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Gender regimes in the learning experiences of female engineering students: the case of a Mauritian higher education institution.

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This study explores the influences of gender regimes in the learning experiences of female engineering students at a higher education institution in Mauritius. The feminist paradigm informs the problematisation and the choice of a case study as research methodology. Data was produced through reviewing of documents, qualitative questionnaires, focus group discussions and critical individual conversations to produce deep textured insights into the challenges faced by participants. The sample for the qualitative questionnaires comprised 12 female students from Year 1, Year 2 and Year 4 of the engineering major and from these 12 participants, a sample selection of 9 participants was chosen for the focus group discussions. The qualitative questionnaires and the focus group discussions were used to sample out 6 participants for the critical individual conversations. The data was thematically analysed through an inductive approach. The findings reveal the workings of gender regimes through how power is negotiated, claimed and legitimised by male and female students alike. The role of academic teaching staff in perpetuating certain discourses, practices and perspectives are equally highlighted. The ‘operations of gender regimes in higher education institution’, which is an exploration of Connell’s theory of gender relations (2002), is presented and analysed. The findings draw attention to the density of gender regimes in a higher educational context through the concept of ‘intersectionality’ that is, powerlessness of individuals towards discrimination and oppression. The complexity of gender regimes in higher education is unpacked and power emerges as a salient feature of gender regimes. Four dimensions of gender relations namely gender division of labour, gender relations of power, emotion and human relations and gender culture and symbolism are inter-connected. Gender relations of power are explored, and it is found that they comprise epistemic power, cultural power, psychological power and social power. Although intersectionality does not constitute the original theoretical lens of this study, the findings draw attention to how class, ethnicity and culture coalesce in both collective and individual experiences of being a female engineering student. The thesis concludes by elaborating on the theoretical contributions of the study and the implications of the findings on theory and on policy while pointing to the limitations of the study and proposing possibilities for future research.


Doctoral Degree. University of KwaZulu-Natal, Durban.