Hull university threatens to mark down students who don't use gender neutral pronouns

Rachel Roberts
Students at Hull University risk being marked down if they do not use gender neutral pronouns in their essays: PA

Students at Hull University risk being marked down if they fail to use gender neutral language in their work.

Instead of using male pronouns like “he”, “him” and “his”, the have been told to refer to people as either male or female, using “he or she” or “s/he” or “they",

Breaking the rules could lead to lower marks in some subjects, according to documents obtained by The Sunday Times.

But critics have claimed it could waste valuable time in an exam if students have to write extra words or think about which pronoun to use.


Words such as “mankind”, “manpower” and “manmade”, as well as “forefathers” and “workmanlike” could also fall foul of examiners at the university, whose alumni include several high profile politicians and celebrated poets.

Academics in the school of social science have gone further than merely advising pupils to be wary of their pronouns, and have told students that using non-inclusive language will have “an impact on their mark”.

A document from a course on religious activism, obtained through a freedom of information request, says: “Language is important and highly symbolic. In your essay, I thus expect you to be aware of the powerful and symbolic nature of language and use gender-sensitive formulations. Failure to use gender-sensitive language will impact your mark.”

A senior lecturer in religion at the university said in a statement: "Language is powerful and we place a high emphasis on gender-neutral language on our courses. Should any student use language which is not deemed gender neutral, they will be offered feedback as to why. Deduction of marks is taken on a case by case basis.”

Critics have described the threat to deduct marks as “linguistic policing” and “pettifogging”.

Professor Alan Smithers, director of the centre for education and employment research at Buckingham University, said the instruction could interfere with students’ ability to write fluently.

“Malcolm Bradbury satirised it brilliantly in the 1970s in The History Man where an examiners’ meeting could not get under way until it had agreed on whether to call the chairman Mr Chairperson,” he said. “That was more than 40 years ago and by now we should have grown beyond this pettifogging.”

And Frank Ferundi, professor of sociology at Kent University told The Sunday Times: “This linguistic policing is used as a coercive tool to impose a conformist outlook.The alternative is to pay a penalty of being marked down."

It emerged in January that staff at the University of Sussex had also been advised to use gender neutral pronouns after student requested it to help reduce transgender discrimination on campus.

Several other universities issue suggestions on suitable gender neutral pronouns to use, but Hull is the first university believed to be penalising students who fail to follow guidance.

The which was roundly ridiculed on social media, comes as a wave of “gender neutral” reforms sweeps through many aspects of UK life.

Customers with HSBC can now choose from ten gender neutral titles, including Mx, Ind, Misc, Mre and Myr, with critics questioning the need for such a sudden variety of titles.

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