MINISTERS have described as “disappointing” attempts by universities to provide female academics with the same career opportunities as men.

Figures obtained by The Herald show women currently make up 47 per cent of the academic workforce, but account for only 23 per cent of professors and 30 per cent of senior academics.

At the current rate of progress, it would take a quarter of a century for Scottish universities to reach parity between the sexes in terms of promotion.

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Shirley-Anne Somerville, the Minister For Higher Education, said: “These findings are disappointing. I have made clear this government’s desire to see much more rapid progress made by our higher education institutions in addressing the current imbalance on gender representation in senior ranks.

“It is important that our universities reflect the wide diversity within Scotland’s society and the student population that they serve.

“Yet, these figures suggest progress on recruiting and promoting more women to senior positions has been slow.

“I will continue to impress upon all our higher education institutions to do more on this and other gender equality issues.”

The imbalance has been blamed on a variety of factors including a culture of long working hours, inflexible terms and conditions and pressures on researchers to produce academic papers which can be incompatible with family responsibilities.

Campaigners said many universities use short fixed-term contracts that can deter women because of the lack of security as well as highlighting the indirect sexism where male professors “subconsciously” mentor and promote those similar to themselves.

The figures from the Higher Education Statistics Agency show there were 175 female senior academics in 2016 compared to 405 males. There were 525 women professors and 1,720 male professors.

The imbalance in promoted posts has fuelled a significant pay gap between the sexes across UK universities. A study earlier this year showed the gap has only closed slightly from 12.6 per cent to 12 per cent in the past two years.

The report by the UCU concluded that significant pay gaps at senior level coupled with under-representation of women in top posts pushed up the difference in wages in higher education.

Mary Senior, Scotland official for the UCU lecturers’ union, said lack of career progression was a significant problem for women in universities.

Ms Senior also blamed the “long hours culture” of universities as well as the requirements of research funding which mean academics are constantly publishing work.

She said: “While this figure represents some small progress on previous years it is painfully slow.

“We need to address this as soon as possible and make senior academic careers compatible with having children and balancing family and caring commitments.”

A spokeswoman for Universities Scotland said universities were working hard to tackle the issue and progress had been made.

She said: “The number of women being promoted to professorial roles is far outstripping that of men.

“There’s been a 39 per cent increase of female professors over the last five years compared to the overall rate of 13 per cent.”