University researchers may be forced to record trans people’s biological sex

A collage of a man, woman and trans person
Critics say using using a person's gender identity in studies causes factual errors

Universities could be forced to use the biological sex of trans people in their research instead of their declared gender, as the Government begins a major review into the use of data.

There is fierce debate among scientists and officials over the issues caused by conflating gender identity and biological sex in studies, and how this information should be gathered, stored and used.

Critics say using a person’s gender identity and not their sex at birth in studies and datasets is a denial of biological fact, and leads to factual inaccuracies that have a negative impact on future policy decisions.

An upcoming review of statistics on sex and gender from the Department for Science, Innovation and Technology (DSIT) will focus on all public sector bodies, but The Telegraph has learnt it will also have powers to scrutinise universities, as well as other research institutions.

It will be led by Prof Alice Sullivan, the head of research at University College London’s Social Research Institute. Data held and processed by universities will be within the remit of Prof Sullivan as part of her work.

A final report and recommendations on how the sex and gender data of trans people should be treated will be handed to Downing Street by the end of August.

Prof Alice Sullivan, who is leading the review
Prof Sullivan is leading the review - JEFF GILBERT

‘Respecting academic freedom’

The report will have the power to suggest that the biological sex of trans people should be used instead of gender identity in studies, and that it should also be recorded in official data.

The newly published terms of reference for the DSIT review state the process will “respect the principles of academic freedom and the independent institutional status of universities”.

“The review has two goals,” Prof Sullivan told The Telegraph. “First, identifying obstacles to accurate data collection and research on sex and on gender identity in public bodies and in the research system.

“Secondly, setting out good practice guidance for how to collect data on sex and gender identity.

“As such, barriers to research within the university system are within the scope of the review. We will be announcing a call for evidence in due course.”

Michelle Donelan, the Secretary of State for Science, previously claimed university bureaucrats were telling scientists they “cannot ask legitimate research questions about biological sex”.

Last year, Ms Donelan attacked the “utter nonsense” of academics and officials denying the existence of biological sex, saying it had an impact on official statistics that inform policy. “We are safeguarding scientific research from the denial of biology and the steady creep of political correctness,” she told the Conservative Party conference.

Michelle Donelan, Secretary of State for Science, Innovation and Technology
Ms Donelan has said research needs to recognise the existence of biological sex - EDDIE MULHOLLAND

The Government says accurate data and statistics on biological sex “are important to good research and to effective policy making”, with implications in all aspects of society, including crime, health, education and the economy.

It says in the review document: “The Government has a strong interest in promoting high-quality data on sex, both in its role as a funder of research and as a producer and user of statistics.

“Accurate information on gender identity can also be useful in some policy areas.”

It comes as the Office for Statistical Regulation (OSR) is conducting its own review of the Office for National Statistics’ 2021 census data, which showed 262,000 people – or one in 200 people – were trans.

Concerns were raised that the numbers were skewed by non-native English speakers misinterpreting the question. The ONS admits it does not know to what extent incorrect interpretation altered the data.

The OSR this week published guidance on collecting and reporting data about sex and gender identity in official statistics, and urged organisations not to use the two terms interchangeably.

Ed Humpherson, director general for regulation at the OSR, said: “The core aim of the guidance is to encourage producers to think carefully about what they are collecting, and to be aware of the risks of conflating the concepts of sex and gender identity, particularly when they are looking to change existing data collections.”

A government spokesman said: “Accurate data and statistics on biological sex is vital for effective research and policy-making.

“This independent review will identify any obstacles to gathering information on sex and gender identity in public bodies and the research system and outline how it can be collected consistently to benefit us all.”