Some Women Speak on Access to Higher Education
BY MALA NARAINE
Several studies conducted by CCLOW, among others, show that although - women enter undergraduate level programs in about the same proportions as men, they are still under-represented at the M.A. and Ph.D. levels. In gaining access to higher education women usually encounter obstacles resulting from a lack of financial resources, inadequate child care, the need to arrange special transportation (especially for those with physical disabilities), inflexible course scheduling, and outdated cultural mores which do not acknowledge women's right to have both a career and a family life.
I recently conducted a study to examine some of the barriers which women mayor may not have encountered and to explore the significant factors that deter women from pursuing graduate work. I carried out an interview survey with women enrolled in graduate programs in the Toronto area. Participants were selected on the basis that one of the following criteria was relevant for them: that they had a learning disability; a physical disability; had re-entered the education system; were an international student; part-time student; or had dependents. Except for one woman who was from an ethnic minority, all the interviewee were of Anglo origin. This sample was not intended to be representative; participants were selected because they indicated an interest in the study.
The women were asked to describe personal experiences of the obstacles they face with respect to four categories in particular: information about financial resources, student loans, child care, and the foreign student experience.
Inadequate access to information about financial resources was identified as a fundamental problem by all the women interviewed. One interviewee, frustrated because there was no information available about scholarships for persons with disabilities, proceeded to compile a directory. Although most universities produce an annual bulletin for students, it is often the only source of accessible information and is usually inadequate. Another student explained:
There're other things that aren't written down and you have to hear about them.