Women are currently 8% less likely to receive a first than menKatie Kasperson for Varsity

The gender awarding gap will not be included in the University’s new Access and Participation Plan (APP), despite the Students’ Union (SU) being told by the University that it would be, Varsity can reveal.

Over the last ten years, the average proportion of male undergraduates that receive firsts is 33% to just 25% of women, making up an 8% gap. This was not included in the previous APP from 2020 - 2025, which identifies the areas of inequality that the University currently focuses on in their widening participation measures.

A source within the SU told Varsity that the Office for Students (OfS), the regulator of higher education, had rejected the proposal in December for the gap to be included in the next plan. The SU had previously been assured by University that it would be included.

The news comes after the scrapping of state-school access targets in the APP following changing guidelines set by the OfS.

In the access plan covering the last five years, the University committed to eliminate the gap in the awarding of “Good Honour” (1:1 or 2:1) degree outcomes experienced by Black students, and students with disabilities and declared mental health conditions by 2024-25. For Black students the attainment gap stands at an 18 percentage point difference to their white counterparts.

However, as the gender-awarding gap is between the amount of female students awarded a first, it is not considered an awarding gap by the OfS. Therefore, the University will not account for the gap in its access plan.

In an open letter published by the SU’s Women’s Campaign that received over 200 signatures, the SU stated: “Between 2019/20 and 2021/22 the gender awarding gap of UK domiciled students for first class degrees essentially quadrupled; rising from 2.1% to 7.9%.”

“Despite this incredibly alarming upward trend, the University does not currently have any resources dedicated to investigating or addressing the gendered awarding gap,” the letter said.

Rosie Freeman, the SU's recently resigned Women's Officer, expressed her disappointment at the OfS: “The decision to only consider gaps at ‘good honours’ rather than at firsts is a clear lapse by the OfS. It limits the University’s ability to include a clear student priority.”


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“The University must re-commit publicly to specific targets and sustained work on reducing Cambridge’s Gender Awarding Gap in line with the wider HE sector,” she continued.

A spokesperson for the University of Cambridge told Varsity: “The APP is a regulatory framework and any targets that are required from HE providers are set by the OfS. Its focus has been on good degree outcomes rather than on specific awards.”

“Just because a target isn’t included doesn’t diminish the University’s dedication to tackling certain issues. We have been carrying out extensive research into this persistent gender awarding gap (currently just over 9%) and our commitment to understand, and address, the causes remains high,” they continued.