By Anthony Lotric
Tutorials for ECON1101 (Microeconomics 1) have been segregated by gender as part of a Research School of Economics study. While participation in the study was optional, students who were invited to participate were seemingly not made aware that they would be placed in split-gender tutorials.
ECON1101 is an introductory economics course which students often take in the first semester of their first year. Later-year students may recall that the course used to be taught by Dr Paul Chen. However, after his retirement last year, Dr Dana Hanna has taken over as course convenor and lecturer. Hanna previously encountered controversy when she set a video from a conservative think tank as required viewing for an assignment in a different course.
A University spokesperson said the Research School of Economics is “conducting a research project to better understand the extent to which the acquisition of microeconomic skills affects the preferences and attitudes of young men and women in their first semester at university”, and the way this is affected by gender-segregated tutorials. The research project is being run by Hanna and Professor Alison Booth. “The outcomes of this research will help industry better support women wishing to pursue a career in economics,” the spokesperson said. They stressed that participation is “entirely voluntary”.
Before signing onto the study as experimental subjects, students were provided with a “Participant Information Sheet”. This document outlined the study, which is titled “Investigating if the Acquisition of Economic Literacy Affects the Risk Attitudes of Young Men and Women Entering University”, and described researcher expectations regarding student participation.The document does not explain what specific variables were of interest, or how these would be measured.
In the section “Participant Involvement”, under the subheading “What does participation in this study entail?”, the document says that participation involves completing “two questionnaires” one at the beginning of the semester and one at the end. The document says that the aim of the project is to “investigate the extent to which the acquisition of microeconomic skills affects the preferences and attitudes of young men and women in their first semester at university”, as this “varies across tutorial class types”. It references differences between “men and women”, and says that students will be “randomly allocated to a specific tutorial group”, but does not say these groups would be gender-based.
Students were also given a consent form to sign if they wished to take part in the study. While it mentioned that the researchers would measure variables across “different groups of students”, this form also did not mention gender segregation of students.
A student from the class, who asked to remain anonymous, told Observer that they have concerns about the execution of the research project. They said that students were “ill-informed” about the research project, as they were not told that it involved anything other than the completion of the two questionnaires. They described the experience of gender-segregated tutorials as “disconcerting”.
The student also highlighted a change in the way student participation was framed by Hana. While at first participation was presented as something they could sign onto “if they wanted”, as the course went on, Hana reportedly began saying “just a reminder to” sign up to the study at the beginning of classes. The student recounted an occasion when students who had not signed up to the study arrived late to a tutorial, and were then asked by the tutor to sign the consent form without being presented with the option to decline.
When asked about how the study would treat transgender and gender diverse students, the ANU spokesperson clarified that “how a student has gender identified to the University is how they’re gender identified the study”. Queer* Officer Sam Neave told Observer that he had heard that “staff have been fully supportive” of transgender and gender diverse students, although he acknowledged that “in these types of situations there is differing interpretations of how inclusive this study is”. ANU stressed that “a student can choose not to participate and is not required to give any reason”.
The University spokesperson emphasised that the study has received ANU Human Research Ethics approval, and “adheres to all relevant ANU policies and procedures”. The Ethics Office has not received any complaints about the study at time of writing, but a member of the Research Ethics team told Observer that “any research project must be voluntary”. They “ encourage any participants who feel they may have been forced to take part in any research at the ANU to come forward”, and provide them with “the specific details to allow a thorough investigation”.
Note: this article was amended to note that the research project is being run by Hanna and Booth.
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