University Challenges genderbalanced questions backfire as contestants fail to answer them

Want the best of The Telegraph direct to your email and WhatsApp? Sign up to our free twice-daily  Front Page newsletter and new  audio briefings. The student, 20, from St John’s, Cambridge, said she hopes the questions will spur the general public to learn about women in academia. She said: “I would hope that any initial increase in difficulty would be offset by the greater awareness of these women created by their being mentioned on the show, which would hopefully lead people to learn more about them and therefore be better equipped to answer those questions in future.” Additionally, contestants faced a music round on Marin Alsop, the first woman to conduct the Last Night of the Proms, and bonus questions on Byzantine historian and princess Anna Komnene.Previously in the series, there have been bonus rounds on “prominent women”, including writers, pilots and golfers, as well as “women born in the 1870s and 80s”, and female philosophers Mary Midgely, Philippa Foot and Iris Murdoch.A University Challenge spokesman said: “When deciding on the questions to set, we continue to look at how best they reflect all people of achievement and historical importance, and try and ensure that they are challenging, entertaining and cover an appropriately broad range of subject matter.” Thomas Benson, University Challenge’s questions editor,  has confirmed that there has been an effort to equalise the gender imbalance in the quiz. “About three years ago, a viewer wrote in to point out that a recent edition of the programme had contained very few questions on women,” he told the New Statesman.“We agreed and decided to do something about it.”That was notable during the final,  which featured a round on female artists and a series of questions about noted US author Willa Cather. When University Challenge realised that the bulk of their questions related to prominent men, they decided to rectify the situation by ensuring a better gender balance.However, contestants say that the admirable decision had the unintended consequence of making the already notoriously difficult quiz even harder, because fewer people have heard of the prominent female academics and artists to which the questions refer.ITV Studios, which produces the BBC show, confirmed it had been attempting to make questions more diverse, but said contestants should not find them any more difficult as they all fall within the range of academic general knowledge.But one finalist team said that a round relating to female philosophers was more difficult than if it had been about famous male philosophers. They passed on every question.Rosie McKeown, from the winning team told The Telegraph: “I know our team did badly on the round about female philosophers, and I think we would have had more names to draw on in order to make an educated guess if the questions had been about men.”

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