International Women’s Day: top universities led by women

Only 39 of the top 200 universities in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings are run by women

March 6 2020
Top 10 universities run by women

It is striking that still very few of the world’s top universities are led by women. 

In fact, analysis of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2020 reveals that just 39 of the top 200 institutions are currently led by women. What is promising is that this is an increase from the 34 universities led by women last year. 

The current number one institution (the University of Oxford) is led by political scientist Louise Richardson, while three of the prestigious Ivy League institutions in the US, the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University and Brown University, have female leaders.

The US, Sweden, Netherlands and the UK are some of the countries with high numbers of female-led institutions.  

Below we take a look at the achievements of the female vice-chancellors of the top 10 universities and the journeys that brought them to where they are now.  

1. University of Oxford: Louise Richardson

Louise Richardson has been vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford since January 2016. She was previously principal of the University of St Andrews for seven years – the first woman to occupy this position. 

Richardson’s academic focus has been on international security with an emphasis on terrorism, and has taught the world-renowned Harvard undergraduate course in terrorist movements in international relations. She has received teaching awards from the American Political Science Association and from Pi Sigma Alpha for outstanding teaching in political science. 

Professor Louise Richardson - Top 10 universities run by women.


2. Imperial College London: Alice Gast

Alice Gast is originally from Houston, Texas, and completed her undergraduate degree in chemical engineering at the University of Southern California and her postgraduate degree at Princeton University

She was named president of Imperial College London in 2014 and has led the university for the past six years. Prior to this she was the president of Lehigh University in Pennsylvania. 

In 2008, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers named Gast one of the top 100 “Modern Era” engineers in the USA in the “Leadership” category. 

Alice Gast - Top 10 universities run by women


3. University of Pennsylvania: Amy Gutmann

Amy Gutmann has been president of the University of Pennsylvania since 2004. In 2016 it was announced that her contract will continue until 2022, which will make her the longest-serving president in the institution’s history. 

She is an award-winning political theorist and the author of 16 books on politics, ethics, education and philosophy. Gutmann’s presidency centres around three core values: inclusion, innovation and impact. As part of adhering to these values, Gutmann has more than doubled the number of students from low-income, middle-income, and first-generation college families attending Penn, and opened the Penn Center for Innovation in 2014. 

Amy Gutmann - Top 10 universities led by women


4. University of California, Berkeley: Carol Christ

Carol Christ is the first female chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, having replaced Nicholas B. Dirks in July 2017. She was previously the executive vice-chancellor and provost of Berkeley between 1994 and 2000. She then became president of liberal arts institution Smith College for more than a decade, before returning to Berkeley. She is a celebrated scholar of Victorian literature. 

Since taking on the presidential role at Berkeley, she has worked to target sexual violence and sexual harassment on campus and create a long-term housing plan for students. 

Carol Christ - Top 10 universities led by women


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5. Cornell University: Martha E. Pollack 

Previously provost of the University of Michigan, Martha E. Pollack was inaugurated as the 14th president of Cornell University in 2017.  

Her research specialty is artificial intelligence, to which she has contributed work in planning, natural language processing and activity recognition for cognitive assistance. 

While at the University of Michigan, Pollack received the Goddard Power Award for her efforts in increasing the representation of and support for women and under-represented minorities in science and engineering.

Martha Pollack - Top 10 universities led by women


6. University of Washington: Ana Mari Cauce

Ana Mari Cauce is the University of Washington’s first permanent woman president and the first Latina president. 

She has been a member of the University of Washington faculty since 1986, became the interim president in March 2015 and was selected to become president in October 2015. 

Cauce remains active in the classroom and continues to teach and mentor undergraduate and graduate students. She helped to found the university’s Husky Promise, which guarantees full tuition to eligible Washington students who would be unable to attend college otherwise. She also launched the Race and Equity Initiative in 2015 to encourage staff and students to take personal responsibility to combat racism and inequality. 

 Ana Marie Cauce - top 10 universities run by women


7. London School of Economics and Political Science: Minouche Shafik

An economist by background, Minouche Shafik has held a number of positions in international organisations and in government, including the World Bank and the Department for International Development in the British government. She has also held academic appointments at the Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania and Georgetown University.

She took up her current position as director of the London School of Economics and Political Science in September 2017. She was also named a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2015.

Minouche Shafik - Top 10 universities led by women


8. McGill University: Suzanne Fortier

Suzanne Fortier has served as the principal and vice-chancellor of McGill University since 2013. Her research work focuses on crystallography and artificial intelligence, and she has held positions at the Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council of Canada and at Queen’s University in Canada.  

She has received many awards for her contribution to science, including the 1997 Clara Benson award for distinguished contribution to chemistry by a woman, and the Queen’s University Distinguished Service Award in 2005. 

Suzanne Fortier - top 10 universities led by women


9. University of Wisconsin-Madison: Rebecca Blank

Prior to taking on the role of chancellor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Rebecca Blank was acting deputy secretary of commerce, deputy secretary of commerce and acting secretary of commerce under the Barack Obama administration. 

She was also dean and professor of public policy and economics at the University of Michigan and a member of faculty at Northwestern and Princeton universities. 

Blank is the author of numerous books on economics, government social policy programmes and the behaviour and well-being of low-income families.

Rebecca Blank - top 10 universities led by women


10. Brown University: Christina Paxson

Christina Paxson has been the president of Brown University since March 2012. She is nationally recognised as a leader in higher education and a well-known economist and public health expert. 

Since joining Brown, she has opened a new school of public health as well as the Institute at Brown for Environment and Society. One of Paxson’s key focuses is to make education more accessible and affordable by increasing scholarships for low-income families and improving support for graduate students. 


Top universities led by women in the THE World University Rankings top 200

Rank World University Rank 2020 University Country Vice-chancellor
1 1 University of Oxford United Kingdom Louise Richardson
2 10 Imperial College London United Kingdom Alice Gast
3 11 University of Pennsylvania United States Amy Gutmann
4 =13 University of California, Berkeley United States Carol Christ
5 19 Cornell University United States Martha E. Pollack
6 26 University of Washington United States Ana Mari Cauce
7 =27 London School of Economics and Political Science United Kingdom Minouche Shafik
8 42 McGill University Canada Suzanne Fortier
9 51 University of Wisconsin-Madison United States Rebecca Blank
10 53 Brown University United States Christina Paxson
11 =55 University of Manchester United Kingdom Nancy Rothwell
12 59 Wageningen University & Research Netherlands Louise Fresco
13 =62 University of Amsterdam Netherlands Geert ten Dam
14 =62 University of Southern California United States Carol Folt
15 73 University of Groningen Netherlands Cisca Wijmenga
16 74 Humboldt University of Berlin Germany Sabine Kunst
17 =75 Monash University Australia Margaret Gardner
18 79 University of Minnesota United States Joan Gabel
19 =80 Emory University United States Claire Sterk
20 =94 University of Basel Switzerland Andrea Schenker-Wiki
21 =102 Uppsala University Sweden Eva Akesson
22 116 Vanderbilt University United States Susan Wente
23 119 Case Western Reserve University United States Barbara Snyder
24 130 University of Paris France Christine Clerici
25 =131 University of Western Australia Australia Dawn Freshwater
26 =136 University of Cape Town South Africa Mamokgethi Phakeng
27 138 Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam Netherlands Mirjam Van Praag
28 =149 Sant’Anna School of Advanced Studies – Pisa Italy Sabina Nuti
29 =152 University of Nottingham United Kingdom Shearer West
30 =157 Autonomous University of Barcelona Spain Margarita Arboix
31 165 University of Liverpool United Kingdom Janet Beer
32 =173 University of Rochester United States Sarah Mangelsdorf
33 =175 Stockholm University Sweden Astrid Söderbergh Widding
34 =179 University of California, Santa Cruz United States Cynthia Larive
35 =179 Queensland University of Technology Australia Margaret Sheil
36 =186 University of Gothenburg Sweden Eva Wiburg
37 193 University of Canberra Australia Belinda Robinson
38 =198 University of Lausanne Switzerland Nouria Hernandez
39 =198 University of St Andrews United Kingdom Sally Mapstone

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

Read more: Top universities for tackling gender equality 

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