Many of the best universities in the world remained off-limits for women until the last century.
Despite regrettably low numbers of women studying science, engineering and other subjects, many universities are well on their way to achieving parity in the numbers of male and female students.
The Times Higher Education World University Rankings for 2015-16 reveal the best universities in the world. Among the top 200 world-leading institutions, eight have an even split between men and women.
Gender ratio is just one indication of a university’s environment, but here are the best institutions championing equality, at least numerically.
Note: Not everyone identifies as one of “male” or “female”. Data about gender of students were supplied by universities.
Johns Hopkins University, Maryland, US [Ranked #11]
A pioneering university since its founding in 1876, Johns Hopkins University was open to educating women since its first year, but only formally admitted women for degrees 13 years later.
The daughters of the university trustees raised money for Hopkins’ now-renowned medical school on the condition that it admitted women, which it did upon opening in 1893.
Johns Hopkins University makes it into the top 15 world-leading universities most years, and has never been ranked lower than seventh for clinical and health degrees in the past five years.
Yale University, Connecticut, US [Ranked #12]
Yale University is the only Ivy League institution to have achieved a 50:50 gender split among its students. Although the graduate school admitted women as early as 1892, the first female undergraduate enrolled only 46 years ago.
The Yale University Women’s Organization was in fact founded four years before female undergraduates joined their older sisters. The society now runs three lecture series and a variety of social events throughout the year.
But an even gender split does not necessarily create a good environment on campus.
In 1980, Yale was rocked by a lawsuit which brought charges against the university for failing to deal with sexual assault and discrimination against women.
Unfortunately, like at many other institutions, complaints persist to this day, and the university set up a steering committee to address concerns in 2011.
University of California, Berkeley, US [Ranked #13]
Commonly regarded as the best public university in the US, UC Berkeley has had a reputation for progressive politics and activism since the 1960s.
In 1871, just three years after the university opened, the board declared that women should be admitted on an equal basis with men. When the university relocated to a permanent campus two years later, 57 per cent of the student population were female.
UC Berkeley was in the top 10 universities in the
world for more than five years, and has slipped only a few places in the 2015-16 THE World University Rankings, to position 13.
Each year in March, the Gender Equity Resource Center organises Women’s History and Empowerment Month, and a performance of The Vagina Monologues.
University of Western Australia, Perth, Australia [Ranked #109]
The University of Western Australia has been steadily climbing the rankings for years, almost breaking into the top 100 in 2015-16.
In addition to achieving equal numbers of male and female students across the board, the university claims a notable female pioneer as an alumnus. Carmen Lawrence, who graduated in 1968, was the first female premier of an Australian state when she took up the role of premier of Western Australia in 1990.
The university is also committed to promoting women’s university sports teams, not only in Australia but internationally. This forms an integral part of the Indian Rim Asian University Games, founded by UWA.
University of Miami, Florida, US [Ranked #161]
In 1925, the University of Miami was founded as a co-educational institution for white men and women, supplementing Florida A&M University – the co-educational university for black students that already existed.
Until 1971, a separate dean of women regulated the behaviour of female students, applying stricter regulations to the women than the men.
Thankfully, both racial segregation and institutionalised differences in the treatment of male and female students are a thing of the past. Most university dormitories are now co-ed, and women’s sports teams are extremely popular.
Arizona State University, US [Ranked #189]
Well-known for its innovation, Arizona State University started life as a teacher-training college.
Courses on offer now range across the arts and sciences, and the law school is named after Sandra Day O’Connor – the first woman appointed to the US Supreme Court.
University of Luxembourg, Europe [Ranked #193]
The University of Luxembourg is the youngest university on the list and the only representative from mainland Europe.
Only 12 years old, it has not only achieved gender parity, but also made it into the top 200 universities in the world.
In part this is due to its international focus, attracting students from all over the world and encouraging domestic students to travel abroad for short-term opportunities.
Newcastle University, UK [Ranked #196]
One of the UK’s redbrick universities, Newcastle University was one of the first in the country to enrol female medical students in 1894.
Its reputation as a research-intensive university attracts academics and students from more than 120 countries.
The university pays particular attention to gender equality in science subjects and has achieved Athena SWAN status, a charter that recognises positive environment and opportunities for women in science and technology subjects.