Why Are Oxford University's Men Getting More Firsts Than Women?

File photo dated 12/10/11 of students as more than a quarter of graduate employees earn less than workers who have completed an apprenticeship, official figures show.
File photo dated 12/10/11 of students as more than a quarter of graduate employees earn less than workers who have completed an apprenticeship, official figures show.
Chris Radburn/PA Wire

More male students at Oxford University are awarded first-class degrees than their female peers, statistics have revealed, with some blaming the "masculine" environment as the reason behind the imbalance.

Male Oxford graduates received more first class degrees in 26 out of the 38 schools examined. More than 50% of male chemistry students gained firsts in 2013, compared to 30% of women, while in English Literature and Language subjects, this was 42% and 29% respectively. Almost a third of males were awarded top class degrees, compared with just a quarter of female candidates.

One female English student who graduated from the prestigious university told the Oxford Student: There's a certain type of confidence that seems to come from being at a certain type of all-male, public school. When you come to Oxford and it feels familiar, you may have a sense of belonging that isn't accessible to everyone.

"If you don't feel like you should be there, or feel that you're an 'admissions error' that could mess up at any moment, this confidence is always in jeopardy."

Deborah Cameron, professor of language and communication at Oxford told the Guardian male students get more attention from students than females, and are pushed harder because of the tendency to think its "OK for women to be competent rather than brilliant".

Sarah Pine, OUSU VP for Women, commented that: “The structure of an Oxford education is also thoroughly masculine: combative, rather than co-operative behaviours are valued in tutorials, for example.”

It seems the problem is not limited to Oxford; Cambridge student paper Varsity commented many students have expressed outrage at being told by academics to "write more like a man" if they want to get a first.

The university's department of physics has launched a study to understand why men traditionally outperform women in exams, and will investigate whether genders respond differently to questions depended on how they are phrased.

A spokesperson from the University of Oxford said: "Oxford University works continuously to ensure that its examinations are fair and do not disadvantage any group. The university's undergraduate panel of education committee closely monitors examination results every year, including attainment by gender.

"The committee also asks each academic division to consider its own results by gender. Where a subject does show a gap in performance, that division is asked to conduct further analysis into the particular reasons and to identify ways of addressing them.

"Since 2007, the university has itself conducted extensive research into gender attainment, focusing on a number of possible hypotheses. The results showed that the issue is complex, with no one significant factor influencing results across the board. Instead a range of factors are involved, which vary from subject to subject, from student to student and from year to year.

"Focusing on one year's results can be misleading as cohorts are often small and the advantage between male and female frequently fluctuates in some subjects."