Oxford University under fire for "sexist" new exam policy

Image credit: Tejvan Pettinger

The University of Oxford has come under criticism for sexism after announcing its history department will allow students to sit one of their final-year exams from home, in an attempt to close the gender gap.

History students will be able to replace one of their five final-year exams with a “take-home” paper starting from the next academic year, as “part of a broader goal of diversifying the History course”, according to the University. This move is aimed at allowing these female students a better chance of gaining a first-class degree, since they are less likely to graduate with one from the University compared to their male counterparts.

A document obtained by the Sunday Times regarding the new option stated: “This course in particular showed one of the largest gender gaps in results between women and men. As women and men perform more equally in submitted work, it was proposed that a take-out exam with questions similar to that in a timed exam should be implemented.”

The decision has come under fire, however, with University of Liverpool honorary research senior fellow in history Amanda Foreman telling the Telegraph, “The reason why girls and boys perform differently in exams has nothing to do with the building they are in. I think it is extremely well intentioned and I applaud them for taking the matter seriously. But it is so insulting.”

She added, “You are saying that the girls can’t take the stress of sitting in the exam room, which does raise one’s anxiety levels. I don’t think girls are inherently weaker than boys and can’t take it. Women are not the weaker sex.”

Several of Oxford’s own faculty members have also criticised the decision, citing increased risks of plagiarism, and the nature of the policy as only a short-term solution to counter the gender gap.

A University spokesman, however, said that the change was merely “part of a broader goal of diversifying the history course in response to a number of factors, including the need to test a greater range of academic skills”. He added that while the gender gap was one of these considered factors, research has shown that the causes of the gap are not only confined to “methods of assessment”.

The Telegraph reported that the University of Cambridge, which faces an average gender gap of nearly nine percentage points across all its subjects, will also be reassessing its examination system so as “to understand fully any variations and how we can mitigate them effectively.”

blog comments powered by Disqus

Related Stories

In this section

Across the site

Best of the Rest