Why I...believe we still need women-only colleges

January 29, 1999

Jane Mulkerrans edits the Cambridge student magazine Varsity and is a second-year student in social and political sciences at New Hall, one of Cambridge's three single-sex colleges

Women's colleges should not be necessary, but they are. Cambridge is still a very male-dominated place, and women's colleges help redress an imbalance. In mixed colleges, women are not given their own space. People argue that women's colleges ghettoise the problem. But they keep the issue at the forefront of the agenda and widen choice.

Many female students are "pooled" to women's colleges when they do not get into their first choice. They can arrive with a negative attitude, but once here they discover all the positive things about it. New Hall was not my first choice: I did not want to come here, but I am very glad that I did.

There are advantages I had not thought about before arriving. Being supervised by women is one. When I have been taught by men, I have noticed that they tend to be more aggressive. The atmosphere in a women-only college is supportive - from teaching, to the community of women living together, to running college sports teams. In mixed colleges, men tend to take over.

Single-sex education is not a modern notion, but the university is an archaic institution. Some things are not going to be swept away overnight. To take just one example: women tend to do very well at course work, but it is not assessed as part of the degree. Men tend to do better at exams.

Things in Cambridge are not equal. Until they are, women's colleges will be necessary. Mixed colleges do not seem to be working for women. They may have women's officers, but too often men call the shots. And if you get rid of women's colleges, you are cutting off another option for women and not doing those who come here any favours.

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