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EDITIONS
 Monday, 23 December, 2002, 12:39 GMT
Women outnumber men at Cambridge
woman reading
Girls do better than boys at school
More women than men have been accepted into the University of Cambridge this year for the first time.

The university is now planning to do more analysis of the backgrounds of its students in an effort to get "more meaningful" data on who it accepts.

This year, women accounted for 50.3% of the 3,012 undergraduates accepted onto degree courses beginning in October.

Only four years ago there was a gap of 10 percentage points in men's favour.

Better results

In Oxford this year, men outnumbered women by 1,744 (51.4%) to 1,649.

We are just trying to find the best students, wherever they come from

Janet Graham, Cambridge admissions office

Cambridge said that in pursuing a "gender blind" fair selection policy the women's advance was natural, given that female students outperform males at school.

Arguably, the gender gap might have been even bigger on the basis of A-level statistics.

In this year's results, 21.9% of women had the top grade and 19.3% of men - a gap of 2.6 percentage points.

The head of Cambridge's admissions office, Janet Graham, said that - as a result - it might well be that even more women would be accepted in future.

"We are just trying to find the best students, wherever they come from, whichever school they went to."

Aspirations

In keeping with ministerial demands to widen participation, the university has been doing a lot of work in trying to raise teenagers' aspirations and believes that might be having an effect.

But it begins with trying to encourage 14 year olds to take GCSEs, and it takes time for the youngsters involved to work their way through the system.

Students from fee-paying schools are still far more likely to get in.

Cambridge accepted 1,672 students altogether this year from maintained schools and colleges - 49% of total applications.

Girls' ability

A third of the applications came from the independent sector - but those who had been to fee-paying schools accounted for 39% of those accepted to the university, a total of 1,340 students.

Nationally, 15% of applications and 10% of acceptances were from independent schools.

When the Cambridge figures are broken down by gender and type of school, it becomes clear that the proportion of men and women applying and accepted from independent schools is identical, at 33%.

In the maintained sector, women were more likely than men to be accepted if they had been to comprehensives, sixth form colleges or further education colleges - as opposed to grammar schools or former grant-maintained schools.

Ms Graham said this might be evidence of girls' greater ability in school exams showing through - rather than the work their schools and families put in to preparing them for Oxbridge.

"It looks like that this year but whether that will be the same next year remains to be seen.

"We need to do some analysis."

Background research

She said the sort of statistics currently available did not provide enough information of that sort.

New to the post, she is hoping to carry out research on applicants and those accepted to learn more about their motivations.

"I'm hoping we can take this and work backwards so we can present some better data which is more meaningful these days."

The sort of evidence education ministers now want to see about the socio-economic backgrounds of university applicants was more difficult to collect, she said.

See also:

18 Dec 02 | Education
18 Dec 02 | Education
21 Nov 02 | Education
30 Sep 02 | Education
05 Oct 00 | Education
11 Aug 00 | Education
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