Progress of female leadership stalls in world’s top universities

Analysis of THE World University Rankings data shows no progress in number of women leading highest-ranked institutions

March 8, 2019
Mamokgethi Phakeng
Source: University of Cape Town

The number of the world’s top universities that are led by women has remained stagnant in the past 12 months, following a decline the previous year, according to an analysis of Times Higher Education World University Rankings data.

Just 34 – or 17 per cent – of the top 200 universities in the latest 2019 ranking have a female leader, the same number as last year. In 2017, 36 (18 per cent) of the universities ranked in the top 200 of the global table were led by a woman.

South Africa is a new entry to the list, after Mamokgethi Phakeng became vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town in July. The institution is the only African university in the top 200 of the ranking.

Sweden is second in the list of countries with the highest proportion of female leaders; of the five Swedish institutions that make the world top 200, three are led by women.

Meanwhile one of Spain’s two representatives – the Autonomous University of Barcelona – and four of the Netherlands’ 12-strong cohort have a female leader.

Switzerland, France, the UK and Australia are the only other countries that outperform the global average on the share of universities headed by women.

The US is still home to the highest number of female presidents (nine) in the analysis – although this figure has dropped by two in the past year – largely because of its high number of institutions in THE’s top 200. It accounts for just over a quarter (26 per cent) of female leaders at the top of the table, down from 32 per cent last year.

Meanwhile, seven of the 34 female leaders (21 per cent) are still based in the UK, including Louise Richardson, vice-chancellor of the world’s highest-ranked institution, the University of Oxford.

Of the 25 countries that feature in the top 200, 14 have no female university leaders in that group.

Top 10 universities led by women

THE World University Rank 2019 University Country University leader
1 University of Oxford United Kingdom Louise Richardson
9 Imperial College London United Kingdom Alice Gast
=12 University of Pennsylvania United States Amy Gutmann
15 University of California, Berkeley United States Carol Christ
19 Cornell University United States Martha E. Pollack
26 London School of Economics and Political Science United Kingdom Minouche Shafik
28 University of Washington United States Ana Mari Cauce
43 University of Wisconsin-Madison United States Rebecca Blank
=44 McGill University Canada Suzanne Fortier
53 Brown University United States Christina Paxson

Note: The analysis was based on the university leader in post on 18 February 2019.

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Reader's comments (1)

And how many of those who do lead suffer from 'Queen Bee' syndrome?

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