New report reveals “embarrassing” state of academic gender equality

Elsa Maishman 27 August 2015

'Mind the Gap' a newly published CUSU Women's Campaign report, has revealed huge gender disparities in academic achievement and experience in Cambridge. 

The report found that one in five women felt that their gender had an impact on their exam result, as did one in three students who identified as 'other', compared to 1 in 20 men. 70 percent of women, 40 percent of men and 70 percent of students who defined as 'other' also said that they did not feel confident about examinations.

The report both highlights dramatic statistics, such as that across all undergraduate degrees in 2013/14 women were two-thirds as likely as men to obtain a First, and declares the results of a CUSU survey of 1,405 Cambridge students. Of these 397 were men, 961 were women, and 25 described their gender as ‘other’, while 1,130 were undergraduates and 275 were graduates.

The front page of the new report.  Image: CUSU

This is not the first time that the issue of gender disparites within exam results has been raised: a TCS investigation in Lent revealed that last year 91% of firsts in the Part I History Tripos  went to male candidates.

However, not all non-male students feel at a disadvantage. A female HSPS student at Emmanuel commented that she does not feel at any disadvantage, and that her professors  ''try to counter social structures holding women back as best they can with practical solutions.'' However, she then continued that ''this isn't the case in every college or degree and there are wider structures which probably still hold me back.''

In more general terms, the CUSU report found that one in three women do not think that Cambridge provides a learning environment that allows them to work to the best of their ability, while one in five women feel that their gender negatively impacts their learning experience, compared to 1 in 25 men and around one in two 'other' students.

Almost twice the amount of female students (27 percent) as male students (14 percent) felt that their supervision partners spoke over them. Worryingly, only 82 percent of men, 77 percent of women and 50 percent of 'other' respondents said that their supervisor made them feel comfortable.

One male student, who wished to remain anonymous, called the report "embarrassing. It's shameful that Cambridge in the 21st-century still hasn't been able to deal with this. They should be coming up with ways to tackle this problem, in supervisions, colleges, and the way we're assessed, both to level the playing field between men and women and to help those students who identify as non-binary."

Former CUSU Womens' Officer Amelia Horgan, who led the report, told The Cambridge Student: "This research is the first time students themselves have been asked about sexism in teaching and learning on such a scale. I hope that the data and testimonies show just how much of a problem we are facing beyond the damning annual statistics around Firsts."

She added: "What's really needed is a creative approach from the University and faculties – we need to stop seeing the learning and assessment methods here as sacred. There's not one clear cause of the gender attainment gap – although gender oppression towards women and non-binary people underlies all the factors involved – so a multi-pronged approach is really needed."

Newly-elected Womens' Officer Charlotte Chorley added: "This report is integral to the work that the Women's Campaign, and, more specifically, the Women in Academia Campaign, will be doing over the coming year acting as a central platform from which to launch several really interesting and important projects.

"We recognise that the university has already set up provisions to investigate the issue, and a number of faculties are actively taking measures to address the attainment gap which falls not only on gendered lines, but also racial, ability and class lines too. We hope that this report confirms the necessity of these measures, and pushes for more changes with urgency."

A University spokesman told Varsity: “This report fails to take account of the significant work already being done by the University and its plans for the future,” and that “men also have a significantly higher chance of being awarded a Third than women in some academic disciplines.”

They added that "a working group on student workload which was established last year, and which is chaired by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor for Education, will also be addressing some of the other issues discussed in the report.”