Five female firsts in higher education leadership

Appointment of first black female university leader is watershed moment

June 29, 2015

Higher education has a poor record of appointing women to leadership positions, and an even worse one of appointing candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds.

 The problem was highlighted last year at a UCL event titled “Why isn’t my professor black?”, which heard that of the UK’s 18,500 professors, just 85 are black, and only 17 are black women.

 As far as gender is concerned, a count of female vice-chancellors at the start of last month showed that just 15 per cent of UK universities are led by women.

 However, since then there have been several appointments that have increased that figure, including the appointment of Imperial College London vice-provost Debra Humphris as vice-chancellor of the University of Brighton, and the announcement that Kathryn Mitchell is to succeed John Coyne as vice-chancellor of the University of Derby.

 Today’s announcement that Soas, University of London, has appointed Valerie Amos as its next director marks a watershed as she will be the first black woman to lead a university in the UK.

Here are four other recent firsts that mark the progress being made by women in higher education leadership:

Alison Richard, cambridge
Source: 
Cambridge University
Alison Richard

2003: the University of Cambridge blazes an early trail among world-leading universities, appointing Dame Alison Richard as its 344th vice-chancellor (but its first who wasn’t a man).

 2007: following Cambridge’s lead across the pond, Harvard University appoints its first female president, Drew Gilpin Faust. She is Harvard’s 28th leader, and also the first who had not studied at Harvard as either an undergraduate or postgraduate.

madeleine atkins, hefce
Madeleine Atkins

 2013: After serving as vice-chancellor of Coventry University, Madeleine Atkins puts an end to male domination of the Higher Education Funding Council for England, when she is appointed as its chief executive. David Willetts, universities minister at the time, says her appointment is on merit, but that “we are very aware of the importance of diversity and appointing the first woman is a bonus”.

 2015: In May 2015, Louise Richardson is nominated as the next vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford, the first in its 800 year history. Professor Richardson, who spent much of her career at Harvard, has served as head of the University of St Andrews for six years, and her nomination comes after Oxford’s current vice-chancellor, Andrew Hamilton, acknowledged that there was “unconscious bias” against women in academia, including at Oxford.

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