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Revealed: faculties with most gender, culture bias in student surveys

Gender and culture both affect the scores teachers get on student experience surveys – but the bias is more notable in certain faculties.

That’s according to a review of almost 525,000 student experience surveys across five faculties between 2010 and 2016, published in PLOS ONE.

Both gender and cultural effects generally have a negative impact on the scores of women and teachers of non-English-speaking backgrounds across almost all faculties, the researchers found.

In Business and Science, a male teacher from an English-speaking background had the highest probability of getting the highest possible grade. In fact, such a Science instructor was more than twice as likely to get a higher score on evaluations from local male students than a female teacher from a non-English-speaking background.

Engineering and Medicine faculties showed slightly less discrepancy – the only significant bias found was against the non-English-speaking female cohort when evaluated by local students.

Female teachers in the Arts and Social Sciences faculties fared even better. The researchers found no statistically significant bias against them.

They said that this suggests that faculties with a larger proportion of female teachers will see less bias.

Still, Arts and Social Sciences isn’t a bias-free hub, with non-English-speaking teachers getting lower scores when evaluated by local students.

The biases observed remained unchanged between undergraduate and postgraduate degrees.

Lead author and UNSW statistician Associate Professor Yanan Fan said this suggests graduates may carry these biases with them into the workforce.

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

Professor Merlin Crossley, UNSW deputy vice-chancellor (academic), said he wants to see universities become models of equity and diversity in order to break down workplace inequalities.

“We regard student experience surveys as essential, but we have to know how to interpret the results in order to understand unconscious bias and how we can bring about change,” Crossley said.

Study co-author Professor Emma Johnston said encouraging more women at the professorial level, in leadership positions and in membership of key committees will help shrink biases.

“We need to continue to support women at all levels of academia in STEM across Australia in order to smash stereotypes that create the partiality that exists within our community.”

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