Dr Sarah Aiston

School of Education
Senior Lecturer in Education Studies

Contact details

School of Education
University of Birmingham
Edgbaston, Birmingham
B15 2TT, United Kingdom

Sarah is currently a Senior Lecturer in the Department of Education and Social Justice, School of Education. Immediately prior to joining the University of Birmingham, Sarah was a member of staff in the Faculty of Education at the University of Hong Kong, where she was also Convenor of the Women’s Studies Research Centre. Prior to working in Asia for several years, she was a lecturer at Durham University and before that a Senior Researcher at the National Foundation for Educational Research. Sarah has a long-standing commitment to researching the position, status and experience of women in higher education, as staff and students, and from both a historical and contemporary perspective.


  • Postgraduate Certificate in Teaching and Learning in Higher Education, Durham University
  • PhD, University of Liverpool  
  • MA in Women’s Studies, University of Liverpool 


Sarah Aiston has research expertise in the position, status and experience of women in higher education, as students and academics, and from both a historical and contemporary perspective. Her most recent research funding from the Research Grants Council, Hong Kong, the University of Hong Kong and the Leadership Foundation for Higher Education in the UK has focused on gender and higher education in Asia, particularly exploring the underrepresentation of women as academic leaders and discourses of highly-educated women in Mainland China as a third sex. As a result of this expertise, Sarah’s data was showcased at the launch of the United Nations HeForShe campaign (April 2015) and she gave the keynote address at the Association of Pacific-Rim Universities Roundtable on Gender Equity (April 2016).

In 2015, Sarah took up a funded visiting fellowship at Hughes Hall, University of Cambridge, to explore contemporary representations of gender in the student press of the University of Cambridge. This project is an extension of her earlier historical work. Also in this year, her work  on the gendered research productivity gap, published in Gender and Education, was one of the most read articles across Routledge journals (see What were you reading in 2015). Drawing on a large international data set, the article put forward a counter-intuitive hypothesis that generated a lot of social media attention and discussion. In her recent appointment at the University of Birmingham, Sarah will be continuing her work on issues related to the research productivity gap, working with Professor Una Martin, Deputy Pro-Vice Chancellor for Equalities.


  • Undergraduate: Gender and Education (Module Lead), Dissertation (Co-Module Lead)
  • Masters: Practitioner Research in Education (Module Lead)
  • EdD: Designing and Conducting Educational Research (Module Lead)

Postgraduate supervision

Sarah's research interest lie in gender and education, and more specifically women in higher education, both as staff and students and from a historical and contemporary perspective. She also has expertise in the field of higher education more generally, including student learning and pedagogy. She has taught research methods for many years, and worked with a whole range of methods in her own research and in a research institute and has also published in the field. 


Awards (Principle Investigator)


Research Grants Council, HK, Higher Education, Inclusive Leadership and Gender: the Hong Kong Academy

Leadership Foundation for Higher Education/HKU, ‘Supporting Leadership Development: Women academics in the Hong Kong Academy

Seed Funding for Basic Research, HKU, ‘The Third Sex: Women in Chinese Higher Education as Troublesome Trangressives, Co-I Professor Louise Morley, University of Sussex. (Completed)

Awarded Doris Zimmern HKU-Cambridge University Hughes Hall Fellowship 


Seed Funding for Basic Research, HKU, ‘Women and Academic Leadership: Hong Kong, Co-I Professor Bruce Macfarlane. (Completed).

Invited speaker/keynote address


Association of Pacific Rim Universities Round Table on Gender Equity

Women in Academic Medicine and Science, University of Birmingham


United Nations HeForShe launch

Office of the President (Lingnan University, HK) 


Research Institute of Asian Women International Conference (Sookmyung Women’s University, South Korea) 


Leadership in higher education (HKU) - Joint event between the Centre of Asian Studies VC Initiative, University of Bristol in collaboration with the Community for Research in Higher Education

Community for Research in Higher Education (HKU)

Panel/Media Contributions (By Invitation Only)


‘A Woman’s Place at the Top Table is Not Assured’, World University News, 27th March

International Women’s day debate: ‘The ‘Glass Ceiling’ for Millennial Women no longer exists’, hosted by Women in Nomura Network                          


Podcast: ‘Women in Higher Education Leadership’, with Professor Louise Morley (University of Sussex), Ms Nicola Dandridge (Chief Executive, Universities UK), Professor Dawn Freshwater (PVC, University of Leeds)                       

British Council Global Education Dialogues (East Asia Series): ‘Inclusive Leadership’


British Council Global Education Dialogues (East Asia Series): ‘Forging the Future of Higher Education’ 

Selected Peer-reviewed Conference Presentations 

‘Transgressing the Power/Powerless Divide: Hong Kong Academic Women’ presented at the American Educational Research Association Annual Conference, Chicago, 2015 and the Society for Research into Higher Education Annual Research Conference, Newport, December 2014. 

‘Women Academics’: An International Comparison’ presented at the Society for Research into Higher Education Annual Research Conference, Newport, December 2013. 

Panel (with Kai-Ming Cheng and Anatoly Oleksiyenko) ‘Academic Development and Pursuit of Excellence: Hong Kong’s Legacies and Aspirations’, IV International Conference on ‘University Traditions: a Resource or a Burden?’, National Research University, Moscow, 2013

Conference Organisation 

July 2015.  Co-convenor of the 15th International Conference in Organizations, Communities and Nations, ‘Affirming Diversity for Social and Educational Justice’, (HKU)

Sept. 2006. Co-convenor of the 15th Annual Conference of the Women’s History Network, ‘Thinking Women: Education, Culture and Society’, Collingwood College, (Durham University)



Selected Publications

Aiston, S.J. ‘The Third Sex: Women in Chinese Higher Education as Troublesome Transgressives’, The Europa World of Learning (ed. L. Morley) London: Routledge (in press)

Aiston, S.J. ‘Feminisation Thesis: Gender and Higher Education’, Educational Philosophy and Theory (ed. M. A. Peters) London: Springer (accepted)

Aiston, S.J. and Jung, J. (2015) Women Academics and Research Productivity: An International Comparison, Gender and Education, Special Issue: Re/gendering the Academy, 27(3), 205-220. DOI:10.1080/09540253.2015.1024617

Aiston, S.J. (2015) Whose Academy? Gender and Higher Education in Investigating Higher Education: A Critical Review of Research Contributions (eds. J. Case and J. Huisman) London: SRHE/Routledge

Aiston, S.J. (2014) Gender: Bridging the Leadership Gap in Grand Challenges in East Asia (ed. I. Broadhead) London: British Council 

Aiston, S.J. (2014) Leading the Academy or Being Led? Hong Kong Women Academics, Higher Education Research and Development, 33(1), 56–69 

Aiston, S.J. (2011) Equality, Justice and Gender: Barriers to the Ethical University for Women, Ethics and Education, 6(3), 279–291  

Aiston, S.J. (2010) Women, Education and Agency 1600–2000 (edited with J. Spence and M. Meikle), London: Routledge  

Aiston, S.J. (2006) A Woman’s Place…: Male Representations of University Women in the Student Press of the University of Liverpool 1944 to 1979, Women’s History Review, 15(1), 3–34  DOI: 10.1080/09612020500440838

Aiston, S.J. (2005) A Maternal Identity?: The Family Lives of British Women Graduates Pre and Post 1945, History of Education, 34(4), 3–34  DOI: 10.1080/00467600500129609

Aiston, S.J (2004) A Good Job for a Girl? The Career Biographies of Women Graduates of the University of Liverpool 1947 to 1979, 20th Century British History, 15(4), 361–387  


View all publications in research portal


Gender and higher education,especially women's underrepresentation as senior academics and senior leaders in higher education