We have timed publishing our first standard issue of the year to coincide with International Woman’s Day, 8 March 2021 to celebrate the contribution women have made to higher education. The first woman documented as teaching in a university was more than 800 years ago, and yet it is only the last century that the number of female academics has started to increase (Whaley, 2011). In Australia, the first university was established in 1851, yet it would be another 32 years until Julia Guerin graduated in 1883 from the University of Melbourne with a Bachelor of Arts (Hons) in 1883 (Women's Museum of Australia, 2020). And another 10 years when Leonora Little graduated from Melbourne University with a Bachelor of Science in 1983. Despite these accomplishments in the late 19th century, it was not until 1959 when the first woman, Dorothy Hill, was awarded a Chair appointment (Chair of Geology) in an Australian university, and nearly a century before Australia has its first female Vice Chancellor, when Dianne Yerbury became the Vice-Chancellor of Macquarie University in 1987, a position she held for twenty years. Australia’s higher education history tells a clear story of the slow integration of women in higher education, particularly within the STEM fields. For example, Little graduated in 1893 with a Bachelor of Science, but it was 1928 before the first female Lecturer in Mathematics, Ethel Raybould was appointed, and another 36 years before Hanna Neumann became the first female Professor of Pure Mathematics in 1964. It was just over 60 years ago that Margaret Williams-Weir was the first female Indigenous Australian to graduate with a university qualification in 1959. Female Indigenous Australians remain under-represented in the Australian university graduate population. The current situation for Australian higher education still retains a dominance of males within academic roles, such as 30 percent more men in Associate and Full Professor roles than women (Devlin, 2021). And whilst there has been progress in some jurisdictions, such as the majority of Queensland vice chancellors are women in 2021, these continue to be the exception, for example only 28% of vice chancellors in Australia are women. International Woman’s Day is an opportunity to reflect on the significant contribution women make in higher education in Australia and globally. We celebrate through the publication of this issue, with many female authors from across higher education globally.
Recommended CitationButler-Henderson, Kerryn; Percy, Alisa; and Kelder, Jo-Anne, Editorial 18:3 Celebrating women in higher education on International Women’s Day, Journal of University Teaching & Learning Practice, 18(3), 2021.