In the five years I’ve been at University of Canterbury, the gender breakdown of the classes I’ve taught in the College of Arts has moved toward a near 75% female 25% male split (the College of Engineering is the opposite). In my last semester of tutoring Shakespeare, forty-three of my forty-seven students were female. This trend is pretty much worldwide, and it’s not just the Arts. This trend appears in US universities quite clearly, in UK universities such that even if every dude were accepted there would be more women, in Australian universities, and in New Zealand’s two major universities women make up 56% of the students. All of which makes the “good news” of women holding just over 22% of senior positions in NZ universities a bummer. But it’s good to see that University of Canterbury has started to pull away from the Old Boys world – a near-20% increase in the number of senior academic positions held by women.

I haven’t been able to locate any decent numbers for the percentage of female students at UC (in the College of Arts, in spite of my anecdotal sense that 75% of our students are female, the split in the top award for CoA, Arts Scholars, is 50-50), but when graduation season rolled around, the university’s front page offered some insight. The four grads represented (from left to right) Commerce, Arts, Education, and STEM (If you mouse over the picture, a little blurb appears, noting their degree). The news story has a shot of the researcher and the scholarship notice features a recognizable person (redded-up as per the university’s “visual branding”) as well.

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It’s not just that the students are female, which is both representative and encouraging, it’s that you can see their faces. They’re people you might meet on campus – and the mouse-overs give you a sense of their story. By way of contrast, University of Auckland’s main page rotates three images, and there are no people:

Screen shot 2013-02-18 at 10.01.27 AMUniversity of Otago has an extensive catalog of images, perhaps two-thirds of which have recognizable human faces. But there are also shots like this one:

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It’s good to see that UC, which needs to increase its student numbers in the face of the money challenges it has, is doing so in a quite human way that embraces the fact that we have so many women enrolled. That it’s doing so in a way that visually distinguishes it in terms of people is also encouraging. Auckland’s a great school, but its website makes it look like a consulting firm. Otago is a great school, but its website alternates between adventure tourism and academia. Neither is wrong, but give me UC’s approach. Except, I must admit, the truly terrible blurb for the “News” feature on that screengrab. The “research finds similarities and differences” reminds me of nothing so much as this: <iframe width=”420″ height=”315″ src=”; frameborder=”0″ allowfullscreen>