University Challenge final is a starter for men: BBC criticised for not ensuring a minimum of female competitors in the TV quiz


Your starter for 10. Which academic quiz show will stage a final between two all-male teams after a series which has delivered a massive fail for female students?

Politicians have ordered University Challenge to take a course in gender equality after an investigation found that competing teams are consistently failing to find a place for female competitors.

Monday night's final of the long-running BBC2 quiz series will feature teams of four men from Trinity College, Cambridge, and Somerville College, Oxford, competing to become champions.

The absence of any female students prompted unrest at Somerville, which was one of the first women's only colleges in Oxford and admitted its first male students only in 1994.

An analysis uncovered a consistent male bias throughout the current series. Out of 112 contestants across 28 university teams, only 18 have been females.

The 84 per cent male dominance in a flagship series which regularly enjoys BBC2's highest ratings of three million viewers, is an embarrassment for the corporation which recently banned "all-male" panels on comedy shows in an effort to counter female underrepresentation on screen.

The gender disparity has become so great on University Challenge that the BBC is facing calls to introduce a minimum "quota" of female students in competing teams. Gloria De Piero MP, shadow Minister for Women and Equalities, said the BBC must do better. "It's a pity universities are picking all-male teams to represent them, particularly when more women than men are going to university and they are outperforming boys at school," she said. "The BBC also has a responsibility for the shows it screens and it should take action to ensure there are more women competitors."

Mary Beard was saddened by the lack of women Mary Beard was saddened by the lack of women During the semi-final, Professor Mary Beard, the Cambridge academic and BBC presenter, tweeted: "Oh dear Somerville College Oxford on University Challenge is all men! O tempora o mores." She later explained: "I was so surprised (and a bit saddened) to see that Somerville (a bastion of women's achievements) was being represented by four men."

Somerville previously won University Challenge in 2002 with a gender-balanced team. This year's team was selected by tests organised by its Junior Common Room, with men scoring the highest results. They considered allocating places to women after alumni wrote expressing their disappointment but decided against as it would "communicate the wrong message about women, and therefore chose to offer a level playing field".

Marsha Sudar, JCR president during the selection process, said: "Everyone agrees that it is unfortunate that we didn't have any women on our team. We would have loved for there to have been a few. It just so happens that this year the best four candidates were men, but this should not be allowed to overshadow the many other fronts on which Somerville women are taking the lead."

The BBC said it was reluctant to interfere with team selection. A University Challenge spokesperson said: "Every university has their own team selection process and we do encourage them to reflect the diversity of their student population. However, the make-up of each team is determined by the universities."

Some have questioned whether women are put off by the high-pressure atmosphere of the series, which first launched on ITV in 1962 – or may even be intimidated by the prospect of a withering put-down for giving an incorrect answer from Jeremy Paxman.

Elizabeth Mitchell, captain of defeated semi-finalists the University of Manchester, and one of the few female stars to emerge during the series, dismissed the notion.

"Before every match, [Jeremy] talks to the teams and he spends time in the green room with you after," the politics, philosophy and economics student said: "He really tries to put you at your ease in what's a nerve-racking situation. However, his quips when you get an answer wrong really do put you in your place."

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Christopher Eccleston (centre) plays an ex-policeman in this cliché-riddled thriller

TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey looks very serious as Cersei Lannister in Game of Thrones

TV This TV review contains spoilers
Arts and Entertainment

Arts and Entertainment
Wiz Khalifa performs on stage during day one of the Wireless Festival at Perry Park in Birmingham

Arts and Entertainment
Festival-goers soak up the atmosphere at Glastonbury


Arts and Entertainment
Star Wars creator George Lucas


Arts and Entertainment


Arts and Entertainment
A shot from the forthcoming Fast and Furious 7


Arts and Entertainment
The new-look Top of the Pops could see Fearne Cotton returns as a host alongside Dermot O'Leary


Arts and Entertainment
The leader of the Church of Scientology David Miscavige


Arts and Entertainment
No half measures: ‘The Secret Life of the Pub’

Grace Dent on TV The Secret Life of the Pub is sexist, ageist and a breath of fresh air

Arts and Entertainment
Art on their sleeves: before downloads and streaming, enthusiasts used to flick through racks of albums in their local record shops
musicFor Lois Pryce, working in a record shop was a dream job - until the bean counters ruined it
Arts and Entertainment
Serial suspect: the property heir charged with first-degree murder, Robert Durst
TV review
Arts and Entertainment
Igarashi in her

Art Megumi Igarashi criticises Japan's 'backwards' attitude to women's sexual expression

Arts and Entertainment
Could Ed Sheeran conquer the Seven Kingdoms? He could easily pass for a Greyjoy like Alfie Allen's character (right)

tv Singer could become the most unlikely star of Westeros

Arts and Entertainment
Beyonce, Boris Johnson, Putin, Nigel Farage, Russell Brand and Andy Murray all get the Spitting Image treatment from Newzoids
tvReview: The sketches need to be very short and very sharp as puppets are not intrinsically funny
Arts and Entertainment
Despite the controversy it caused, Mile Cyrus' 'Wrecking Ball' video won multiple awards
musicPoll reveals over 70% of the British public believe sexually explicit music videos should get ratings
Arts and Entertainment
Lena Headey as Cersei Lannister and Ian Beattie as Meryn Trant in the fifth season of Game of Thrones

Arts and Entertainment

book review
Arts and Entertainment
It's all in the genes: John Simm working in tandem with David Threlfall in 'Code of a Killer'

TV review
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

    Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

    The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
    Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

    Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

    Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
    Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

    Marginal Streets project documents voters

    Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
    Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

    The real-life kingdom of Westeros

    Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
    How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

    How to survive a Twitter mauling

    Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
    Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

    At dawn, the young remember the young

    A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

    Follow the money as never before

    Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
    Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

    Samuel West interview

    The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
    General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

    Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

    The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence
    Public relations as 'art'? Surely not

    Confessions of a former PR man

    The 'art' of public relations is being celebrated by the V&A museum, triggering some happy memories for DJ Taylor
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef succumbs to his sugar cravings with super-luxurious sweet treats

    Bill Granger's luxurious sweet treats

    Our chef loves to stop for 30 minutes to catch up on the day's gossip, while nibbling on something sweet
    London Marathon 2015: Paula Radcliffe and the mother of all goodbyes

    The mother of all goodbyes

    Paula Radcliffe's farewell to the London Marathon will be a family affair
    Everton vs Manchester United: Steven Naismith demands 'better' if Toffees are to upset the odds against United

    Steven Naismith: 'We know we must do better'

    The Everton forward explains the reasons behind club's decline this season
    Arsenal vs Chelsea: Praise to Arsene Wenger for having the courage of his convictions

    Michael Calvin's Last Word

    Praise to Wenger for having the courage of his convictions