Female leadership advances slowly in world's top universities

Analysis of THE World University Rankings data shows gender gap for top jobs has narrowed further

August 16, 2017
Martha Pollack
Source: Cornell University
Martha E. Pollack became president of Cornell University in April 2017

Less than one-fifth of the world’s top 200 universities are led by women, according to an analysis of Times Higher Education World University Rankings data.

Just 36 – or 18 per cent – of the top 200 universities in the latest 2016-17 ranking have a female leader.

This represents a slight increase since last year when 33 (17 per cent) of the universities ranked in the top 200 of the 2015-16 ranking were led by a woman.

Sweden is once again the country with the highest proportion of female leaders; of the six Swedish institutions that make the world top 200, four are led by women.

Meanwhile, one of Belgium’s three representatives – Ghent University – and two of Switzerland’s seven-strong cohort have a female leader.

The US is home to the highest number of female presidents (12) in the analysis, largely owing to its high number of institutions in THE's top 200. But its share of female leaders at the top of the table has fallen three percentage points to 33 per cent, despite the fact that the number of US top-200 universities remained the same.

Meanwhile, six of the 36 female leaders (17 per cent) are based in the UK, including Louise Richardson, vice-chancellor of the world’s highest-ranked institution, the University of Oxford.

But gender parity in the world’s two leading higher education nations is little better than the average for the entire top 200, with only 19 per cent of elite US and UK universities headed by women.

Of the 28 countries that feature in the top 200, 17 have no female university leaders.

In total, 12 universities that feature in the top 200 are new entrants since last year. Of those that have remained, 31 have new vice-chancellors or presidents.

Recent figures published by the American Council on Education revealed that female university leaders in the US were more likely than men to be first-time college presidents (78 per cent versus 73 per cent) and had shorter tenures in their presidency than men.

Women were also more likely than men to have altered their career progression to “care for others” (32 per cent versus 16 per cent), according to the American College President Study, which surveyed 1,546 US university leaders.

Top 10 universities led by women

THE World University Rank 2016-17 University Country University leader
1 University of Oxford United Kingdom Louise Richardson
6 Harvard University United States Drew Faust
8 Imperial College London United Kingdom Alice Gast
=10 University of California, Berkeley United States Carol Christ
13 University of Pennsylvania United States Amy Gutmann
19 Cornell University United States Martha E. Pollack
=25 London School of Economics and Political Science United Kingdom Julia Black (interim)
=25 University of Washington United States Ana Mari Cauce
42 McGill University Canada Suzanne Fortier
45 University of Wisconsin-Madison United States Rebecca Blank

Note: The analysis was based on the university leader in post on 1 August 2017. It included 201 universities due to joint ranking positions.


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