University Challenge accused of sexism by Reading student union

There has been ambiguity over the nature of Reading University’s boycott of University Challenge following complaints Jeremy Paxman made “misogynistic and sexist remarks” towards student contestants on set.

Members of Reading’s Student Union voted 120 to 105 in favour of a boycott of the BBC 2 programme. It is believed that this is the first time a students’ union has ever boycotted University Challenge. However, the university has claimed that the show is a “national institution” and that they will replace the union in recruiting a team.

A confidentiality agreement means that the SU could not disclose what Paxman had said. Paxman said he has been left “baffled” by students’ incentives.

The presenter said he assumes it refers to a comment he made off-air to the Reading team about their mascot. The mascot was meant to be a caricature of Paxman and he asked the whole team, whether “they took it to bed with them.”

No complaint was made at the time of filming, 18 months before the boycott was proposed.

Reading SU’s Education Officer, Niall Hamilton, said that “These forms of oppression should not be taken lightly.”

In a blog post, Hamilton said that contestants ultimately filed a complaint, which they felt was ignored by ITV.

He said: “they did not issue a formal apology and they did not produce any consolation to the contestants. ”

Reading University appears keen that their students should continue to apply and compete, claiming that “hundreds” of their students are still willing to take part in the show.

In a statement the university said that “the best way of combating prejudice and encouraging women to take part, is fronting up and entering a team, not avoiding the programme.”

Reading SU have said they believe that the SU “should not be in a position to promote and encourage students to participate in an institution with a serious lack of regard for the equality and accessibility of  women on their show.”


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January 2021
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