Unwilling, unable, or just not given a chance?
Women who rise through Singapore’s academic ranks are still a rare breed – an issue thrust under the spotlight earlier in January by former MP and academic Intan Azura Mokhtar of the Singapore Institute of Technology (SIT). Speaking at an NUS Institute of Policy Studies conference, Associate Professor Intan said: “In our six autonomous universities, there is only one female university president.” She was referring to SMU President Professor Lily Kong, the first Singaporean woman to get the top job at a university here. The situation here is not unusual, said Prof Kong in an e-mail interview with The Sunday Times. A geographer who was the first woman to become a university provost here in 2015, Prof Kong moved to SMU after a 24-year career at NUS, where she held positions such as vice-provost of academic personnel, and dean of NUS’ Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences and its University Scholars Programme. She pointed out that in Hong Kong, where there are eight University Grants Committee-funded universities, there is only one female president. SMU appointed its first female president – Professor Janice Bellace, who had been deputy dean of The Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania – at its founding in 2000. In 2022, SMU also appointed its first female law school dean, Professor Lee Pey Woan. Prof Kong explained how the “leaky pipeline”, a phenomenon observed in universities around the world, resulted in the gap.