Looking to the EU for the means

Norwegian Minister for Education and research, Øystein Djupedal, emphasizes the use of positive discrimination to recruit more women to top positions in academia, and he is looking to the EU for the means to do this. However, he is receiving criticism for his budget from the opposition.

Minister of Education and Research Øystein Djupedal. Foto: CF-Wesenberg

Øystein Djupedal introduced his position as cautiously optimistic when he recently answered questions in the Norwegian Parliament about women in science. The minister referred the questioners to a number of measures in this area (see the box), and wheeled out the Universities of Oslo and Bergen as progressive universities on this issue. However, he also pointed out that the task of increasing the number of women in top positions is going far too slowly.

Women disappear

Djupedal’s admission came in response to an interpellation regarding the gender balance in the higher education sector from Gerd Janne Kristoffersen, member of the Church, Education and Research Committee, and parliamentary representative for the Norwegian Labour Party.

"Today’s women do not want to find themselves restricted by old fashioned attitudes towards gender, or allow themselves to be stopped by a wait-and-see strategy. In this case they will just disappear off to competing sectors and leave research altogether. Norway as a knowledge based enterprise cannot afford that," Kristoffersen said. She emphasized that she has become impatient on this issue, and called for a new and original strategy.

Considering positive discrimination

The answer Kristoffersen received was notice that the Ministry of Education and Research can come to initiate new measures for gender equality in academia.

"The Norwegian Government stated, in its Soria Moria Declaration of policy for the current coalition government, that it is willing to positively discriminate in favour of the underrepresented sex in order to achieve a better balance of the sexes, something that today’s equal opportunities legislation allows for," said Djupedal in response to Kristoffersen, and he added that this is something his department his currently working on.

"The Ministry of Education and Research is now considering a variety of measures for affirmative action for the underrepresented sex," he told the parliament.

In Dialogue with the EU

It’s almost four years since the EFTA court ruling against Norway that the earmarking of academic positions for women was in conflict with the European Economic Area (EEA) agreement and equal treatment directive. However, the questions of earmarking and of precisely which practices are included under that term, according to the judgement, are still pertinent. Djupedal explained that his ministry is currently going through the practices of other EU countries to evaluate what options exist among the solutions available today.

"The ministry is aware that individual EU countries make use of economic measures to recruit the underrepresented sex. The Ministry of Education and Research is now looking at what options we have for introducing such measures, and we are in contact with the EU on this issue. Appropriate measures must be robust and developed in a way that means that they do not conflict with the international conventions and directives that Norway is committed to following."

Support from several sides

The ministry received praise from several sides under the parliamentary debate.

"I would have hoped that we could have looked at the arrangements for earmarking academic positions for women again, that it was legally possible, but I am positive after having heard the minister today say that other measures are being considered within the legal framework that is set out," said Dagrunn Eriksen from the Christian People’s Party, and was followed by Odd Einar Dørum of the Liberal Party of Norway.

"I too believe that the minister is on a creative and organised hunt inside the EEA & EU area when looking for 'Kristin Clemet’s cousins', as the Bondevik II government’s attempt to introduce recruitment positions, in other words, economic incentives. I wish to cheer him on. I am certain that this work will bear fruit. My experience with EU rules is that there is always somebody who finds a way to accommodate them that we have not found in Norway. Putting someone to work on this type of silent detective work, I would like to offer my firm support for."

Budget criticism

There were, nevertheless, not only words of praise for the government’s policies. Not many days have passed since the coalition government’s first budget was presented, and the opposition criticised the distribution of financing for not being in line with the government’s target of having more women in top positions in academia. Gunnar Gundersen of the Conservative Party put it clearly:

"It is strange to see that now, once we have a budget laid before us, it is completely without new Research Fellow scholarships. I would have thought that one of the most important measures for getting more women into academia was to make sure there was access by way of new positions. The target is actually 1,100 PhD’s completed each year. We are a long way from that. If we do not have the positions available to receive them then the problem will become even worse. What we need here is a framework in place that stimulates both the quantity of people being educated and the female proportion of that," Gundersen said.

Quotas are wrong

The Progress Party opposed quotas as a tool and were of the opinion that working on changing attitudes was a better strategy for achieving gender equality. The Liberal Party supported this and added that there should be more focus on the intersection of work and family.

"For myself, I would just like to say, that the opinion that women must be hired on a quota basis into these positions is completely erroneous thinking. When you see how women are moving forward on a wide front in all forms of higher education, there are other things that must be prioritised. We need to pay attention to the revolt of the Research Fellows that we had in the Spring, which was about their practical conditions. What happens if you are the parent of young children, the mother of young children, and, for example, you do not have adequate leave arrangements, not in order to avoid your work, but because these aspects of life are just not taken into consideration," Dørum asked.

Kindergartens and sexual harassment

Dagrunn Eriksen of the Christian People’s Party said, in addition, that it is important to focus on the social conditions that hinder women from following an academic career. Among other things she talked of the importance of kindergarten places for all children and the work to eradicate sexual harassment at work as important measures.

"Statistics show that academics work on average 48.5 hours per week. Consequently, leisure time is used for research, and many people find themselves in the well known time squeeze. Such a workload can make academic careers more difficult for families with small children. It is therefore necessary to sort out the practical and social arrangements connected with the rights of pregnancy, including kindergartens," she said.

Waiting for the Report

The Committee for Gender Mainstreaming – Women in Science was appointed for a three year period by Kristin Clemet, the previous Minister for Education and Research. At the beginning of the new year the committee will present its final report. Several members of parliament said they were waiting for the committee’s report, and they praised Djupedal’s predecessor for having established the committee.

Djupedal too said that he believes the committee is doing a very good job, and he emphasised that the final report is very important to the Ministry.

"We will go through the recommendations thoroughly and consider how these measures can be put in place", Djupedal said, and he pointed out that resources exist with which to implement new strategies in this area. "When Women in Science present their report we have already put aside the means with which to follow up the recommendations."

Translated by Matthew Whiting, KILDEN


Before the summer break Gerd Janne Kristoffersen, parliamentary representative for the Norwegian Labour Party and member of the Church, Education and Research Committee, submitted an interpellation in which she asked the Minister of Education and Research, Øystein Djupedal, what he will do to correct the gender imbalance in academia. The interpellation came up for debate in the Norwegian parliament 10 October 2006.

The interpellation was worded as follows:
“Today, men constitute 83% of all professors. The situation was the same in 2003. Recruitment of women into top positions in the higher education sector represents a big challenge, and the work with this aim should be intensified. Absence of gender equality in academia has consequences for research, teaching, participation in committees, and for international collaboration. It is a democratic problem for prioritising and for setting the agenda in research, and for the recruitment of students. The education institutions have, in addition to the authorities, a big responsibility to correct the imbalances. What will the Minister do in order to speed up gender equality work and to correct the imbalances in higher education?”


Some measures mentioned by the Minister for Education and Research:

  • In connection with the main pay settlement per 1 July this year the partners have agreed that a promotion system from associate professor to senior lecturer would be introduced.
  • A majority of public university colleges have an associate professor programme aimed at raising the academic competence of their employees.
  • In the revised national budget this year the government have allocated NOK 11.9 million to the associate professor programme in nurse education.
  • In connection with the announcement in 2005 of financing for new centres for outstanding research, The Research Council of Norway has clarified its ambitions for gender equality. Applicants are asked to integrate a gender equality awareness strategy in the planning of new centres and to announce targets for gender equality.
  • The Research Council of Norway has additionally earmarked part of the allocation of funds to the centres to gender equality measures.
  • The Ministry for Education and Research is systematically raising the topic of gender equality at board meetings at the universities and university colleges.