Academics at Oxford University are hoping to conduct Britain's first-ever systematic study of the differences between men and women's degree performance.
The study, to be carried out by Margaret Spear of the department of educational studies, has been prompted by growing concern over the underperformance of women sitting their finals at Oxford over the past few years.
The latest figures, for 1995, show that, of the 1,260 female graduates, 13 per cent gained a first compared to 20 per cent of the 1,720 male students. The equivalent figures gaining upper seconds were 60 per cent of women and 56 per cent of men.
And figures produced by Gerard McCrum, of Hertford College, for a THES article last year, showed that there was a 5.2 per cent decline in the A level performance of female Oxford graduates relative to males between 1972-76 and 1989-93.
Dr McCrum also revealed that there had been an 8.8 per cent decline in the degree performance of women relative to men in English. In 1972-76 men did worse (using a points scoring system) than women. In 1989-93 they did better.
Dr Spear said that, while a certain amount of research had been carried out into gender and achievement in the primary and secondary education sectors, there had been virtually nothing done on equivalent phenomena at tertiary level.
She said: "I think there could be a whole range of reasons for this. I will be looking specifically at educational factors while not excluding others such as the psychological and biological."
Dr Spear aims to begin a pilot study this year with a view to submitting a preliminary report to the university. She then hopes to gain funding to allow her to conduct a full-scale study which could become a set of recommendations.