Oxford univ admissions favour men: study

Gender Bias?: Study says women are less likely than men to be offered a place at Oxford, but admissions director insists researchers relied on out-of-date statistics. Getty Images

Women are less likely than men to be offered a place at Oxford University even when they have better grades and are from similar backgrounds, a study has found. Academics at Oxford, Manchester and London University’s Institute of Education analysed details of 1,700 UK students who had applied to 11 Oxford colleges in 2002.

They asked students what kind of school they attended, their GCSE and predicted A-level results, the number of books they read in a year, and the jobs and qualifications of their parents.

Gender bender
The students were asked how often, in the past year, they had visited a museum, art gallery, classical music concert, theatre, opera or ballet, and whether they played a musical instrument. They were then asked to tick in which field figures such as Mahatma Gandhi, Lloyd George and Graham Greene were best known.

The academics found men were twice as likely as women to be offered a place in a science subject, and 1.4 times more likely than women to gain a place in an arts subject. This was despite the fact that the women had the same or better grades, had similar scores on the historical figures test, came from similar backgrounds to the men and claimed to have read more books.

Some 86.3 per cent of the women had been predicted straight A’s at A-level, compared with 81.5 per cent of the men. Despite this, 34 per cent of the women were offered places, against 40 per cent of the men.

The research, published in the latest edition of the journal Sociology, also found white applicants were five times more likely than students of South Asian heritage to be offered a place on science courses. Students from state schools were 1.7 times more likely than those from private schools to be offered a place on an arts course. There was no difference between state and private school pupils on science courses.

Money matters
The academics found no link between museum, theatre or concert attendance and students’ chances of gaining a place at Oxford. But some 44 per cent of students whose parents were in high-earning professional jobs, such as lawyers or doctors, were offered a place, compared with 30.3 per cent of students whose parents were working-class.

Alice Sullivan, a co-author of the study, said: “The effects of gender and race on admissions are striking. It has often been noted that Oxford finals examiners reward a highly confident, quintessentially upper-class and masculine style of argument, which might have led us to expect less bias against females in the sciences than in the arts.
“The direct ethnic and gender effects may be due to the overwhelmingly white and 80 per cent male academic staff at Oxford tending to recruit in their own image.”

Mike Nicholson, Oxford’s director of undergraduate admissions, said the study relied on out-of-date statistics.
“Men’s success rate is nowhere near double women’s, in arts or sciences: average success rates for entry in 2009 were 25 per cent for men and 23 per cent for women,” he said.

“The highest success rate of any ethnic group for entry in 2009 was for mixed-race white/Asian students: 32 per cent of all those applicants got a place, compared with 24 per cent of all applicants.

“We deny strongly that tutors were discriminating against certain groups in 2002 and are alarmed that anyone would automatically take differences in success rates as prima facie evidence of discrimination. The comments alleging recruitment in academics’ own image are entirely speculative. Today, college tutors for admissions are split 50/50 male/female.”

Last year, the proportion of undergraduates at Oxford was 50.2 per cent female and 49.8 per cent male.

The Guardian

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