Women's college climbs Cambridge league

Cambridge's oldest women-only college, Newnham, is the fastest improving in the university for academic performance, this year's exam results show.

Newnham, whose former students include Emma Thompson, Sylvia Plath, Margaret Drabble and Germaine Greer, has risen from 21st to 13th in this year's Tompkins league table of the university's 2004 exam results.

The college, which was founded in 1871 to promote academic excellence for women, has recorded the best results in its history. In a statement it said: "This year our students were awarded a record number of firsts - 70 - up from 56 last year."

The table, which is compiled exclusively for The Independent by Peter Tompkins, a partner at the accountancy firm PricewaterhouseCooper, is used by prospective students when they choose a college.

Mr Tompkins, whose table is closely monitored by the colleges, has produced it annually since he first compiled it "out of curiosity'' as a maths undergraduate at Trinity College in 1981.

This year's table shows Emmanuel College holding top place for the third year running - followed by Christ's, which has also held second place for three consecutive years.

The table grades colleges according to results of end-of-year graduate exams. Five points are awarded for a first, three for a 2.1, two for a 2.2 and one point for a third. The results are shown as a percentage of the maximum possible if everyone had gained a first.

An alternative table produced by Mr Tompkins, ranking colleges according to the percentage of firsts, also puts Emmanuel top - but sharing first place with Trinity. Both recorded 31.5 per cent firsts.

Mr Tompkins said that, overall, this year's results were broadly the same as last year's. However, the colleges at the top recorded a higher percentage of firsts showing that the best-performing colleges were stretching their brightest undergraduates more and thus creating a larger gap in performance.

Newnham, which has 400 undergraduates and 150 post-graduate students, also did better in the percentage of firsts obtained by its undergraduates - up to 19.6 per cent this year putting it 16th out of the 29 colleges. It is one of two Cambridge taking only women as undergraduates - although the other, New Hall, admits both women and men as fellows and research fellows. It also marginally improved its performance this year - moving from 24th to 23rd.

Newnham's success comes at a time of great debate over the future of women-only colleges. St Hilda's, the only women-only college at Oxford, has faced several attempts to change it to a mixed college in recent years. Girton, which was all-women at Cambridge until 1977 but is now mixed, slipped down the Tompkins' table this year. It fell eight places to 25th. The biggest faller was Churchill - down 10 places to 19th.

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