The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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A wall falls in Oxford

London, June 8: The last remaining women’s college at Oxford University voted yesterday to open its doors to men, bringing to an end more than 100 years of single-sex education.

There were both cheers of joy and tears of disappointment as the governing body of St Hilda’s, comprising 30 fellows and the principal, announced it had obtained the two-thirds majority required for the college to change its statutes and abandon its single-sex tradition.

While male fellows will be admitted through its gates almost immediately, male students will have to wait until 2008 to join the institution, which was founded in 1893 by Dorothea Beale, the principal of the Cheltenham Ladies’ College.

The decision to accept men followed a fiercely fought campaign that divided the students ' the “Hildabeasts” as they are affectionately known within the university.

In a referendum in February, 77 per cent of undergraduates voted in favour of admitting men as fellows, but only 55 per cent said they wanted them as students.

Supporters of St Hilda’s single-sex status, who included a large majority of graduate students and many alumnae, argued that the college was essential at a university where women still lagged behind men in senior academic appointments and in the number of first class degrees awarded.

Those in favour of change said it was time the college ' nicknamed “the virgin megastore” ' tried to shake off its image as a sanctuary for lesbians and nymphomaniacs.

Ailbhe Menton, 20, the president of the Junior Common Room, which represents undergraduates, said that the result recognised the practical need for change.

The pro-mixed camp, among them Judith English, the St Hilda’s principal, had long argued that recruiting female academics, especially in the sciences, was difficult.

It was also extremely expensive because the college, as a result of equal opportunities legislation, had to fund some of its staff without any university assistance.

It estimated that within 10 years, the cost of funding academic salaries would have risen to '400,000 a year.

The college has also failed to attract enough “first preference” applications, with a large proportion of students allocated a college place through the university’s open application process.

“It is the end of an era... but it doesn’t have to be a change for the worst,” said Menton. Lady English, who will retire at the end of the next academic year, said: “Today marks an important stage in the life of St Hilda’s that opens up new and exciting opportunities for the college.”

St Hilda’s alumnae include Baroness Shephard, former MP and Conservative cabinet minister; Wendy Cope, the poet; Zeinab Badawi, TV journalist and news presenter; and Baroness Susan Greenfield, director of the Royal Institution.

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