Female leadership in top universities advances for first time since 2017

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

March 6, 2020
Professor Louise Richardson - Top 10 universities run by women.
Louise Richardson

The number of the world’s top universities that are led by women has increased for the first time in three years but still accounts for less than one-fifth of leading institutions, according to an analysis of Times Higher Education World University Rankings data.

Thirty-nine – or 19 per cent – of the top 200 universities in the latest 2020 ranking have a female leader, up from 34 (17 per cent) two years ago.

Sweden tops 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, South Africa and Spain tie in second place. In both cases, one of their two representatives have a female leader. Australia and the Netherlands each have four universities that are led by women out of cohorts of 11.

Italy, Switzerland, UK, US and France are the only other countries that outperform the global average on the share of universities headed by women, according to the analysis, which was conducted ahead of International Women’s Day on 8 March.

The US is still home to the highest number of female presidents – 13, up from nine last year – and it is also the country that has made the most progress in this area over the past 12 months. The US now accounts for a third of female leaders at the top of the table, up from just over a quarter last year.

Australia and Italy are the only two other countries that have advanced on the number of universities led by women since last year, while Germany is the only nation that has regressed, with just one of its 23 universities now having a female rector (down from three).

Seven of the 39 female leaders (18 per cent) are based in the UK, including Louise Richardson, vice-chancellor of the world’s highest ranked institution, the University of Oxford.

Of the 27 countries that feature in the top 200, 15 have no female university leaders in that group.

Additional THE data on the backgrounds of university leaders in the world’s top 400 institutions reveals that male vice-chancellors have been in post for almost a year longer than their female counterparts, on average.

Meanwhile, 59 per cent of women in this group studied an undergraduate degree in the humanities, arts or social sciences, compared with just 31 per cent of men.

Top 10 universities led by women

THE World University Rank 2020 University Country University leader
1 University of Oxford United Kingdom Louise Richardson
10 Imperial College London United Kingdom Alice Gast
11 University of Pennsylvania United States Amy Gutmann
=13 University of California, Berkeley United States Carol Christ
19 Cornell University United States Martha Pollack
26 University of Washington United States Ana Mari Cauce
=27 London School of Economics and Political Science United Kingdom Dame Minouche Shafik
42 McGill University Canada Suzanne Fortier
51 University of Wisconsin-Madison United States Rebecca Blank
53 Brown University United States Christina Paxson

Note: The analysis was based on the university leader in post on 31 January 2020.


Times Higher Education will be hosting an Equality, Diversity & Inclusion Symposium focused on gender at Queen Mary University of London in April.

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