The University Network

Student Feedback Rates Male Professors Higher Than Females

Students are consistently rating male professors from English-speaking backgrounds higher than female professors or professors from non-English speaking backgrounds in course evaluations for science and business classes, a new study from the University of New South Wales (UNSW) in Australia finds.

These findings are not meant to suggest that men who grow up speaking English simply make better science and business professors.

Instead, the data sheds light on the cultural and gender-based bias present on college campuses — where young minds are developed and shaped.

For society to successfully eliminate prejudice in the professional workplace, diversity must first be prioritized where workers are trained — in college and university classrooms.

“The results show universities must be models of equity and diversity in order to break down inequalities that persist in even the most progressive of workplaces,” Merlin Crossley, UNSW deputy vice-chancellor (academic) and a professor of molecular biology, said in a statement.

The study

To conduct the study, the researchers examined an extensive pool of nearly 525,000 student surveys gathered between 2010 and 2016. The surveys featured students’ written opinions of more than 3,000 teachers and 2,000 courses at UNSW.

Notably, the bias levels varied, depending on the subject.

In business and science, for example, a male professor from an English-speaking background was more than twice as likely to receive a good student response on an evaluation than female professors who didn’t grow up speaking English.

“In the business and science faculties in particular, male English-speaking teachers have the highest probability of getting the highest possible grade at six, out of six possible scores,” Yanan Fan, an associate professor of statistics at UNSW and lead author of the study, said in a statement.

In the arts and social sciences, however, student responses didn’t suggest any significant trends of bias against female professors. This may be due to the larger proportion of female teachers in these fields. For, there was, unfortunately, still a noticeable trend of bias against professors from non-English-speaking backgrounds in the arts and social sciences.

A paper describing the full study is published in the journal Plos One.

While this study only dealt with Australian student surveys, smaller studies from the United States, France and Netherlands have suggested similar findings on gender bias against female teachers, Fan said. Those studies did not, however, evaluate student perceptions of teachers from different cultural groups.  

Bringing about change

These findings reinforce the need for colleges and universities to implement programs that lead to progressive change.

Inclusion and the benefits of diversity must be expressed to students while they are still in college — while they are forming their opinions and outlook on the world.

With this in mind, UNSW and many other colleges and universities have implemented programs to increase the presence of women and minorities across all areas of study, especially in STEM and medicine, hoping that it will translate to the professional world.  

Emma Johnston, dean of science at UNSW and co-author of the study, suggests that society can begin to eliminate gender biases, specifically, by encouraging and appointing more women to leadership positions and as members of important committees.

Aside from the ethical responsibility to eliminate bias, the benefits of diversity in the classroom and workplace are clear. Diversity allows for a wider range of cultural insight, thus enabling more complex, dimensional thought.

“Reducing bias will have great benefits for society as university students represent a large proportion of future leaders in government and industry,” Fan said in a statement.