MADELEINE Albright, Benazir Bhutto and Hillary Clinton all graduated from one: now German academics have come closer to creating a women's university to produce the leaders of tomorrow.
A women's university is to be established for 100 days at the Expo 2000 World Exhibition in Hanover. The experiment will provide the framework for a permanent institution.
Women academics and students from all over the world will be invited to join the pilot project, which will concentrate on seven themes: work, migration, intelligence, information, the body, water and the city.
These would also form the basis of the permanent university. Rather than the traditional faculty-based approach, the courses offered by the women's university want to concentrate on problem-solving projects with particular reference to women's and gender research.
"We want to show what such a university would really look like," said Ayla Neusel, an engineering professor at the University of Kassel and an initiator of the project.
The Lower Saxony education ministry has agreed to finance the experiment, marking a breakthrough for the campaigners for the women's university. It is the first time they have won any political support in the ten years since the idea was first floated.
But they still face an uphill struggle to find sponsorship for the permanent university, which they hope would win state recognition.
Professor Neusel said the campaign for financial supporters is already under way and they aim to establish a board of directors by the end of 1998.
The idea for a women's university in Germany is rooted in the under-representation of women academics in higher education despite numerous sponsorship programmes to encourage their progression through the ranks.
Fewer than 5 per cent of professors are women, and some of the 16 states do not employ a single female professor on the top C4 salary grade. Germany also has no female university rector.
Professor Neusel argues: "We will keep trying to change the universities from within but so far schemes aimed at doing this have changed little. A university for women would simply be an extra measure.
"There are 800,000 women students in Germany.The women's university would expect to enrol about 800. That is just one thousandth - it is not competition."
Expo 2000 World Exhibition is expected to attract 40 million visitors to Hanover between June 1 and October 31, 2000, and applications from academics and students interested in joining the experiment will not be invited until 1998.