University Challenge criticised for Oxbridge bias

Image credit: Duncan Hill

The airing of University Challenge: Class of 2014 last week has sparked debate over Oxbridge elitism and gender imbalance within the programme’s teams.

The two-part documentary allowed viewers to see the inner workings of University Challenge, from the individual university selection process to the first appearances of the top 28 qualifying teams on the quiz show.

The first episode saw the show’s assistant producer and researchers visit Cambridge to interview 27 teams representing their colleges. There was particular focus on Trinity, who are seeking to defend their title after triumphing over Somerville College, Oxford earlier this year.

The emphasis on the teams from Oxford and Cambridge in the opening two episodes of series 21 has sparked debate over elitism on Twitter. The teams covered included those from Trinity, Pembroke and Selwyn Colleges, Cambridge as well as Magdalen College and Brasenose College, Oxford.

One student from the University of Sheffield said on Class of 2014: “[We are] currently up against the likes of Oxford, Cambridge, traditionally very highly regarded universities, which is perhaps a little daunting but I’d like to think Sheffield has something we can throw at everyone”.

Twitter users took to the social networking site to complain about the dominance of Oxbridge on the programme, with some tweeters comparing it to “a very privileged version of The Apprentice” and others describing some Oxbridge students as “arrogant” and “a bit posh”.

In response to the concerns over Oxbridge bias, one first-year historian agreed but also pointed to the extensive coverage of the University of Manchester. She explained: “As past winners, there is clearly a lot of focus on them, which you can see as we follow their selection, strict training schedule and the continued involvement of previous teams in the process”.

University Challenge has also attracted criticism for the gender imbalance of the teams participating on the programme. This year’s Trinity team has just one woman, classicist Claire Hall, who joins captain Hugh Bennett, third-year physicist Matthew Willetts, mathematician Aled Walker and last term’s Union President, Michael Dunn Goekjian.

Meanwhile, the team of Magdalen College, Oxford is entirely male. But this is not the first time that debates over the gender imbalance on University Challenge have surfaced. After the final of the last series, questions were raised over the deficit of women appearing on the programme.  

This has also been reflected in the performance of Murray Edwards in the quiz show. New Hall scored the third lowest in University Challenge history in their first round against Nottingham in 1997 with just 35 points. Later in 2009, as Murray Edwards, they scored 65 points in their meeting with Sheffield University. Newnham has a better record, last appearing in 2010, when they won their first round against Southampton before falling to the University of Bristol.

Anna Carruthers, a first-year at Murray Edwards, commented: “It was clearly evident that there were more men than women in the show but what was also noticeable was that few of those women who did make the teams said much less on screen. With the exception of one contestant from St Anne’s, Oxford, they tended to only feature in the background”. 

A University Challenge spokesman responded to the criticism earlier this year: “Every university has their own team selection process and we do encourage them to reflect the diversity of their student population. However, the make-up of each team is determined by the universities”. 

The first round will begin on Monday when Selwyn College will take on the University of Manchester.

blog comments powered by Disqus

Related Stories

In this section

Across the site

Best of the Rest