A survey of geography degree results has found marked differences between male and female graduates, the most striking being that men are more likely to get third-class degrees.
Keith Chapman, head of Aberdeen University's geography department, has carried out a survey of results between 1973 and 1992 in the 42 geography departments in traditional universities. He believes this is the first time the figures have been systematically analysed by department.
Geography has one of the most even gender balances of any major subject, with about 55 per cent male and 45 per cent female students. This has not shifted dramatically over 20 years despite the general rise in female entrants to higher education. Professor Chapman says this makes it easier to produce valid comparisons, since the minority in subjects dominated either by men or women are unusual individuals by definition.
His results, recently published in the journal Area, show that a significantly larger number of men than women end up with third-class degrees in 36 of the 42 departments, while no department shows a statistically significant over-representation of women.
The figures over 20 years show that the highest proportion of men with thirds was about 11 per cent while the lowest was about 5 per cent. The comparable proportions for women were about 7 and 2 per cent.
"Does this mean that men are simply inclined to play more soccer and rugby, or is there some way in which we are failing to motivate a significant minority of predominantly male students, who don't drop out but do rather badly?" Professor Chapman asked.
The aggregated figures also show a clear tendency for a higher proportion of men to achieve first-class degrees. But Professor Chapman reveals that this is influenced by a small number of large departments rather than being an overall trend. "Differences at first-class level are certainly not apparent in the majority of departments."
Professor Chapman says it is essential to acknowledge the possibility that particular forms of teaching and assessment may not favour men and women equally. He is urging departments to monitor results routinely in a bid to inform future policy.