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International Women’s Day: top universities led by women

A quarter of the top 200 universities in the Times Higher Education World University Rankings are run by women, a number which is increasing year on year

    March 6 2024
    Top 10 universities run by women


    Analysis of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2024 reveals that 50 of the top 200 institutions are currently led by women. This is an increase from the 48 universities led by women last year and now amounts to a quarter of the top 200 universities in the world.

    The current number one institution (the University of Oxford) is led by Irene Tracey, who took over from Louise Richardson in January 2023. Four of the prestigious Ivy League institutions in the US – Columbia University, Dartmouth College, Cornell University and Brown University – have female leaders.

    There are two more female leaders in the job compared with last year, and 23 more than in 2015 when THE first started collecting the data, representing an 82 per cent increase over nine years.  

    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, the 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.

    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. After 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). She then took up a tenured position in the department of physiology, anatomy and genetics at Christ Church College, later moving to the department of anaesthetics.

    Tracey is still a professor of anaesthetic neuroscience in the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences.

    Irene Tracey

    Credit - OUImages/Cyrus Mower

    2. Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Sally Kornbluth

    Sally Kornbluth became the 18th president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in January 2023. She is only the second female leader in MIT’s 162-year history.

    Kornbluth’s academic background is in cell biology. She obtained a degree in political science from the University of Cambridge, and then pursued a PhD in molecular oncology at Rockefeller University.

    She was previously professor of pharmacology and cancer biology at the Duke University School of Medicine.

    Sally Kornbluth

    3. University of Cambridge, Deborah Prentice

    Deborah Prentice took up the role of vice-chancellor of the University of Cambridge in July 2023.

    Her academic background is in psychology, having studied human biology and music at Stanford University. She then progressed to pursue her graduate studies in psychology at Yale University, earning a PhD in 1989. Prentice’s research has focused on the study of social norms in human behaviour.

    Prentice began her career at Princeton University as an assistant professor, eventually becoming dean of faculty.

    Deborah Prentice

    4. 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 served as Berkeley’s executive vice-chancellor and provost between 1994 and 2000. She then became president of the 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.

    She will retire from this role at the end of June 2024.

    Carol Christ - Top 10 universities led by women

    5. Columbia University, 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 Georgetown University.

    She was appointed Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 2015, and was the previously the director of the London School of Economics and Political Science.

    Shafik became the president of Columbia University in July 2023.

    Minouche Shafik - Top 10 universities led by women

    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 speciality 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

    7. University of Washington, Ana Mari Cauce

    Ana Mari Cauce is the University of Washington’s first female permanent president, as well as its first Latina leader.

    A member of the University of Washington faculty since 1986, she became interim president in March 2015 and was appointed president in October 2015.

    Cauce’s academic specialism is psychology, having gained an MSc in psychology and, in 1982, a master of philosophy from Yale University.

    Cauce remains active in the classroom and continues to teach and mentor undergraduate and postgraduate students. She helped to establish 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 for combating racism and inequality.

    Ana Marie Cauce - top 10 universities run by women

    8. New York University, Linda G. Mills

    Linda Mills became the 17th president of New York University in July 2023.

    Mills gained a BA in history and social thought from the University of California, Irvine, a JD from the University of California College of the Law, San Francisco, a master’s in social work from San Francisco State University and a PhD in health policy from Brandeis University.

    She first started working at NYU in 1999 as an associate professor in social work. She has since held numerous positions within the university.

    Linda Mills

    9. Universität Heidelberg, Frauke Melchior

    Frauke Melchior took up the position of rector of Universität Heidelberg in October 2023 and will remain in the role for the next six years.

    Melchior is a scientist, having studied chemistry at the University of Marburg and the University of Bristol. She worked as a postdoctoral researcher at the Max Planck Institute for Biophysical Chemistry in Göttingen and at the Scripps Research Institute in La Jolla, California.

    She then joined the Faculty of Biosciences at Universität Heidelberg in order to continue her research as professor for molecular biology at the ZMBH in 2008. As of April 2021, she transferred to Forschungszentrum Jülich, which is one of the research centres in the Helmholtz Association, as a member of the board of directors.

    Frauke Melchior

    Credit: Forschungszentrum Jülich / Ralf-Uwe Limbach

    10. Karolinska Institute, Annika Östman Wernerson

    Annika Östman Wernerson arrived at the Karolinska Institute in 1991, where she completed her medical degree. Wernerson’s medical research focuses on patients with chronic kidney disease, and she has had numerous papers on the condition published in medical journals.

    Wernerson has also taught a range of educational programmes at the Karolinska Institute since joining the faculty in 2011. She has also worked within the university’s hospital as a clinician and a consultant.

    Annika Ostman Wernerson

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

    Full analysis of the results can be found here: Quarter of world’s top 200 universities led by women

    OrderPosition in World University Rankings 2024UniversityCountryVice-chancellor
    11University of OxfordUnited KingdomIrene Tracey
    23Massachusetts Institute of TechnologyUnited StatesSally Kornbluth
    35University of CambridgeUnited KingdomDeborah Prentice
    49University of California, BerkeleyUnited StatesCarol Christ
    517Columbia UniversityUnited StatesMinouche Shafik
    620Cornell UniversityUnited StatesMartha Pollack
    725University of WashingtonUnited StatesAna Mari Cauce
    827New York UniversityUnited StatesLinda G. Mills
    947Universität HeidelbergGermanyFrauke Melchior
    1050Karolinska InstituteSwedenAnnika Östman Wernerson
    1151University of ManchesterUnited KingdomNancy Rothwell
    1254Monash UniversityAustraliaSharon Pickering
    1358Université Paris-SaclayFranceEstelle Iacona
    1461University of AmsterdamNetherlandsGeert ten Dam
    1563University of Wisconsin-MadisonUnited StatesJennifer L. Mnookin
    =16=64Brown UniversityUnited StatesChristina Paxson
    =16=64The Hong Kong University of Science and TechnologyHong KongNancy Y. Ip
    =16=64Wageningen University & ResearchNetherlandsSjoukje Heimovaara
    1967Australian National UniversityAustraliaGenevieve Bell
    2070The University of QueenslandAustraliaDeborah Terry
    2174University of Southern CaliforniaUnited StatesCarol Folt
    2275Sorbonne UniversityFranceNathalie Drach-Temam
    2377Leiden UniversityNetherlandsAnnetje Ottow
    2481University of BristolUnited KingdomEvelyn Welch
    25=87Humboldt University of BerlinGermanyJulia von Blumenthal
    26=95University of TübingenGermanyKarla Pollmann
    27=116Michigan State UniversityUnited StatesTeresa K. Woodruff
    28121University of HelsinkiFinlandSari Lindblom
    29122Penn State (Main campus)United StatesNeeli Bendapudi
    30=123University of BaselSwitzerlandAndrea Schenker-Wicki
    31125Vrije Universiteit AmsterdamNetherlandsMargrethe Jonkman
    32128University of FreiburgGermanyKerstin Krieglstein
    33=130University of NottinghamUnited KingdomShearer West
    34133University of RochesterUnited StatesSarah C. Mangelsdorf
    35134Trinity College DublinIrelandLinda Doyle
    36=136Technical University of BerlinGermanyGeraldine Rauch
    37=138Maastricht UniversityNetherlandsRianne Letschert
    38=140Radboud University NijmegenNetherlandsJose Sanders
    39=145University of Pittsburgh-Pittsburgh campusUnited StatesJoan T. A. Gabel
    40=150University of AucklandNew ZealandDawn Freshwater
    =41=161Dartmouth CollegeUnited StatesSian Beilock
    =41=161TU DresdenGermanyUrsula M. Staudinger
    43174Durham UniversityUnited KingdomKaren O’Brien
    44=177University of ExeterUnited KingdomLisa O. Roberts
    45181Sapienza University of RomeItalyAntonella Polimeni
    46=185Stockholm UniversitySwedenAstrid Söderbergh Widding
    47190Cardiff UniversityUnited KingdomWendy Larner
    48=193University of St AndrewsUnited KingdomSally Mapstone
    49198Indiana UniversityUnited StatesPamela Whitten
    50=199Queensland University of TechnologyAustraliaMargaret Sheil

    Note: Data correct as of 1 February 2024 and includes acting presidents and vice-chancellors.

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