Oxford University: Patronising Girls and Ignoring Boys

Oxford University: Those poor girls won’t make it on their own, apparently.

The news that Oxford University has trialled extending the time of exam deadlines in Maths and Computer Science, specifically to help female students get better grades, has generated incredulity and derision. At first, many assumed that female students were given longer time to do the exam, whereas all students were given the extra time. It is not true that female students were given an advantage that their male peers did not. But the story still highlights many troubling assumptions, which most of the reporting tried to fudge with dodgy statistics.

Firstly, as Izzy Lyons writes, “it’s insulting that female students at Oxford University were being offered special treatment”. Feminism, as Lyons says, is supposed to be about women being treated equally – not patronised with “infantilising special protections”. In any case, the data shows that, by most educational metrics, girls are actually doing better than boys.

Girls are now more likely to go to university than boys, and to have achieved better high school results to get there. They achieve better employment outcomes after graduation. Why are educational institutions doing nothing to fix these gender imbalances?

Secondly, if, when they go to university, girls tend to choose different areas of study than boys, why is this a problem?

Oxford fretted over the fact that boys outperformed their female peers in History by just five percent. Why not tackle what seems to be an even worse gender disparity: the fact that boys are outnumbered in nursing by 19 to 1? Or teaching, with its 10 to 1 gender imbalance towards women?

Might it just be that girls are just less apt to maths than boys? Conventional wisdom is having none of that.

Both The Australian and the Daily Mail claimed that “it is widely accepted”, and that “experts suggest” there are no gender differences in mathematical ability. This is a rubbish argument.

Just because something “is widely accepted” doesn’t make it true, and several prominent experts argue that it isn’t. Stephen Pinker has long argued that there are innate differences between men and women. Harvard President Lawrence Summers said much the same (and was destroyed for doing so).

But, delving into the statistics reported in the Oxford story reveals some more tantalising data.

For instance, The Week reported that “21.2% of female maths students graduated with first-class degrees, compared to 45.5% of male students”. According to The Australian, “just seven female maths finalists achieved firsts last year compared with 45 men”. All of which seems to underscore that female students are horribly disadvantaged by normal exam times. But extrapolate those statistics, and the story begins to look a bit different.

What the reported statistics don’t tell you is that means that 34 females undertook the exam, compared to 100 males. In other words, the gender disparity of students in maths is just 3 to 1 in favour of males.

Compare that to 10 to 1 in teaching, and nineteen to one in nursing. If the university wants to tackle gender imbalance in its courses, maths is one of its least problematic disciplines.

The university doesn’t want to tackle gender imbalance at all – it just wants to boost the results of females – who are already doing much better than their male counterparts in nearly every other area of study – in just one or two fields that girls don’t tend to excel at.

Worse, such bureaucratic mollycoddling may well be harming the very groups it claims to be helping. As the Oxford data shows, girls are just less likely to study maths at the highest level than boys, and they fare worse, on average, when they do.

Bureaucrats should lay off the social engineering, and let boys and girls choose for themselves, and compete equally in a world of academic rigour. As Izzy Lyons says, “Just leave us to our books and we’ll do just fine”.

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Who is Lushington D. Brady?

Well, a pseudonym. Obviously.

But the name Lushington Dalrymple Brady has been chosen carefully. Not only for the sum of its overall mien of seedy gentility, reminiscent perhaps of a slightly disreputable gentlemen of letters, but also for its parts, each of which borrows from the name of a Vandemonian of more-or-less fame (or notoriety) who represents some admirable quality which will hopefully animate the persona of Lushington D. Brady.