Students are more likely to rate female lectures more harshly compared to their male counterparts in student surveys, discovered a new study.

In the study, Dutch researchers found that female lecturers were 11 percentage points less likely to receive an average score of at least four out of five from their students.

This was uncovered after analyzing five years’ worth of course evaluations made by students of Erasmus University Rotterdam’s International Institute of Social Studies.

The results of the study, which was published in the Economics of Education Review, bring into question the reliability of student surveys as a measure of a lecturer’s competence and effectiveness.

This is of particular concern, as for many institutions, obtaining a course rating of four or higher is essential for academic staff to be considered for promotion, and in light of the study’s results, this puts female lecturers at a distinct disadvantage.

From the data, researchers saw that female academics received average scores that were 0.12 point lower than men’s on a five-point scale, reported Times Higher Education.

It may not seem like much, but the ratings were generally clustered very tightly around the overall average of 4.27, and gender appeared to account for more than a quarter (27.6 percent) of the variation in ratings.

Lead researcher in the study and assistant professor in development economics, Dr. Natascha Wagner, said that the results revealed evidence of “gender bias against female teachers” and affirmed that student evaluations “do not exclusively evaluate the quality of a course”.

She reasoned that student evaluations should not have significant influence over hiring and promotion decisions because such a move “may put female lecturers at a disadvantage”.

“Employing student evaluations as a measure for teaching quality might be highly misleading,” added Dr. Wagner.

This isn’t the first time that a study has observed gender bias in student surveys. In 2014, a postdoctoral researcher at Sciences Po in Paris found that male students at one university were 30 percent more likely to rate male teachers as excellent than they were female lecturers. 

Despite such evidence, student surveys are often highly-regarded, such as the UK’s National Student Survey, which is also used as part of the teaching excellence framework to help determine how much an English university should be able to charge in terms of tuition fees.

Image via Flickr

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