work on gender equality within higher education institutions and research institutes. The committee shall also contribute to raise the general awareness of issues that are important for the gender balance.

The committee provides useful documentation and recommendations that are needed for the ministry to develop an efficient gender policy. The committee has recently published a report on challenges and opportunities in the period 2008-2010. This will no doubt play an important role in future discussions about gender balance in Norwegian higher education and research. The committee will present itself more in detail later on.

In 2007 the Ministry established a prize of 2 million NOK to be awarded to the institution, the faculty, the department or research institute that has adopted the best equality plan and made significant achievements to improve gender equality.

The prize was awarded for the first time this year. The winners were the Norwegian University of Science and Technology and the Department of Marine Biotechnology at the University of Tromsø.

Another issue in which we are very much engaged, is to establish earmarked academic positions for women. In the middle of the 1990s Norway introduced a measure for earmarking professorships and post doctor positions for women. The practice was judged illegal by the EFTA court in 2003, and then terminated. In 2003 and 2005 we observed a relatively high share of women in post doctor positions in mathematics, science and technology. We think this was result of the earmarking, and we now plan to adopt a new measure, that is more on target as compared to the former one.

When I say this, I must admit that this is one of the examples where I find our relationship with the EU most difficult. Quotas for underrepresented groups have in many circumstances been used in Norway with good effects. For the Government as such I think they would have preferred a well functioning system to persist.

The most important differences are:

-          the measure will be limited in time

-          cover only temporary positions; post doc and Ph.D.

-          be limited to areas in which there are very few female professors, such as natural science and technology

In the national budget for 2009 the Norwegian government proposes that about 15 per cent of the new positions at the universities for doctoral students and post doctors are earmarked for women, provided that the necessary legal amendments have been made.

The Ministry of Education and Research is planning to introduce a measure that is in accordance with the EEA agreement, and which will make it possible to increase the share of women in fields where they are strongly underrepresented.

The Ministry intends to propose a legal amendment in order to bring the new measure into effect as from the autumn of 2009.

For Norway it is also important to keep updated and contribute to the efforts to improve gender balance within the European Union, for instance through our participation in the Helsinki Group on Women and Science. We consider this a valuable source of information and discussion, and will continue to contribute to the work done by the group.

Norway will now start an evaluation of our participation in the 6th and the first part of the 7th framework programme. As part of this  process we hope to get more data on womens’ participation in 

EU projects

I would also like to mention the Nordic conference that will be arranged in Oslo in March next year, called “(E)QUALITY 2009”. The conference is arranged by the Norwegian Ministry of Education and Research, the Research Council of Norway, NordForsk, the Nordic Gender institute, the Committee for Mainstreaming – Women in Science and Association for Women’s Studies and Gender Research in Norway.

The conference will focus on the relation between gender equality and quality in research, and will be hosted by our minister of research, Tora Aasland. We hope to see Switzerland at the conference!

To sum up:

Switzerland and Norway face some identical challenges in their efforts to obtain gender balance in science. Therefore it is important to meet and discuss measures for good practice, and learn from one another about measures that have been successful. I hope the discussions today will be fruitful, and that our common dialogue will continue in time to come.

Thank you for your attention!