News, Culture & Society

All-female college lets in students ‘who live as women’

An all-women Cambridge University college has announced it will let in students who are ‘living as female’ even if their new gender has not been legally recognised.

Murray Edwards college said it has taken the step to help transgender students because it has ‘sympathy with the idea that gender is not binary’.

It believes ‘narrow gender identities and the expectations associated with them’ are ‘damaging both to individuals and to wider society’.

Until this year, students had to have legally changed their gender to female under the Gender Recognition Act in order to be admitted to the college.

But critics said this was unfair since only over-18s are allowed to change their gender, while many of those applying to Cambridge are only 17.

Murray Edwards college, pictured, said it has taken the step to help transgender students because it has ‘sympathy with the idea that gender is not binary’ (stock photo)

Murray Edwards – of which alumnae include Sue Perkins, Claudia Winkleman and Tilda Swinton – has now changed its policy so those born male who have ‘taken steps’ to live as a woman will be able to apply as well, without having to provide legal documentation.

Students praised the decision, but feminist Germaine Greer, who attended another women-only Cambridge college, Newnham, said it was ‘ridiculous’. She told the Daily Telegraph: ‘It’s a difficult relationship, having a transgender person in an all-female environment.

‘If Murray Edwards really don’t believe that gender is binary, then they really shouldn’t be a single sex college. Their position is ridiculous. The only sane thing for them to do is to cease discriminating on the basis of assigned gender of any kind.’

Alumnae of Murray Edwards include Sue Perkins (pictured) with her partner Anna Richardson

Alumnae of Murray Edwards include Sue Perkins with her partner Anna Richardson, and Claudia Winkleman (pictured)

Alumnae of Murray Edwards include Sue Perkins (pictured left) with her partner Anna Richardson, and Claudia Winkleman (pictured right)

Murray Edwards, which was founded as New Hall in 1954 and renamed in 2008, said: ‘We will consider any student who, at the point of application, identifies as female and, where they have been identified as male at birth, has taken steps to live in the female gender (or has been legally recognised as female via the Gender Recognition Act).’

It added that if an applicant feels ‘their case does not fall within the parameters set out, the College will consider their case on an individual basis’. The new rules apply to undergraduates wishing to transfer from another college as well as prospective students applying to join the college in their first year.

Murray Edwards also said it would be ‘fully supportive’ of any current students born female who are transitioning to male or ‘rejecting a binary gender category’. It said it would help them transfer to a mixed sex college if the student so wished. Admissions service Ucas replaced ‘legal sex’ with ‘gender’ on the university applications form in 2015 to allow students to identify as a different gender to the one they were born with.

Pupils miss out due to erratic marking 

Pupils could miss out on university places due to inconsistent marking in GCSE and A-level exams, teachers warn.

The Headmasters’ and Headmistresses’ Conference (HMC) said examiners can interpret marking schemes differently – particularly in subjective topics.

Recent research by exams regulator Ofqual found there may be inconsistency in around 30 per cent of English grades and 40 per cent of history grades. HMC said this could mean a candidate’s chance of getting good grades could depend on who marks their paper.

This could harm their life chances as they rely on grades for university and job offers. HMC chairman Chris King said the ‘size of the problem is unnerving’.

Ofqual said its research looked at interpretation of marking schemes, not marking accuracy.

Following this, Murray Edwards took legal advice and held a consultation with students. The policy change was passed by the College Council, a group of academics and teaching fellows.

Newnham and Cambridge’s third women-only college, Lucy Cavendish, still have the old policy. One Murray Edwards undergraduate told student website the Tab: ‘I’m thrilled the college is finally revising its previous totally exclusionary policy and I hope Newnham and Lucy Cavendish will follow suit.

‘You cannot be considered as a women’s college until you accept all women.’

Dame Barbara Stocking, president of Murray Edwards, said: ‘Society is changing and there is now a greater understanding of the complexities of gender.

‘In order that we remain true to our mission of being open to all outstanding young women, we recognise it is right for anyone who identifies as female, regardless of their born gender, to be able to apply to study with us.’

In July, Education Secretary Justine Greening announced a consultation on reforming the Gender Recognition Act to make the process less intrusive.

Currently those who want to change gender have to be diagnosed with gender dysphoria by a doctor and provide evidence that they have been transitioning for at least two years.

÷ A former women-only Oxford college, St Hugh’s, has been criticised for having an all-male team for University Challenge. Men were first admitted in 1986.