The new international university aiming to promote women in STEM
“Through my work, I hope I can create opportunities for women”
Like many countries in the Caucasus, Central Asia and Europe, Georgia has conservative socio-cultural norms and gender stereotypes. Change comes slowly in this environment, but we have made significant progress in creating a more enabling environment for gender integration and equality in recent years.
There are no longer any legislative barriers to gender equality in Georgia, but the statistics for school enrolment reveal cultural mindsets that maintain the status quo.
There is parity in enrolment rates among boys and girls at primary and secondary school levels but gender norms and prejudices kick in strongly after school. Kutaisi International University (KIU) Chancellor Magda Magradze explains.
They exert an all-too-predictable influence over school leavers’ choices of higher education or vocational courses, and inevitably their choices of professions too.
As chancellor of the new, state-of-the art, STEM-focused KIU, I can set policies and organisational goals to correct historic practices and achieve a more equitable settlement between men and women.
It is my aim to bring more women into STEM education and to increase female representation in key sectors of the Georgian economy and at the top of Georgian businesses.
My role at KIU is a continuation of my work pre-KIU. From 2013 to 2019, I was in charge of implementing one of the biggest educational projects in Georgia — the Georgian and US Government funded ‘Millennium Challenge Georgia Compact II’.
The compact also aimed to increase women’s participation in STEM professions. As part of it, we adopted a Gender and Social Integration Strategy to ensure that, in all our activities within general, vocational, and higher education, we promoted gender equality.
As a result, schoolteachers were trained to counter gender biases that were steering girls away from STEM careers. The first batch of students who graduated from the Compact-funded San Diego State University-Georgia STEM programs were 36% female.
Under our leadership, Georgia hosted the Women in Science camp in Tbilisi in 2018, with 100 girls from Azerbaijan, Armenia, and Georgia taking part; and in 2016, we created a national competition and award called “Business for Gender Equality”. The award recognises Georgian companies that promote gender equality and women’s empowerment both inside and outside the workplace.
KIU opened its doors to its first ever cohort of students in 2020. Our aim is to provide a price competitive alternative to the very best entrepreneurial universities in Europe and America, and KIU has been purposefully designed as an ‘international’ university along US and European lines.
Partnering with the Technical University of Munich (TUM), KIU is the only university in the Caucasus to offer a full residential, campus-based education.
Our current focus at KIU is science and technology but we aspire to expand to other disciplines that the future of jobs will demand.
We encourage girls to apply and actively promote equal enrolment. We have a gender integration and social inclusion policy and action plan aimed at creating an equal and inclusive educational environment free from any form of direct or indirect discrimination.
We are proud that we have achieved 35% female enrolment in the traditionally male-dominated mathematics discipline at KIU.
But we freely admit we still have a long way to go. The current gender split in computer sciences is 75% male to 25% female; 65% to 35% in mathematics; and 67% to 33% in management studies. Our medium-term aim is to increase the number of female students in all of our programs to at least 40%.
KIU is also promoting gender equality and integration through a number of non-curricular projects. We have instituted a dialogue with UN Women, and we are eager to contribute to Georgia’s gender integration agenda through events, projects, and activities that go beyond the confines of the university.
We are also launching a mentoring program for our female students that will give them an opportunity to engage with women leaders within and beyond KIU.
Being a woman in a male dominated professional world is not easy. Through my work, I hope I can create opportunities for women but also act as a role model for younger girls who need encouragement to pursue their careers and goals.
The corporate world is still dominated by men, not only in Georgia but throughout the world. I hope through my own resilience, perseverance and hard work, I can inspire other women to redress the balance.
About the author: Magda Magradze is the Chancellor of Kutaisi International University, a brand new science and technology-focussed university in Georgia.