Female veterinary science students are up in arms over a University of Sydney doctoral scholarship that preferences men - but the university says it is within the law.
SBS News
9 Feb - 4:33 PM  UPDATED 9 Feb - 6:24 PM

Female veterinary science students at the University of Sydney are outraged at a scholarship that preferences their male counterparts.

The Professor Marsh Edwards Scholarship, worth $27,000 for veterinary medicine doctoral students, says it will give preference to "applicants who are: from rural or regional areas; male", among other requirements.

A female doctor of veterinary medicine student told SBS News the specification contributed to existing gender inequality in science careers.

"Female graduates of vet school are still paid less, from day one," the student, who asked to remain anonymous, said. 

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"I just think it shows very little thought into the causative agents of underrepresentation of women in STEM [Science, Technology, Engineering and Maths].

"The barriers that prevent men from entering vet science are not the same barriers that prevent women from entering nearly every other academic discipline.

"Men are not being prevented from entering veterinary medicine because of some social, political or economic barrier of oppression.”

In a statement, the university supported the mention of gender in the criteria.

"The scholarship does not exclude females and is open to all students regardless of gender studying veterinary science at the University," the statement said.

"The University is satisfied it is complying with the law. The inclusion of males as one of a number of preferences by the donor is to address the current under-representation of males in the student cohort."

The university's statement said there had been a trend towards a more female-dominated student cohort over the past five years in veterinary science. 

"The current student body is overwhelmingly female," it said.

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"Of this year’s graduate entry for the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine over 90 per cent of the intake is expected to be female."

However, the veterinary medicine student told SBS News this was because male students had more choice and fewer obstacles to their career paths than female students.

"They are choosing to accept positions in other fields of academia that female students do not have access to," she said.

"This is important to clarify that their low numbers are a byproduct of privilege and not oppression."

Imogen Grant, a women's officer from the University of Sydney Student Representative Council, said scholarships "aren't to simply address the gender disparity of a particular field of study". 

"Men don’t face economic barriers to entering the Doctor of Veterinary Medicine," she said.

"Furthermore, the scholarship also specifies applicants from a rural background.

"Women in rural areas are significantly less likely to be economically independent than their male equivalents. The rural economy is even more male dominated."

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Ms Grant said while the gender specification might be within the law it did "not mean that is how the law should be implemented".

"It is no excuse for the university to be complacent about discrimination," she said.

"Funding issues are a big part of many people’s decision about whether or not to pursue study. This scholarship would force many women to self-exclude."

“Making gender a deciding factor between applicants illustrates that a woman’s right to an education is not as important as her male counterparts.

"The fact that the university has no problem with offering a scholarship that excludes women calls into question whether they are truly committed to combatting sexism on campus.”

However the university said there were several scholarships "aimed at increasing female participation in areas where they are under-represented".

"There are currently five DVM [Doctor of Veterinary Medicine] scholarships offered by the university to support veterinary science students, a reflection of the generosity of alumni donors," the statement said.

"The Faculty of Veterinary Science has taken a leadership role, with outstanding results, in gender equity with higher female leadership and participation than any other in the country."

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