Oxford University data has shown the continued dominance of men in achieving firsts at Finals.
Male candidates took most of the first-class degrees awarded last year, extending their lead over women in subjects including English, PPE and Modern Languages.
Chase Atherton, a second-year French student at Brasenose, described the data as “immensely worrying”.
She said that she was wary “of the masked glee that comes with the propounding of statistics like these–they seem to be intended to enforce gender stereotypes, or possibly to induce a mindset of victimhood among women.
“More than once I’ve been told, ‘Men are more assertive than women, which is why they do better in exam situations’, as if this dichotomy hasn’t been torn down by women like Margaret Thatcher, Angela Merkel, Marissa Mayer, Kathryn Bigelow, et al.
“I got a distinction in prelims and so did my friend James. Neither of our results should be attributed to gender, but rather our enthusiasm for our course. It would be dangerous to give this statistic so much credence as to make it a self-perpetuating myth.”
However female candidates achieved a higher proportion of firsts in jurisprudence and classics in 2012, reversing the gender gap in the two subjects for the first time in six years.
A third-year classicist at Corpus commented that, “much as the poetess Sappho was considered the finest of the archaic lyricists by ancient and modern literary critics alike, so today the women of Oxford have shown themselves to be of suppler mind and of greater muse than their male equivalents.
“varium et mutabile semper / femina,” he told Cherwell, conclusively.
More firsts were awarded in 2012 than in previous years in a range of core subjects. Music, Law, Geography and Medicineall saw significant improvements in the number of firsts and 2:1s awarded.
By contrast only 1% of History candidates failed to acheive a first or 2:1. Humanities subjects all saw significant falls last year in the number of finalists getting thirds. Students cite the fact that employers increasingly shun candidates who recieve the grade, which was once known affectionately as a ‘gentleman’s third’.
Excluding joint-schools students, music candidates are most likely to leave Oxford with a First. 43% of candidates in 2012 achieved the top grade compared with 36% in 2011 and 32% in 2010.
Francis Shepherd, a first-year Musician at University College, explained that the subject “is one of the only subjects in the university that requires a degree of practical skill usually gained in childhood, such as reading of musical notation, playing an instrument/singing, and listening (aural) skills.
“However, analysis and history are just as hard as any other arts subject, and of course there is considerable overlap with history itself. Music is perceived to be easier by those who don’t understand the contents or nature of the course, I think..”
PPE and Law emerge as the two subjects in which it is most difficult to achieve a first: in both subjects last year only 19% of candidates managed it. However in 2011 only 12% of lawyers got a first, a seven-year low.
James Burt, a second-year lawyer at Brasenose, said that the low number of firsts awarded to Oxford lawyers “puts them at a disadvantage compared to our peers at other top universities.” He said that many top graduate employers are put off by a ‘mere’ 2:1. “This disadvantages dozens of law students if they received a 2:1 when a ‘normal’ distribution would have secured them a first.
“Although the low number of firsts is reflected in employers’ expectations in many areas, there are still places where it seems to cause unnecessary hardship. These include Oxford’s master’s, the BCL, and pupillage at top Barristers’ chambers, with both requiring a first-grade degree (officially and unofficially respectively). Offers for the BCL are conditional upon finals’ marks and so the University has shown discretion before about entry – I think this problem would be better solved by increasing the number of firsts.”
In last year’s Examiners’ report, these concerns were acknowledged. “The unanimous view of this year’s Board was that steps should be taken to recognise that a higher percentage of our candidates in Law deserve to be awarded first class degrees than has previously been the case” it said.