Gender differentiation in first class academic achievement at university
It is claimed that, nationally, women undergraduates obtain proportionately fewer First
Class degrees than their male counterparts. This thesis examines the extent to which
gender differentiation in First Class achievement exists in Higher Education. Historically,
various hypotheses have been presented within literature on Higher Education to account
for this pattern and the thesis explores the extent to which these hypotheses continue to
hold explanatory power using the University of Sussex as a case study.
To ascertain the hypotheses' continued relevance and salience, a multi-faceted
methodological approach was employed. The empirical programme comprised a national
(N=657534) and a local statistical survey (N=8349) examining HESA defined subject
groups, in addition to a local statistical survey (N=568) examining specific disciplines. The
empirical programme also included detailed analyses of a student cohort of 'high achievers'
(N=199) who were tracked throughout their degree. A range of information was collected
on this cohort including cognitive ability and personality test scores, socio-demographic
data, pre-university qualifications and measures of application. Some of the cohort (N=84)
completed a questionnaire, and interviews were carried out with a smaller sub-section
(N=23). Structured observations of seminars (N=24) were also conducted alongside
interviews with members of faculty (N=21).
Findings indicate that, nationally, gender inequity in First Class performance is prevalent in
the Humanities, Social Sciences and Physical Sciences. In relation to local patterns of
performance, evidence suggests that the University of Sussex may be spearheading
incipient shifts in attainment with gender differentiation in existence only in the
Humanities. Notwithstanding this moving and improving picture vis a vis the gender
distribution of Firsts, the thesis concludes that many of the hypotheses remain pertinent.