International partnership will help support women
For International Women’s Day 2021, we are all asked to #ChooseToChallenge and call out gender bias and inequality, seek out and celebrate women’s achievements, and help create an inclusive world.
This aligns with Athabasca University’s mission, which includes addressing inequality of educational opportunities for all adult learners worldwide—and a new partnership with the Mother Teresa Women’s University (MTWU) in India is bringing us one step closer to that goal. The partnership, which came into effect March 1, 2021, allows for the exchange of learners, faculty members, and educational resources between the two institutions.
Dr. Vive Kumar, Associate Dean of the Faculty of Science and Technology (FST) at AU, is one of the driving forces behind this partnership. He said that it is important not only in terms of AU’s broader goals of fostering and developing international collaboration, but also in terms of supporting women learners at AU and in science, technology, engineering, and math (STEM) fields in particular.
“For any area we pick in STEM, women’s participation is so low. Women make up only about 30 per cent of the workforce in STEM, and we don’t know why,” he said. “In that sense, for us it is good to connect with entities like a women’s university where we can try to understand why this imbalance exists,” he said.
The partnership will be mutually beneficial, as MTWU can learn from AU’s expertise in delivering high-quality open and online education, while AU can learn from MTWU’s expertise with empowering women and engaging them in STEM areas.
“Women make up only about 30 per cent of the workforce in STEM, and we don’t know why. In that sense, for us it is good to connect with entities like a women’s university where we can try to understand why this imbalance exists.”– Dr. Vive Kumar, Associate Dean, Research and Innovation, Faculty of Science and Technology
Students, faculty, and materials exchange
Kumar said that in terms of student exchanges, an example of how this partnership might benefit the two institutions is if a MTWU student had a research project aligned with research happening at AU, they would have the opportunity to work with AU faculty.
Likewise, he said an AU learner studying Women’s & Gender Studies, for example, would have the opportunity to explore the situation in other communities through this partnership.
“We are exposing these possibilities to our community here, so we are not restricted by our physical boundaries,” he said.
Likewise, Kumar pointed to similar benefits for faculty who might be interested in exchanges—and he speaks from personal experience, having done a student and a faculty exchange from India that, he said, helped him to understand the type and intensity of research done in other communities, and also to broaden his own horizons.
“It drove me to think about the possibilities, and now the Equality, Diversity, and Inclusion (EDI) initiative is so strong in Canada, this is a natural byproduct in my mind,” he said, adding he hopes this opens the door to similar partnerships with other institutions in other countries.
Ultimately, he said, he sees one of the major outcomes of this partnership as taking the goals and ideas that are typically highlighted on International Women’s Day and making it a year-round discussion.
“Empowering women is an international issue. While spreading the word about this issue, we are also doing our part at AU. Just saying it is not enough,” he said. “We have to do something, and this is doing something to address that issue, which is much more impactful.”