One in six top universities is led by a woman

Analysis of THE World University Rankings data shows gender gap at top is gradually narrowing

August 11, 2016
Professor Louise Richardson, University of Oxford
Source: Rex
In a minority: only 15 per cent of leaders of universities in the UK are women, making Oxford’s Louise Richardson a rarity

Just 17 per cent of the world’s top 200 universities are led by a woman, according to an analysis of Times Higher Education World University Rankings data.

Only 33 of the top 200 universities in the 2015-16 ranking are female-led and two women hold acting leader positions.

Despite the wide gender gap among leaders at elite universities, this rift is narrowing; just 28 of the universities ranked in the top 200 of the 2014-15 ranking were led by a woman.

Sweden is once again the country with the highest proportion of women leading universities – four of its six top 200 representatives (compared with two out of five last year) have a female vice-chancellor or president.

In total, 25 institutions in this year’s top 200 are new entrants since last year, while of those that have remained, 30 have new leaders. In addition, five of the leaders in this year’s top 200 have announced that they will step down by the end of next year, while a further five are in interim positions.

Just over a third of the female leaders (36 per cent) in the latest ranking are at the helm of universities in the US, while 15 per cent lead an institution in the UK. Last year, almost half the female leaders (46 per cent) were based in the US.

However, these nations still have much work to do to reduce the gender gap at the top of their universities. Just 19 per cent of the US institutions ranked in the top 200 (up from 18 per cent last year), and 15 per cent of the UK institutions in that elite group (up from 14 per cent), are led by women.

Strikingly, 17 of the 28 countries represented in the top 200 have no female university leaders in that elite cohort, although this is an improvement on the figure of 19 in last year’s table.

Suzanne Fortier, principal and vice-chancellor of McGill University – the only Canadian institution in the top 200 with a female leader – said that it is a prerequisite at most universities for the leader to have “obtained a rank of full professorship”, but less than 25 per cent of full professors in Canada are women.

“So when we think of how many female presidents we might hope to have, we already know that the upper limit is probably around 25 per cent,” she told THE.

“When we try to set goals it is important to know what would be achievable.”

However, she said that the “good news” is that the latest figures from Statistics Canada show that about half of new professors being hired are women.

“It will take a little bit of time for that to get through the pipeline but eventually we might see parity at every level and I certainly hope we will,” she said.

Top 10 universities led by women

THE World University Rank 2015-16 Institution Country University leader
2 University of Oxford UK Louise Richardson
6 Harvard University US Drew Faust
8 Imperial College London UK Alice Gast
17 University of Pennsylvania US Amy Gutmann
28 Karolinska Institute Sweden Karin Dahlman-Wright (acting)
32 University of Washington US Ana Mari Cauce
36 University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign US Barbara Wilson (acting)
38 McGill University Canada Suzanne Fortier
=44 University of California, Davis US Linda Katehi
=47 Wageningen University and Research Center Netherlands Louise Fresco

Note: The analysis was based on the university leader in post on 31 July 2016. Since this date, Linda Katehi has resigned from UC Davis. 

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