Low female university admissions: Is it time for affirmative action?

When the University of Rwanda (UR) released its maiden admission list on July 3, gender disparity shocked even some officials of the university as male applicants dominated the list at 69 percent (6,544) compared to 31 percent or 2,899 places taken by females.
Some of the students who had gone to check on their admissions at the University of Rwanda on Friday. (Jean de la Croix Tabaro)
Some of the students who had gone to check on their admissions at the University of Rwanda on Friday. (Jean de la Croix Tabaro)

When the University of Rwanda (UR) released its maiden admission list on July 3, gender disparity shocked even some officials of the university as male applicants dominated the list at 69 percent (6,544) compared to 31 percent or 2,899 places taken by females.

In a country where 52 percent of the population is female and with national laws that guarantee gender equity, the huge gender gap in student admissions could send policymakers back on the drawing board. 

At the time of releasing the admission list, UR’s Vice-Chancellor Prof. James McWha, admitted being surprised that female students “are under-represented.” 

He told reporters that the administration would like to encourage more women to seek admission to the university. 

“It is a process we’ll be pursuing within the next few years because we would like to see equal number of male and female students in the university,” he said.

This week, when asked to explain how the university would proceed to ensure more women gained admission; and whether affirmative action would be an option, he said it was not in the immediate plans. 

Affirmative action, or positive discrimination, is the policy of providing special opportunities for, and favoring members of, an underprivileged group who may be suffering from inequity.

“We are not looking at positive discrimination. Female students perform well in exams but it seems to be an issue of personal aspirations or family expectations. We propose to work with schools and the community to resolve this and ensure that female students achieve everything they are capable of,” he said.

Positive discrimination policies vary from region to region and, the best example around, perhaps is neighboring Uganda where female applicants are given an extra 1.5 points to join public universities. 

Peace Murungi, a long time women education activist, said the government, in its various policies and efforts have done much to enhance girl education but much more efforts were required.

Unlike McWha, Murungi who is the current vice chairperson of the National University Women Association said she believes positive discrimination can still be considered to boost the number of women accessing higher education. 

“I am passionate about girls’ education, but in my own view, we still have a long way to go. More efforts should be invested in their education as this percentage is not the best and can be improved,” Murungi said.

According to MP John Ruku-Rwabyoma, affirmative action would only be just the beginning.

“We have to address some of the barriers that are still very visible in the cultural arena. Gender equality should be that and nothing less,” said the lawmaker. 

Joel Gatanazi, a fourth year BBA (finance) student at the College of Business and Economics (CBE), said women should be given extra points because of the natural barriers they meet in their quest for education.

“It is necessary to give them a head start, not only as a motivation, but also as a way of supporting girl-child education in Africa,” he said.

 

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