Female leadership moves backwards in world’s top universities

Analysis of THE World University Rankings data shows number of women leading highest-ranking institutions has waned

March 8, 2018
Minouche Shafik
Source: London School of Economics and Political Science

The number of the world’s top universities that are led by women has declined in the past year, following several years of progress in closing the gender gap, 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 2018 ranking have a female leader.

This represents a slight drop since last year when 36 (18 per cent) of the universities ranked in the top 200 of the 2017 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 still led by women.

Meanwhile, one of Spain’s two representatives – the Autonomous University of Barcelona – and two of Switzerland’s seven-strong cohort have a female leader.

The US is home to the highest number of female presidents (11) in the analysis, largely owing to its high number of institutions in THE’s top 200. It accounts for almost a third (32 per cent) of female leaders at the top of the table.

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

While gender parity in the US is little better than the average for the entire top 200, with only 18 per cent of elite American universities headed by women, UK universities are outperforming the global average, with 23 per cent of their top universities having a female leader. This figure was 19 per cent for both nations last year.

Of the 27 countries that feature in the top 200, 17 have no female university leaders.

In total, 10 universities that feature in the top 200 are new entrants since last year. Of those that have remained, 23 have new vice-chancellors or presidents.

Top 10 universities led by women

THE World University Rank 2018 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 Pennsylvania United States Amy Gutmann
18 University of California, Berkeley United States Carol Christ
19 Cornell University United States Martha Pollack
=25 London School of Economics and Political Science United Kingdom Minouche Shafik
=25 University of Washington United States Ana Mari Cauce
42 McGill University Canada Suzanne Fortier
43 University of Wisconsin-Madison United States Rebecca Blank

Note: The analysis was based on the university leader in post on 1 March 2018. It included 199 universities, as two French universities (Pierre and Marie Curie University and Paris-Sorbonne University – Paris 4) have merged since the ranking was released.


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