Published in The Times, 23 November 2017.
An Oxford college has imposed a gender quota on its University Challenge team to prevent an all-male line up in next year’s contest.
Students at Wadham College have voted that at least one woman should be on the team or else the college will withdraw from the competition.
The college had put on women-only trials to encourage more to apply for a seat on the four-strong quiz team for next year’s series, but these were poorly attended and the team that was finally selected was made up of men. One of them, however, has now stood aside to make way for a woman.
The dearth of women taking part in University Challenge has increasingly concerned universities and the programme’s creators. Last month St Hugh’s, Oxford, which admitted only women until 1986 and is the alma mater of Theresa May, fielded an all-male team, prompting Jeremy Paxman, the quizmaster, to complain. He said that it looked like men had taken over.
The motion to set a quota at Wadham followed a debate on Sunday evening. Some female students said that it was tokenistic, while others argued that the sole woman may be blamed if the team does badly.
Some students had expressed concern that the woman being lined up to replace the student who stood down scored ten points less than the lowest ranked man in auditions.
Others argued that some form of positive discrimination was justified because the team would represent the college on television.
Daniel Villar, who is a member of the team, said that it was infuriating to have people who know nothing about quizzing meddling in who should take part.
“To say this wonderful hobby cannot be enjoyed and its practitioners not able to showcase their talents on television, simply due to their masculinity, seems to be simply injecting politics where it does not belong,” he said.
Mr Paxman has said that the show’s producers want more female contestants but cannot do much about it.
“We would love to see more women on the show but the members of the teams are not chosen by us. It would be ridiculous for us to try to fix this in any other way,” he said.
The motion for a gender quota at Wadham was passed, as well as another stating that it would not enter a team if a willing woman could not be found.
Each university has its own selection process but students generally choose their own teams to represent them.
One other university has attempted to address the gender imbalance. King’s College London said that men should only make up half the team. This year it had two women on the show and lost its first-round match.