The gender make up of undergraduate subjects at Oxford continues to show how girls and boys favour certain subjects.
Women continue to dominate men in terms of numbers in English, Modern Languages and Experimental Psychology, while men outnumber women in most science subjects.
Despite continued government efforts to encourage women to study science and maths, females make up a mere 14% of physicists in the 2010 intake.
In 2009 there was just one female computer scientist admitted, out of 16 students.
Miranda Kent, the sole female physicist in first year at Lincoln College, said, “I’ve never counted more than 20 girls in the lecture hall. Me and some of the other girls sometimes play spot the attractive physicist. It doesn’t happen very often.”
However, she explained that there were positives to being a minority in a subject: “You never have to queue for the loo.”
The gender ratio of Maths tells a similar story. Men make up 70% of the 2009 and 2010 intakes, an increase of 4% on 2005. The success rate of male applicants was a staggering 6-8% higher than female ones.
A female tutor explained to Cherwell, “We look at candidates on their respective merit…It just happens that we generally have more male candidates of the highest calibre than female ones.”
She also said, “I believe that males overall are more attracted to or suited by the subject,” though adding that this was “a view my male colleagues do not subscribe to.”
Dr. Sirichai Chongchitnan, a Fellow in Applied Mathematics at Lincoln College, put the gender bias down to a lack of famous female role models, and “the old perception of maths and physics in school as ‘nerdy’ subjects for boys.”
Girls are very much the majority in English lectures, with 85 boys studying the subject compared to 139 girls in the 2010 intake.
Only 23% of first year Engineers are women. Matt Butterworth, a second year Engineer at LMH, commented, “If I could have it exactly how I wanted, I would definitely prefer a more even balance.”
One female Engineer in her third year told Cherwell that the first few lab sessions were particularly challenging for girls, where they are expected to use drills, hammers and other tools with which boys are naturally more comfortable.
She added, however, that “as the course progresses, girls often do better in the presentation and report aspects of the course where organisation and clarity of work are key.
“Boys tend to go with the last minute stand up and improvise approach!”
Similar success rates for male and female applicants to these subjects show that the imbalance is down to a lower number of female applicants.
This is increasingly less true of Chemistry, where 47% of the 2009 intake were female, a rise of 10% on 2005. Indeed, Physiological Sciences is just 33% male in the 2010 cohort.
In the non-scientific subjects, Economics & Management was the stand-out statistic. In 2009, 80% of the intake were male.
Tom Raeburn, an E&M student at Worcester, said that the subject “is seen by some as a boot camp for entry into the City, which in itself is a male dominated environment.”
Rohan Sakhrani, a first year E&M student, commented that in the City “the high male population in such a dog eat dog world is to be expected…although in Pembroke I’d say some of the female E&Mists are quite vociferous as it is.”
However, Reena Virdee of Oxford Women In Business said, “It’s important to stress that you don’t need to do a specific subject to be successful in business….Employers are looking for when rounded applicants from a variety of backgrounds and disciples. So, despite some subjects being male skewed, this doesn’t really correspond to the male to female ratio in business.”
Politics is another profession that has been viewed as the preserve of men, with PPE often described as a “training ground” for Westminster.
The gender balance in PPE does not bode well for increasing the numbers of women in politics. 68% of the 2009 intake for PPE were male, and in 2010 this went up to 70%.
The percentage of female students studying Modern Languages has fallen to 55% in 2010.
First year linguist, Howard McDonald, spoke of “the general feeling that the subject is dominated by a female presence.
“Murmurs can be heard as people shuffle out of the lecture hall, to the tune of, ‘There’s a lot of women in there.’ ”
Men only make up about one third of English students. Henry Golding, a second year English student, said of his female peers, “They’ll all go and have children once they’ve finished their degree, so I guess it’s best that they do something frivolous like English for a few years, rather than something that will affect people’s lives, like law or officiating football matches.”
Moreover, women are a small majority in Law, making up 53% of the 2009 and 2010 intakes. Theology was the most balanced subject in 2009, with 21 male and 21 female students selected from 57 applicants of each gender. In 2010, Philosophy & Modern Languages accepted 9 students of each gender.