A male law professor mentioned to me recently that in his experience, if you just do your work, and do it well, then your career will progress – rewards will flow. I was somewhat taken aback by this statement and pointed out that this certainly was not my own experience, and was unlikely to be the experience of many women in academia. Indeed, I suspect this is not the case in any profession.
It got me thinking about the makeup of Australian law schools. We currently have many women law deans around the country – though I do note that some are punching above their weight, holding the role of dean at a substantive position lower than professor. The law school is a feminised work force in many respects – women are highly visible in so many law schools. However I suspect that this is because women form the bulk of our casualised workforce, teaching sessionally.
I wondered though about the makeup of the professoriate. With so many women – and so many capable women – one might expect that there would be equality in the upper ranks of the law school. Let’s see if the numbers bear this out.
Yesterday the Australian Minister for Education, Simon Birmingham, announced cuts to higher education funding and increases in student fees. In addition, the income threshold for repayment of student debt will be reduced. Funding for teaching will be reduced in 2019 by $380 million relative to the current funding formula.
Universities are huge institutions requiring significant funding to maintain their operations. Yet they face hefty competition from global and increasingly accessible, technologies. Instead of a future of under-funded universities, I see their devolution altogether – at least in terms of education, if not of research.
The change will not be quick. A higher degree (bachelors or above) is now the entry point for the regulated professions. These professions, including law, use course accreditation as a means of guaranteeing standards of graduate entry. For unregulated professions (such as marketing, or banking) the market determines the entry requirement, and that is generally a bachelors degree.
But things are changing, and universities’ role can no longer be taken for granted.