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necessarily members of the elite club. Their presence in universities brings conflicts among different values: the role of women in society, disciplinary expectations, and those of the university.

Documenting how these cultural and institutional values affect women’s participation today in the various regions of the world and in a limited number of countries illustrative of regional trends follows a uniform analysis. The first part of the analysis is historical, examining how the structure of the Western university developed together with science and technology. Second, it charts the role of Western science in imperial domination of the non-European world, and how universities were created in some parts of the world as instruments of political and ideological control (Vlahakis 2006).

For example, the conquest of what is now Latin America and the Caribbean by Spain and Portugal led to the Jesuits’ creation of educational institutions in the early 1500s. These educated local elites promulgated Christian thought and Luzo-Hispanic world views to the detriment of indigenous knowledge. Today much elementary and secondary schooling is still run by the Jesuits and other Christian orders. Universities no longer follow the imperial model, but inescapably reflect an inherited cultural system largely unsupportive of independent roles for women (Europa Publications 2010). While increasing numbers of universities are becoming modern research universities, scientific research facilities lag and the entire region only produces 2.5 percent of the world’s doctoral scientists (Koiller 2007). As part of this discussion, attention is paid to when chemistry, mathematics, statistics, and computer science developed as modern university subjects.

This example suggests how historical legacies affect the current situation, including the number and types of higher education institutions and the number and percentage of college age cohort enrollment. This is significant in order to understand why women in many countries are far less than half of tertiary enrollment. For example, India only enrolls 10 percent of this cohort, so it is not so surprising that women proportionately are underrepresented at Indian universities (Altbach 2010). This low percentage is offset by the size of India’s overall population and its over hundred-year-old tradition of training doctoral scientists at European and American universities.

Following this is an exclusive focus on women in which girls’ participation in secondary education and the extent to which science and mathematics are included in the curriculum. This has a direct bearing on when and in what numbers women were admitted to degree programs in chemistry, mathematics, statistics, and very recently, computer science. Most of this discussion is about the 20th and 21st centuries. Women’s attainment of advanced degrees and subsequent professional employment also reflects the extent of their participation in the disciplinary associations.

The goal of this analysis is to illuminate the current situation of women in the four fields and lay the groundwork for later detailed analysis.


Altbach, P.G. 2010. India’s open door to foreign universities: less than meets the eye. International Higher Education 60:16-18.

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