October 2022 SgWIS talk by Prof Timothy Clark – Developing Equity in Higher Education

Singapore Women in Science (SgWIS) had its Oktoberfest on 26th of the month, where Prof Timothy Clark, Provost, Singapore Management University (SMU) spoke about “Developing Equity in Higher Education”.

Prior to taking on the Provost role at SMU, he was the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Social Sciences & Health) at Durham University, UK where he was also Executive Lead for Computer and Information Services (CIS) and Estates and Building. He brings with him over 17 years of experience in various leadership roles at Durham University.

He shared his observations that in higher education there are many common issues faced by universities across the world. These include sexual harassment, mental health (both among students and staff), student debt, gender identity and fluidity and the under representation of women in leadership roles. As we are all aware, sexual harassment at universities has been one of the major issues brought to the fore in Singapore and has forced university leadership to take corrective action and preventative policy development. Mental health remains a topic which has not been talked about enough and is getting much needed attention, while the under representation of women in leadership roles is now a major recognized concern in most fields, including education.

Since taking on the role as Provost at SMU, Prof Timothy has been instrumental in championing the cause of gender equity and for the same set up a gender equity taskforce in 2021 at the university. The purpose of this initiative was to obtain a comprehensive picture of gender equity in Singapore and the best practices from universities around the world in addressing this and understanding how policies are being shaped at various educational institutions for the same. Via focus groups and interviews, a report was prepared and presented in May 2022.

The significant drop in the number of women in senior positions (only 18% of full Professors are women) compared to the number of female students who enrol for PhD programs (40%) is not a surprising find and similar trends have been reported from universities in UK and Europe. Gender neutral operations are desired but unconscious and implicit bias remains. The stress felt by female academics as they desire to track towards tenure is significant and issues such as support for young parents especially mothers is evidently felt.

Based on these findings, Prof Timothy Clark shared an action plan which is shaping up at SMU. Growing the female faculty representation as a proportion of total faculty strength, through targeted advertising and a gender balanced recruitment panel; training to understand implicit bias as a first to remove it; mentorship and training programs and a conscientious development of panels with gender balance within are some of the points he shared with the audience. International Women’s Day is also to become a significant event in SMU’s calendar.

One of his early remarks during the talk was ‘Higher education leadership has to anticipate issues’. This statement lingered and unraveled itself over the course of his talk and set the tone, once again, for the need of diversity and inclusivity of many voices in leadership to churn out the best possible outcomes for students.

We eagerly look forward to further engagements with him and are definitely excited to see the combined efforts including all the universities and educational institutions on the island in reaching equity in higher education.