Whistleblowers: Cambridge accused of gender report cover-up

February 21, 2003

Cambridge student leaders have accused the university of a cover-up over its investigation into why male students are almost twice as likely to gain a first-class degree as their female peers. Their criticisms came as the researcher behind the study told the The THES that key parts of her report had not been made public.

The university last week published a summary of research into the gender divide, which concludes that fundamental differences between the way men and women learn are the main reason for the glaring discrepancies in their exam results. The research, by Chris Mann, found that while women wanted to understand their subject, men were more interested in how well they performed. The culture at Cambridge might be rewarding the "male" approach, Dr Mann said.

In a joint statement to The THES this week, student union women's officer Chris Holly and its academic affairs officer Katie Childs said that the summary released by the university was "not a fair representation of some of the most damning aspects of the report".

The students, who had read the unedited report, said: "The full report contains some extremely serious findings regarding female academic underachievement, and these problems must be publicly acknowledged and addressed by the university."

They added that they were particularly concerned by an investigation into the faculty of mathematics, which they said highlighted "concerns that, potentially, could be understood as tantamount to sexual discrimination".

Ms Holly said that the report quotes a student saying that "some people in the faculty don't like the idea of women being around - they don't think it's right".

Dr Mann told The THES this week that Cambridge had taken a very positive and proactive approach to the problems, and had "shown good faith" by publishing findings that might be of interest to people outside the institution. But she said her findings relating to specific subject areas, which take the form of hypotheses drawn from her analysis of the views and experiences of those who participated in the research, were not released, and were more appropriate for internal debate.

"My understanding is that the relevant sections of the full report will be made available to all staff within the disciplines that were looked at in depth. While I understand the frustrations expressed by the student union officers, and also of the 200 students who gave so freely of their time when participating in the research, my view is that internal debate at staff level is a first step."

Malcolm Schofield, a member of Cambridge's governing council, said: "A summary of a 670-page document is only a summary, but we think it is fair.

The point was not to 'damn' anybody. The university itself commissioned this report to develop its own good educational practice."

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