”Striking” gender disparity continues in history tripos, examiners’ report reveals

Elsa Maishman 8 January 2016

The latest examiners reports reveal that the gap in attainment between male and female students has continued despite efforts from the department to tackle the issue.

Moderating Examiner for the part I history tripos, Professor Robert Frost, stated in the report that “the department has confronted the issue vigorously in the last year by commissioning an extensive investigation of the figures”, highlighting the low numbers of female students obtaining a First class compared to their male counterparts, and the fact that 80% of 2:1s were awarded to female students.

The 2015 Part I results highlight the disparity in gender attainment clearly. Only 21.4% of Firsts were obtained by female students despite there being ten more female students sitting the Part I exams. When The Cambridge Student reported on the issue last year, 91% of Firsts in the part I history tripos had been awarded to male students.

Despite the assertion that these disparities are ‘'striking'’, the moderating examiner claimed that the ‘'causes remain obscure'’. The report was adamant that a the department is tackling the issue as part of a holistic approach to understanding gaps in attainment at the University, looking at wider factors such as educational background and ethnic origin.

It remains unclear why the efforts to close this gender gap have failed. The report states that ''the board was very disappointed that yet again, this year, the final statistics showed a disquietingly large gender gap in achievement … partly because the board had made every effort to address the problem.'' The report claims that the board was ''as aware as it could be'' of potential gender issues, citing a workshop that was held in Michaelmas as an effort to address the problem.

Second-year historian Samantha Love claims that the differing approaches to exam strategy between male and female students could offer explanation for the disparity in results. She said that ‘boys take more risks with exams, they are more likely to cover fewer topics but what they do know they know really well. Whereas girls try and be more thorough…meaning they spread themselves too thinly and can’t answer in the necessary depth given the vast amount of material taught in Part I of the History course.

The statistics come in the wake of several panel discussions looking at educational disparities at the University. These included the ‘Liberate Your Curriculum’ talk held by the CUSU Women’s Campaign, during which panellists tackled allegations that some students have been told to ‘'write like a man’' during supervisions.