Oxbridge's law of averages

April 14, 1995

Gerard McCrum (THES, March 31) has correctly noted that women at Oxford and Cambridge are less academically formidable than they were 25 years ago. A principal reason for this is that far fewer women were admitted before the men's colleges went mixed. For example, in 1971 Cambridge admitted 935 women and 6,615 men undergraduates, compared with 3,423 women and 5,349 men in 1991. Selection for the women's colleges before 1971 must therefore have been much more rigorous than for women in mixed colleges nowadays.

So, with about four times as many being admitted, it is to be expected that their average academic quality should have declined. Similarly, the 1,000 or more fewer men now gaining entry are likely to exclude weaker candidates, which means the average ability of the successful ones should show a modest improvement. This, in fact, is what has been observed.

C. B. GOODHART

Gonville and Caius College

Cambridge

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