CHANGES IN HIGHER EDUCATION INSTITUTIONS: DO FEMALE ACADEMICS SEE THE GLASS HALF FULL?
Research on Portuguese higher education (HE) have shown that gender seems to be a crucial factor determining academics perceptions, with female academics tending to assume more positive positions regarding the different transformations occurring at system and institutional levels (e.g. Cardoso et al., 2013; Manatos et al., 2015; Tavares et al, 2016). Among other factors, female academics positions might be explained by the fact that they tend to experience less power than male academics within academia and therefore appropriate those transformations as a way to enhance their rights and power (O’Connor, 2014; Carvalho & Santiago, 2009; 2010; Morley, 2003).
This paper aims to understand and reflect on gender differences in the perceptions of academics regarding recent changes in Portuguese higher education institutions’ governance, performance management, internal quality assurance and professionals. The relevance of this study is threefold. On one hand it allows understanding how Portuguese academics see the new trends and changes shaping higher education institutions. On the other hand, it shades light on the different ways male and female academics perceive such changes, while trying to put forward some reasons for this. Finally, the study may help both government and institutions developing initiatives to better address the challenges raised by these changes.
A research project, Glonatins – Global Challenges, National Initiatives and Institutional Responses – was conducted between 2014 and 2016. The project included a survey to all Portuguese academics, asking for their positions on different changes occurring in their institutions. Data from this survey was subjected to quantitative analysis trying to uncover academics’ perceptions, as well as the existence of statistically significant differences between men and women.
Overall, academics’ tend to assume positive (although not very marked) perceptions regarding the changes affecting Portuguese higher education institutions in all the four areas under analysis. However differences between male and female academics are particularly evident regarding changes in institution’s internal quality assurance and performance management. In almost all cases female academics tend to be more positive about these changes. The positions on the transformations in institutions’ professionals and governance are slightly less dependent on gender; however when differences occur, female academics are again more positive. Findings seem then to indicate that female academics are less critical and more open to the recent transformations characterizing Portuguese higher education institutions at the dawn of the 21st century.