Women lead 20 percent of world’s top universities for first time

Number of female vice-chancellors at high-ranking institutions has reached new milestone based on World University Rankings data from Times Higher Education
三月 5, 2021

The share of the world’s top universities that are led by women has reached 20% for the first time, according to an analysis of World University Rankings data by Times Higher Education (THE), a global data partner to the higher education industry.

Forty-one – or 20% – of the top 200 universities in the latest 2021 ranking from THE have a female leader, up from 39 (19%) last year and 34 (1%) in 2018. Nearly a quarter of universities in the top 100 have a female leader (24%) compared to 17% in the 100-200 band.

 Eleven women appear in the list for the first time this year, with ten replacing men in the past 12 months. The eleventh, Paris-Saclay University is a new institution following a merger.

 But progress is slow. Three female-led institutions from the 2020 ranking have dropped out of the top 200 in 2021, while six have seen changes in leadership. In every instance, this leadership change has seen the incumbent replaced by a man. 

 The US has seen the biggest decline in terms of the number of universities led by women, with just 10 of its 59 top-200 representatives (17%) having a female leader in 2021 (down from 13 out of 60 last year). However, Germany counteracted that loss; four of its 21 universities (19%) are now led by women, up from just one out of its 23 representatives in 2020.

Finland, New Zealand and South Africa each have just one university in the top 200 but all three are led by women. Sweden and France both have two out of five top 200 institutions (40%) led by women.

The Netherlands, Italy, UK, Switzerland and Australia all also outperform the global average in terms of their share of female-led top universities, according to the analysis, which was conducted ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March.

Despite the US’ decline this year, it is still home to the highest number of female presidents in the top 200 list, but the UK is fast catching up. Nine of the UK’s 29 representatives are now led by women (up from 7 out of 28 last year), narrowing the gap between the number of female leaders in the two countries from six to one.

Of the 27 countries that feature in the top 200 in both 2020 and 2021, 13 (or 48%) have at least one female university leader this year, up from 12 (44%) as New Zealand’s University of Auckland appointed a female vice-chancellor for the first time.


Ellie Bothwell, Rankings Editor at THE commented:

“It is fantastic news that the number of female university leaders is continuing to rise and has reached a new milestone this year: one fifth of the world’s top universities are now led by a woman. However, the pace of change has to improve. Six years ago, 14 % of top universities had a female leader, meaning there has been an average annual rise of just 1 percentage point. If this rate continues, it will take another 30 years for full parity. Universities do so much work to widen access to higher education but to have true equality in the sector more women need to be progressing into leadership roles.”


Find out more about the women leading the world’s top ten universities and access the full table.

Analysis was based on the university leader in post on 8 February 2021 and the 2021 and 2020 rankings both total 202 institutions as three universities tied in 200th position.