International Women’s Day: top 10 universities led by women

Only 34 of the top 200 universities in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings are run by women 

March 8 2018
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 2018 reveals that just 34 of the top 200 institutions are currently led by women. This is a decrease from last year, when 36 of the top universities had female leaders. 

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

The US, Sweden, Switzerland 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 terrorist movements, 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.
OUImages/John Cairns

2. Harvard University: Drew Faust

Drew Faust is the first woman to serve as the president of Harvard University and the fifth woman to serve as president of an Ivy League Institution. During a press conference on campus, when she took up the role, she said that she hoped that her appointment could be a symbol of opening opportunities that would have been inconceivable even a generation ago. She continued by saying ”I’m not the woman president of Harvard, I’m the president of Harvard”.

One of her first initiatives as president was to significantly increase financial aid for students at the college. She has also worked to increase funding for scientific research and to revitalise arts programmes. 

Drew Faust - Top 10 universities run by women

3. Imperial College London: Alice Gast

Alice Gast is originally from Houston, Texas, and completed her undergraduate degree 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 four 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

4. 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

5. University of California, Berkeley: Carol Christ

Carol Christ is the first female chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, replacing 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 presidency role at Berkeley, she has worked to target sexual violence and sexual harassment on campus and create a long-term plan for housing students. 

Carol Christ - Top 10 universities led by women

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6. 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 supporting women and underrepresented minorities in science and engineering.

Martha Pollack - Top 10 universities led 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. 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 inequity. 


9. 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 contributions to science including the 1997 Clara Benson award for distinguished contributions to chemistry by a woman, and the Queen's University Distinguished Service Award in 2005. 

Suzanne Fortier - top 10 universities led by women

10. 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 Obama administration. 

She was also the 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

Top universities led by women in the THE top 200

Rank THE World University Rank 2018 University Country Vice-chancellor
1 1 University of Oxford United Kingdom Louise Richardson
2 6 Harvard University United States Drew Faust
3 8 Imperial College London United Kingdom Alice Gast
4 =10 University of Pennsylvania United States Amy Gutmann
5 18 University of California, Berkeley United States Carol Christ
6 19 Cornell University United States Martha E. Pollack
7 =25 London School of Economics and Political Science United Kingdom Minouche Shafik
8 =25 University of Washington United States Ana Mari Cauce
9 42 McGill University Canada Suzanne Fortier
10 43 University of Wisconsin-Madison United States Rebecca Blank
11 =50 Brown University United States Christina Paxson
12 =54 University of Manchester United Kingdom Nancy Rothwell
13 =56 University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill United States Carol Folt
14 59 University of Amsterdam Netherlands Geert ten Dam
15 62 Humboldt University of Berlin Germany Sabine Kunst
16 64 Wageningen University & Research Netherlands Louise Fresco
17 =80 Monash University Australia Margaret Gardner
18 =86 Uppsala University Sweden Eva Akesson
19 =95 University of Basel Switzerland Andrea Schenker-Wicki
20 98 Emory University United States Claire Sterk
21 =111 University of Western Australia Australia Dawn Freshwater
22 =113 University of Göttingen Germany Ulrike Beisiegel
23 =113 University of Virginia United States Teresa Sullivan
24 =134 Stockholm University Sweden Astrid Söderbergh Widding
25 =143 University of St Andrews United Kingdom Sally Mapstone
26 =147 Autonomous University of Barcelona Spain Margarita Arboix
27 =147 University of Nottingham United Kingdom Shearer West
28 152 University of Lausanne Switzerland Nouria Hernandez
29 158 Case Western Reserve University United States Barbara Snyder
30 =165 Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam Netherlands Mirjam van Praag
31 =173 KTH Royal Institute of Technology Sweden Sigbritt Karlsson
32 =177 University of Liverpool United Kingdom Janet Beer
33 181 Paris-Sud University France Sylvie Retailleau
34 =198 University of Gothenburg Sweden Eva Wiberg

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

Read more: International Women's Day: why are there so few women in the arts?



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