Oxford faces sexism claims after introducing ‘take-home’ exams to close gender gap

Oxford has denied that its move to allow students to sit history papers at home was made solely to close the gender gap in results

Oxford University has defended itself against ‘sexism’ allegations in the national press, following its introduction of ‘take home’ exams for some history students.

From Michaelmas 2017, history students will be able to replace one of their five finals papers with a exam which they will be able to sit at home.

According to a document seen by The Sunday Times, the change was designed to help close the gender disparity in the awarding of firsts in history. Last year, 37 per cent of men achieved firsts in history compared to 32 per cent of women.

The move was described as “so insulting” by the University of Liverpool’s Amanda Foreman. While recognising the good intentions of the decision, she said: “The reason why girls and boys perform differently in exams has nothing to do with the building they are in.”

Several of Oxford’s own faculty members are said to have criticised the decision, raising concern at the increased risk of plagiarism, and seeing it as only a short-term solution to gender disparities in results.

But the University has hit back at these claims of sexism, saying that broader considerations caused the change in exam regulations.

A spokesperson told Cherwell: “Timed exams remain an important part of the course, testing skills to complement the other assessed elements.

“This change is part of a broader goal of diversifying the history course in response to a number of factors, including the need to test a greater range of academic skills.

“The gender gap was also a consideration in this change, although research shows that the causes of the gap are broad do not lie solely in methods of assessment.”

It is reported that Cambridge University has also assessed the possibilities for changing their examination systems.