Analysis of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2023 reveals that 48 of the top 200 institutions are currently led by women. This is an increase from the 43 universities led by women last year and now amounts to a quarter of the top 200 universities in the world.
This is thanks to recent appointments in the US and Germany. By the middle of 2023, four out of the world’s top five universities will be led by women.
The current number one institution (the University of Oxford) is led by Irene Tracey, who took over from Louise Richardson in January 2023. Three of the prestigious Ivy League institutions in the US; the University of Pennsylvania, Cornell University and Brown University, have female leaders.
Of the top 200 universities, 2.5 per cent (or 10 per cent of female-led institutions) are led by women of colour.
The Netherlands, US, Germany 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, Irene Tracey
Neuroscientist Irene Tracey became vice-chancellor of the University of Oxford in 2023, becoming the second woman to lead the institution after Louise Richardson.
Tracey gained her undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in biochemistry at Merton College, Oxford, where her research focused on the early use of magnetic resonance imaging methods to study disease mechanisms in humans. Following that she held a postdoctoral position at Harvard Medical School.
Tracey returned to Oxford in 1997 and was a founding member of the Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain (now the Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging).
Tracey led Merton College as warden prior to becoming vice-chancellor. She was professor of anaesthetic neuroscience in the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences. In 2022, she was appointed a Commander of the Order of the British Empire (CBE) for services to Medical Research by the late Queen Elizabeth II.
Credit - OUImages/Cyrus Mower
2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sally Kornbluth
Sally Kornbluth became the the 18th president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in January 2023. She is MIT’s second ever female leader in its 162-year history.
Kornbluth’s academic background is in cell biology. She obtained a degree in political science from Williams College and a degree in genetics from the University of Cambridge. She studied a PhD in molecular oncology at Rockefeller University.
She was previously professor of pharmacology and cancer biology at the Duke University School of Medicine.
3. University of California, Berkeley, Carol Christ
Carol Christ is the first female chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley, having replaced Nicholas Dirks in July 2017. She was previously Berkeley’s executive vice-chancellor and provost 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, Christ has worked to target sexual violence and sexual harassment on campus and to create a long-term housing plan for students.
4. University of Pennsylvania, Elizabeth Magill
Elizabeth Magill joined the University of Pennsylvania as president in July 2022.
Prior to joining the University of Pennsylvania Elizabeth was executive vice-president and provost at the University of Virginia and, prior to that, was the Richard E. Lang professor and dean of Stanford University Law School.
Before working in higher education, Magill completed her bachelor’s degree in history at Yale University and then pursued a career in politics, with experience working in the US Supreme Court.
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.
6. University of Washington, Ana Mari Cauce
Ana Mari Cauce is the University of Washington’s first female permanent president, and its first Latina president.
She has been a member of the University of Washington faculty since 1986, became interim president in March 2015 and was appointed president in October 2015.
Cauce’s academic specialism is psychology, having completed an MSc in psychology and in 1982 a master of philosophy from Yale University. She then earned a doctorate in psychology, focused on child clinical and community psychology, from Yale University,
Cauce remains active in the classroom and continues to teach and mentor undergraduate and graduate students. She helped found the university’s Husky Promise, which guarantees full tuition to eligible Washington students who would otherwise be unable to attend college. She also launched the Race and Equity Initiative in 2015 to encourage staff and students to take personal responsibility to combat racism and inequality.
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 UK’s Department for International Development. She has also held academic appointments at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton Business School and at Georgetown University.
She was named Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2015, and took up her current position as director of the London School of Economics and Political Science in September 2017.
Shafik will become the next president of Columbia University in July 2023.
8. University of British Columbia, Deborah Buszard
Deborah Buszard is interim president of the University of British Columbia.
Buszard has been at UBC for more than 10 years, having previously been deputy vice-chancellor and principal of the UBC Okanagan campus as well as professor of plant biology at the university. Buszard's academic discipline is in plant science with a research interest in crop plant productivity, agriculture and food policy, sustainability.
9. Monash University, Margaret Gardner
Gardner’s academic background is in economics, having earned a bachelor’s degree and PhD in economics from the University of Sydney. She was then awarded a Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellowship and studied in the US at the University of California, Berkeley, Massachusetts Institute of Technology and Cornell University.
She is also chair of the Group of Eight – a coalition of world-leading research-intensive Australian universities.
10. The University of Queensland, Deborah Terry
Terry completed her PhD in social psychology at the Australian National University and then began her academic career in The University of Queensland’s department of psychology. She has held a range of academic and leadership roles during her time at the university.
Top universities led by women in the THE World University Rankings top 200
Full analysis of the results can be found here: Women lead a quarter of the top 200 universities
|Order||World University 2023 Rank||University||Country||Vice-chancellor (or equivalent)|
|1||1||University of Oxford||United Kingdom||Irene Tracey|
|2||5||Massachusetts Institute of Technology||United States||Sally A. Kornbluth|
|3||8||University of California, Berkeley||United States||Carol Christ|
|4||14||University of Pennsylvania||United States||Elizabeth Magill|
|5||20||Cornell University||United States||Martha Pollack|
|6||=26||University of Washington||United States||Ana Mari Cauce|
|7||37||London School of Economics and Political Science||United Kingdom||Baroness Minouche Shafik|
|8||40||University of British Columbia||Canada||Deborah Buszard|
|9||44||Monash University||Australia||Margaret Gardner|
|10||53||The University of Queensland||Australia||Deborah Terry|
|11||=54||University of Manchester||United Kingdom||Nancy Rothwell|
|12||58||The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology||Hong Kong||Nancy Ip|
|13||59||Wageningen University & Research||Netherlands||Sjoukje Heimovaara|
|14||60||University of Amsterdam||Netherlands||Geert ten Dam|
|15||61||Brown University||United States||Christina Paxson|
|16||65||University of Southern California||United States||Carol Folt|
|17||76||University of Bristol||United Kingdom||Evelyn Welch|
|18||77||Leiden University||Netherlands||Annetje Ottow|
|19||81||University of Wisconsin-Madison||United States||Jennifer L. Mnookin|
|20||=86||Humboldt University of Berlin||Germany||Julia von Blumenthal|
|21||=86||University of Tübingen||Germany||Karla Pollmann|
|22||90||Sorbonne University||France||Nathalie Drach-Temam|
|23||93||Université Paris-Saclay||France||Estelle Iacona|
|24||=101||University of Basel||Switzerland||Andrea Schenker-Wicki|
|25||=101||King Abdulaziz University||Saudi Arabia||Hana Abdullah Al- Nuaim|
|26||103||University of Minnesota||United States||Joan T.A Gabel|
|27||106||Michigan State University||United States||Teresa Woodruff|
|28||110||University of Helsinki||Finland||Sari Lindblom|
|29||112||Ohio State University (Main campus)||United States||Kristina M. Johnson|
|30||113||University of Freiburg||Germany||Kerstin Krieglstein|
|31||=114||Université Paris Cité||France||Christine Clerici|
|32||121||Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam||Netherlands||Mirjam van Praag|
|33||=128||University of Leeds||United Kingdom||Simone Buitendijk|
|34||130||University of Nottingham||United Kingdom||Shearer West|
|35||=137||University of Exeter||United Kingdom||Lisa Roberts|
|36||=139||University of Auckland||New Zealand||Dawn Freshwater|
|37||145||Maastricht University||Netherlands||Rianne Letschert|
|38||=151||Penn State (Main campus)||United States||Neeli Bendapudi|
|39||154||University of Rochester||United States||Sarah C. Mangelsdorf|
|40||=156||Technical University of Berlin||Germany||Geraldine Rauch|
|41||=156||TU Dresden||Germany||Ursula M. Staudinger|
|42||160||University of Cape Town||South Africa||Mamokgethi Phakeng|
|43||=161||Trinity College Dublin||Ireland||Linda E. Doyle|
|44||=170||Indiana University||United States||Pamela Whitten|
|45||=176||Stockholm University||Sweden||Astrid Söderbergh Widding|
|46||181||Texas A&M University||United States||M. Katherine Banks|
|47||=192||University of California, Santa Cruz||United States||Cynthia Larive|
|48||=198||Durham University||United Kingdom||Karen O’Brien|
Note: Data correct as of 3 February 2023 and includes acting presidents and vice-chancellors. The vice-chancellor of the University of Cape Town, Mamokgethi Phakeng, has since announced she is stepping down but is still included in this year’s analysis.