An Oxford University college has abandoned attempts to strike a gender balance on its University Challenge team after too few women applied.
In a bid to improve female representation on the BBC quiz show, Wadham College established female-only trials in the hope that women would feel more confident in applying.
But the policy now appears to have been sidelined amid fears that it might mean Wadham, which is considered one of Oxford’s most liberal colleges, having to field a sub-standard team.
The U-turn comes a month after St Hugh’s faced criticism for fielding four male students on the programme, despite the fact it had originally been founded as a women’s college in 1886.
University Challenge host Jeremy Paxman even remarked on air that “we could be forgiven for thinking they’d [men] rather taken it [St Hugh’s] over”.
After the show aired, student committee members at Wadham decided to introduce single-sex trials in order to guarantee that at least one woman was accepted onto the team.
However, after three weeks of trials, Wadham has backtracked on the proposal amid fears that selecting a woman with lower scores than their male counterparts would be seen as “tokenistic”.
The decision will likely embarrass members of the college, which in 1974 became one of the first all-male colleges to admit women.
In minutes seen by The Daily Telegraph, members of the college’s student committee said that while they were “very keen” to field a balanced team, they were not prepared to risk embarrassment on “national television”.
“It would not be good for the welfare of the woman entrant to be there knowing she was let in to fill a quota,” one student said.
Another added that while “we’d like to have a representative team... it would be embarrassing and maybe tokenistic that the team was not selected on a meritocratic basis if this affects performance”.
Wadham | Oxford's 'right-on' college
While other committee members argued that Wadham should enter female team members regardless of their ability, one female student said it would put “unfair pressure on the woman” if the team were to lose.
Put to a vote, the majority of committee members supported a motion stating that Wadham would put forward an all male team if a female applicant failed to make it into the top six entrants.
Greg Ritchie, a Wadham social secretary, said that the committee stood by its decision, adding that it maintained that “putting a woman forward who was not of the necessary standard would be unfair on the women, other contestants and the movement for gender equality on University Challenge as a whole.”
In a joint statement with fellow secretary Vita Bax, Mr Ritchie added “To be honest it wasn’t entirely unexpected that we didn’t have many female applicants. It’s a bit like snooker and darts: quizzing tends to attract more males.
“As Wadham SU agreed, putting a woman who isn’t of the necessary standard on the team is not fair on other contestants or the wider movement for gender equality in University Challenge.”
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However, Mr Ritchie added that the final decision on whether to field an all male team had now been referred to the Students’ Union, which would cast a women-only vote during its next sitting.
It comes two years after Jeremy Paxman raised the issue of gender imbalances on the show, when he asked during a semifinal: “Why on earth are there no women left in this stage of the competition?"
Earlier this year, he wrote in newspaper column that on “the testicle issues... it must be a question of taste”.
"I suspect that — like football or darts — more males than females care about quizzing," he added.