Female students make up a minority of undergraduates at almost all Cambridge colleges

The Tab investigates gender imbalances at Cambridge colleges

CW: Brief mention of sexual assault

Just one out of Cambridge’s 27 co-educational colleges has a female majority in its undergraduate student body as of December 2020, according to official data from the university.

With 52.6 per cent of undergraduates identifying as female, Selwyn is the only co-educational college with more female than male undergrads.

The colleges that admit non-mature students with the lowest proportion of female undergraduates are Trinity with 35.6 per cent, Robinson with 37.9 per cent, Churchill with 40.6 per cent, and St John’s with 41.4 per cent.

The proportion of female undergraduates tends to be lower at colleges that only admit mature students.

Even at Girton, a college founded on the principles of educating women, 45.9 per cent of undergraduates are female.

However, of the 26 colleges for which data is available, 22 admitted the same or a higher proportion of female undergraduates in 2020 than in the previous year, with Churchill having the biggest increase in its proportion of female undergraduates since last year.

The percentage of undergraduates who identity as male and female at Cambridge colleges that admit non-mature students.

The percentage of undergraduates who identity as male and female at Cambridge colleges that admit non-mature students

The dataset does not include figures concerning the number of students who identify as non-binary

The majority of those who responded to a survey on the Cambridge Freshers’ Instagram account thought their college had a roughly equal ratio of undergraduates identifying as male and female. According to the same survey, most thought that Churchill, followed by Trinity, were the colleges with the greatest gender imbalance.

As we all know, Lucy Cavendish, Murray Edwards, and Newnham admit almost exclusively female and non-binary students. This means that, despite male students making up the majority of undergraduates at almost all colleges, the proportion of male to female students at the university as a whole is 51.1 per cent to 48.9 per cent.

However, Lucy Cavendish has announced it will be starting to admit male students in the near future.

This is in the context of a significantly higher proportion of women than men going to university in recent years, according to UCAS, and women tending to outperform men at A-level, according to Tes.

41.4 per cent of St John’s undergraduates are female

‘We should be asking ourselves why it is that co-educational institutions continue to favour male applicants’

Chloe Newbold, Women’s Officer at Cambridge SU, told The Cambridge Tab: “These statistics are not shocking when we consider that some of these colleges only began accepting women as students a single generation ago. Colleges such as Newnham and Murray Edwards may redress this imbalance at cohort level, but we should be asking ourselves why it is that co-educational institutions continue to favour male applicants.

“Amongst both the women’s colleges and those with a more balanced ratio, there are also significant gaps in representation for women of colour and those from widening participation backgrounds; a fact that is obscured by these figures.”

With Trinity being the college that admits non-mature students with the lowest proportion of female undergraduates, Izzy Lynn, the Women’s Officer at the college’s Students’ Union, appreciates that gender equality needs to be improved. But, she said, the college is really making an effort. According to Izzy, Trinity has “changed policies surrounding sexual assault” and launched “a sexual assault information campaign to support both survivors reporting and friends in supporting them”.

As such, Izzy says that Trinity is becoming “a safer and less hostile environment for women”. Because of efforts to combat period poverty, provide sexual health supplies, and create opportunities for self-identifying women to get to know one another, Izzy told us that women have “felt more represented at Trinity”.

Ella, from Girton’s FemSoc, told The Cambridge Tab: “Although theoretically, Girton ought to have at least a 50 per cent female intake, the figures need to be put into context (e.g. women are underrepresented in certain subjects, particularly STEM). There are certain structural issues preventing greater intake of people from under-represented backgrounds and some of that is due to departmental freedom to choose candidates. I believe the foundation year will help with some of this.”

Olivia and Katie, also from Girton’s FemSoc, said: “Empowerment of girls at secondary school level is paramount, as well as access material and talks targeted at women at Cambridge, and what it is like to study and succeed here as someone who is not a man.”

Bella Cross, Gender Equality Officer on Selwyn’s JCR, told us that gender imbalance in certain subjects, racial inequality, and the private school–state school divide still needs to be addressed across the university.

But, she said she is “not surprised” that Selwyn has more female than male undergraduates. “Selwyn have tried to select the students best suited to academic life here and there’s no reason why this shouldn’t be 52.6 per cent female!”

Ladies rule at the Selwyn Snow Ball

‘Nationally, far fewer women than men apply to study subjects such as Computer Science, Engineering, Mathematics, and Physics’

A spokesperson from Churchill said: “Churchill College is, by its statutes, required to admit 70 per cent of its undergraduates in STEM subjects.

“Because, nationally, far fewer women than men apply to study subjects such as Computer Science, Engineering, Mathematics and Physics at university, recruiting a gender-balanced intake in these subjects is difficult. It is this that makes attaining gender parity in Churchill challenging overall, despite the fact that, in many of our subjects, women outnumber men.

“But the College is focusing upon female recruitment, and in the last admissions round, 50 per cent of its admitted undergraduates were women. We anticipate admitting a similar proportion of women in the current undergraduate admissions round, and will continue to do so thereafter.”

Trinity told The Cambridge Tab: “Trinity is committed to attracting more female students to study at the College, particularly in STEM subjects where there is a national shortage of women.

“In October 2020 46 per cent of Trinity’s home-fee status undergraduates were women. Among non-UK applicants, the proportion of male applicants is greater. This overall means 40.8 per cent of Trinity’s 2020 intake was female.”

While we do not know the gender diversity of those offered a place for studying at Cambridge in October, The Cambridge Tab waits to see if the co-educational colleges continue the upwards trend in gender equality.

Robinson, St John’s, and the University Press Office have been approached for comment.

Feature image credit: Josey Whiteley

Image credits: Jess Marais (St John’s) and Poppy Robinson (Selwyn)

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