Gender gulf in exams grows

August 31, 2001

The gulf in exam performance between male and female graduates at Cambridge University has widened despite long-standing concerns about women's underperformance.

Almost double the number of men obtained first-class honours at Cambridge than women. This bucks the national trend in which female students are out-performing male students in GCSE and A-level exams, and are holding their own across the university sector.

According to figures released this week by Cambridge, in 2001 some 1,366 men obtained first-class honours degrees (26.5 per cent), compared with 740 women (17.6 per cent).

While men made up 55 per cent of the graduating students in 2001, they won some 65 per cent of all firsts awarded at Cambridge this year.

The gender gap has widened since last year. In 2000, while men again made up 55 per cent of the graduating students, they won 63.9 per cent of all the firsts awarded.

A and AS-level results earlier this month showed girls outperforming boys in exams. In the university sector in general last year, women earning first-class degrees outnumbered men for the first time, although men still proportionately outperformed women. While women made up 54 per cent of UK first-degree graduates in 2000, they picked up 51.4 per cent of all first-class degrees.

A report commissioned by Cambridge last year says that the gap cannot be explained exclusively in terms of gender bias in tutorials and marking, or by assumptions that women were more "risk averse" and showed less "flair" than men during final examinations.

The study, which was conducted by the Institute of Public Health, says that choice of course was significant. More women choose arts courses where firsts are less common.

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