It is striking that still only a few of the world’s top universities are led by women.
In fact, analysis of the Times Higher Education World University Rankings 2022 reveals that just 43 of the top 200 institutions are currently led by women. What is promising is that this is an increase from the 41 universities led by women last year and now amounts to a fifth of the top 200 universities in the world.
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, France, 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.
Richardson will be leaving her position at the University of Oxford in December 2022 and will take up the position of president of the Carnegie Corporation of New York in January 2023.
2. 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 to create a long-term housing plan for students.
3. 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.
In 2008, the American Institute of Chemical Engineers named Gast one of the top 100 “Modern Era” engineers in the US in the “Leadership” category.
Hugh Brady, the vice-chancellor of the University of Bristol, will be taking over the position from August 2022.
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.
Gutmann will leave this position in July 2022 and Mary Elizabeth Magill, the current provost of the University of Virginia will step into the role.
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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.
6. University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, Mary Sue Coleman
Mary Sue Coleman is serving as the interim president of the University of Michigan, while the university board searches for a permanent president.
Coleman was the university’s first female president, taking the position from 2002 until her retirement in 2014, making her the fourth-longest running president in the university’s history.
Coleman received her undergraduate degree in chemistry from Grinnell College. She then went on to achieve her doctorate in biochemistry from the University of North Carolina, moving on to work as the director of a cancer research centre at the University of Kentucky for 20 years before serving as president of the University of Iowa.
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 Wharton Business School at the University of Pennsylvania and at 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.
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's academic area is psychology having completed an MSc in psychology and in 1982 a master of philosophy from Yale University. She then earned a PhD doctorate from Yale University in psychology, with a concentration in child clinical and community psychology.
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 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.
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 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.
Fortier will be retiring from this position in August 2022.
10. University of Manchester, Nancy Rothwell
Nancy Rothwell has been the president of the University of Manchester since July 2010, becoming the first female president of the university.
Her ongoing research in the field of neuroscience has contributed towards major advances in the understanding and treatment of brain damage in stroke and head injury.
She is an honorary member of the British Society for Immunology and has been a member of The Physiological Society since 1982 and was awarded the Physiological Society Annual Review Prize Lecture in 1998. She has been the chair of the The Russell Group, a group of 24 universities in the UK, since September 2020.
Top universities led by women in the THE World University Rankings top 200
|1||1||University of Oxford||United Kingdom||Louise Richardson|
|2||8||University of California, Berkeley||United States||Carol Christ|
|3||12||Imperial College London||United Kingdom||Alice Gast|
|4||=13||University of Pennsylvania||United States||Amy Gutmann|
|5||22||Cornell University||United States||Martha Pollack|
|6||=24||University of Michigan-Ann Arbor||United States||Mary Sue Coleman|
|7||27||London School of Economics and Political Science||United Kingdom||Minouche Shafik|
|8||29||University of Washington||United States||Ana Mari Cauce|
|9||44||McGill University||Canada||Suzanne Fortier|
|10||50||University of Manchester||United Kingdom||Nancy Rothwell|
|11||53||Wageningen University & Research||Netherlands||Louise Fresco|
|12||=54||The University of Queensland||Australia||Deborah Terry|
|13||57||Monash University||Australia||Margaret Gardner|
|14||=58||University of Wisconsin-Madison||United States||Rebecca Blank|
|15||63||University of Southern California||United States||Carol Folt|
|16||64||Brown University||United States||Christina Paxson|
|17||65||University of Amsterdam||Netherlands||Geert ten Dam|
|18||71||Leiden University||Netherlands||Annetje Ottow|
|19||85||Ohio State University (Main campus)||United States||Kristina Johnson|
|20||=86||University of Minnesota||United States||Joan Gabel|
|21||=88||Sorbonne University||France||Nathalie Drach Temam|
|22||=101||University of Helsinki||Finland||Sari Lindblom|
|23||103||University of Basel||Switzerland||Andrea Schenker-Wicki|
|24||=108||University of Freiburg||Germany||Kerstin Krieglstein|
|25||=117||Université Paris-Saclay||France||Sylvie Retailleau|
|26||=127||University of Leeds||United Kingdom||Simone Buitendijk|
|27||=127||Maastricht University||Netherlands||Rianne Letschert|
|28||=137||University of Auckland||New Zealand||Dawn Freshwater|
|29||141||University of Nottingham||United Kingdom||Shearer West|
|30||142||University of Rochester||United States||Sarah Mangelsdorf|
|31||=143||University of Exeter||United Kingdom||Lisa Roberts|
|32||=146||Trinity College Dublin||Republic of Ireland||Linda Doyle|
|33||155||Université de Paris||France||Christine Clerici|
|34||=162||Durham University||United Kingdom||Karen O'Brien|
|35||167||Indiana University||United States||Pamela Whitten|
|36||=172||TU Dresden||Germany||Ursula Staudinger|
|37||=176||Stockholm University||Sweden||Astrid Söderbergh Widding|
|38||=178||University of Liverpool||United Kingdom||Janet Beer|
|39||=183||University of Cape Town||South Africa||Mamokgethi Phakeng|
|40||=185||University of Gothenburg||Sweden||Eva Wiburg|
|41||=193||Queensland University of Technology||Australia||Margaret Sheil|
|42||=193||Texas A&M University||United States||M. Katherine Banks|
|43||=197||Sapienza University of Rome||Italy||Antonella Polimeni|
Note: The analysis was based on the university leader in post on 1 February 2022.