Women on the Move: The Gender Dimensions of Academic Mobility

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Women’s enrollment in higher education globally has grown almost twice as fast as the rate of male enrollment in the past four decades, primarily due to increased equity and access, enhanced income potential, and the internationally-recognized imperative to narrow the gender gap at all levels of education. Women now make up the majority of higher education students in 114 countries, while men out-number women in 57 countries. Despite this progress, it has been observed that women’s participation at higher academic levels (primarily at the doctoral level) declines and falls behind that of men. When it comes to earning their bachelor’s degree, women have reached parity with men; women are also much more likely than men to earn their master’s, 56 percent vs. 44 percent. However, this changes at the doctoral level, where in general men are much more likely to earn doctoral degrees (56 percent vs. 44 percent), with some exceptions such as Latin American and the Caribbean.

As women’s enrollment in higher education has increased overall, so has their participation in global academic mobility, albeit at a slow rate: 48 percent of women were pursuing higher education overseas in 2012 as compared with 44 percent in 1999. While much of the growth has come from greater gender parity across the world, the larger presence of women in international education is also attributable to targeted scholarship and fellowship programs that provide opportunities for women and other under-represented groups to pursue advanced study outside their home countries. Such programs include, among others, the U.S. Department of State’s African Women’s Entrepreneurship Program and TechWomen Program; the Schlumberger Foundation’s Faculty for the Future Program; the Ford Foundation’s International Fellowships Program, and the Maternal Health Young Champions Program.

Drawing upon student mobility data from the Open Doors® project and other secondary data sources, this research brief examines current trends in the participation of women in international education globally and within the U.S.; push and pull factors that drive the mobility of female international students; and the potential impacts of encouraging women to study abroad.