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Women storm the ivory towers

It is happening in schools and now, it seems, women staff are gaining ground in universities as well. Sooner or later, the female majority on UK undergraduate courses was bound to have an impact on the recruitment of academics. But last week's figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency suggest that the shift is more significant than anyone had predicted. More women than men were promoted to professorships in 2002-03 and almost twice as many women as men won promotion to senior lecturer grade - at the same time as the number of men at lecturer level continues to decline.

Male domination of academic life has been so complete for so long that equal numbers remain a long way off, especially at senior levels, but a historic shift appears to be under way. Other figures from the British Medical Association show how quickly the balance can tilt: the BMA estimates that, on current trends, women doctors will outnumber men within eight years.

Poor salaries may be contributing to the current trend, as the unions have warned, but it is one that can be detected throughout the public sector.

The end, if not the means, is welcome.

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