Word from the Dean: Male and Female at UCU

I know that gender is about more than just female / male distribution, but I hope that you will excuse me for focusing on this aspect. UCU selects its students, as you all know. When you select students at age 17-18, you will typically get more women than men. It is a well-known phenomenon in all schools and universities that apply selection “before the gate” in a domain that is not male-biased (such as engineering).

Women – sorry, fellow males – are just more mature, focused and motivated at that age (in defense of my own sex I must say that men tend to catch up a few years later). So what is the result of this at UCU? Enrolment in 2007 was 66% female, 34% male. It “improved” step by step and in 2011 the freshmen were 61% female and 39% male. How did we manage to create a slightly better balance? The secret is in the three “balances” we apply in the final phase of the application process. Those three balances are: Dutch versus non-Dutch, prospective majors of the students (humanities, science, social science), and the male/female distribution. Outstanding students are always invited, whatever their sex, nationality, or field of interest. But there is always a big group of applicants of equal ability, motivation and promise. Among those, a male applicant who wants to major in humanities stands a better chance of being invited than a female applicant who wants to do social science. In that way, balances can be improved without jeopardizing quality.

Do we have gender balance in UCU management? I would say: give us a B+ to A-. The Management Team has two males (Director of Education and me) and one female (Managing Director). But the student assessor in the MT was female this year, so it balanced out. One Head of Department retired recently (Aafke Komter, Social Sciences) and her successor is male (Wil Pansters). But even the feminist wing of the selection committee fully agreed that he was the best candidate. So for the Heads: male score 2, female score 1. Again balanced out: the Senior Tutor is a woman.

Is the whole issue trivial? I would say no. UCU has to be alert about the issue. There is nothing to gain from a “girls college” image – diversity in all sorts of ways is much more interesting. And Utrecht University is still far away from attaining a gender balance in its senior faculty positions. Dear alumni: who will apply to be UCU’s first female new Dean in a few years time?


Prof. Dr. Rob van der Vaart has a doctorate in human geography from the University of Utrecht and has been the dean of UCU since 2008.