In Depth

Oxford University professors reveal ‘sexist’ and ‘patronising’ exam answers

Irish described as ‘tribal’ in exam answers written by Oxford history students

Oxford University’s history students have been lectured by their professors for treating certain social groups with “patronising disdain”.

History dons said students had referred to the North as “backwards” and Irish people as “tribal” in exams.

Answers on the role of women “produced some bad answers” including essays which “implied that the only women with any agency were those who became queens regnant”, reports The Telegraph. Professors complained that students’ answers on British social history during the Early Modern period were “remarkably bad”.

And they complained that, of the students who took a paper in medieval Christendom and its neighbours, only 13 out of nearly 200 essays were on the role of women or gender, reports Fr24 News.

“The overwhelming majority of essays, that is, the other 185 essays, barely mentioned women,” examiners said. “Many exam scripts did not mention women once. The world of EWH2 seems to be a world in which only men are worth studying and writing about, that is, provided they were not slaves or serfs.”

The history students’ essays on class in modern and Victorian Britain were “particularly poor” with students showing “very little understanding of what class was”.

Even when students did examine the role of women, they took an “old-fashioned view” in which women’s lives were “determined by patriarchy unless they were Eleanor of Aquitaine or Matilda of Tuscany”. The remarks were made in examiner reports for preliminary exams.

Examiners warned that this should “worry everyone teaching the paper and everyone taking the paper”.

Oxford students have called for departments to diversify curricula and reading lists in recent weeks. “Students studying Politics, History, English, Philosophy, Linguistics, and Music... are pushing for better Black and minority ethnic representation on reading lists and to decolonise the focus of each course,” says The Oxford Student.

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