Chapter 11: Gender equality: a neglected or rhetorical dimension of rankings in higher education?
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Global rankings, which are essentially external benchmarks of higher education institutions, are seen as increasingly important and are proliferating in number and kind. They constitute a response to increased global competition in what is an international student and academic labour market. Such rankings have been widely critiqued as reflecting and reinforcing Western hegemony (and particularly English language hegemony), promoting elite ‘world class’ institutions, devaluing heterogeneity, deepening inequalities within higher education systems, encouraging the devaluation and neglect of national objectives and ultimately encouraging the permeation of higher education by neo-liberalist objectives and practices. It is suggested that decisions about what factors to include in the rankings and the weight to be attached to them reflect and reinforce an implicitly masculinist and overtly neo-liberal perspective. . Despite a concern to facilitate the global battle for talent, the overwhelming majority of these have not included any indicators of a reduction in gender inequality /promotion of gender equality. This arguably reflects the male dominated, masculinist character of the discourses within which such rankings and the critiques of them have been located. In that context the ranking of higher educational institutions based on their impact on Goal 5 (Gender Equality) of the United Nations (UN) Sustainable Development Goals is an interesting development. Using a feminist institutional perspective, this chapter compares the elements in this gender equality measure with other constructions of gendered success such as that provided by the European Research Area. It discusses the relative usefulness of alternative benchmarking exercises, such as Athena SWAN in the UK as well as recent policy initiatives by the Irish Higher Education Authority (HEA) which have identified gender equality as a strategic objective in promoting excellence and accountability. The extent to which the compacts between the individual Irish higher educational institutions and the HEA will deliver in terms of gender equality remains to be seen. However, the link between gender equality indicators and state funding potentially resolves many of the problems related to institutional support. The ranking of such institutions on the UN Sustainable Development Gender Equality Goal provides a further lever. The chapter concludes by highlighting additional indicators that might be included in such global ranking schemas so to promote gender equality.

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