For the first time ever, four out of the top five universities in the world — Oxford, Harvard, Cambridge and Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) — will see a woman in the top job by July this year.
The information, based on Times Higher Education’s (THE) World University Rankings 2023, was revealed to mark the International Women’s Day 2023 on Wednesday, March 8.
The data also shows nearly a quarter, 48 of the world’s top 200 universities, have female presidents or vice-chancellors, up from 43 last year, with the rise driven by appointments in the US and Germany. There are 12% more women in these positions than last year and 41% more than five years ago.
Oxford (first in THE’s World University Rankings) is currently headed by Irene Tracey. Claudine Gay at Harvard (second in the rankings) and Deborah Prentice at Cambridge (joint third) will both take up their leadership roles in July. Sally Kornbluth currently leads MIT (fifth).
The US has a high proportion of top 200 universities wordwide led by women (16 out of 58), as does France (3 out of 5), the Netherlands (5 out of 10) and the UK (8 out of 28).
Last year, 13 of the top US institutions were led by women. The eighth best in the world, University of California, Berkeley, is led by Carol Christ (in charge since July 2017). Three prestigious Ivy League institutions: the University of Pennsylvania (headed by Elizabeth Magill), Cornell University (Martha Pollack) and Brown University (Christina Paxson) have female leaders.
Five leading German universities are headed by women — three more than last year. This includes University of Tübingen’s Karla Pollmann, University of Freiburg’s Kerstin Krieglstein and Technical University of Berlin’s Geraldine Rauch (who became the first women to preside over their institutions).
In Asia, neuroscientist Nancy Ip became president of the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, becoming the first female leader of a top 200 university in the region in the past five years. Ip has been at the institution for nearly 20 years and is its fifth president and the first woman in the role.
Hana Abdullah Al-Nuaim is the interim female leader of the largest university in Saudi Arabia — King Abdulaziz University.
The latest figures show a year-on-year increase of female university leaders with 43 in leadership positions last year, 41 in 2021, 39 in 2020 and 34 in 2019 and 2018.
Long way to go
Despite this positive news, with 48 of the top 200 global institutions being led by women, it is still a long way to go. Of the 27 countries whose universities featured in the top 200, 12 countries (44%) did not have any women leading their top institutions. Commenting on the figures, Times Higher Education’s rankings editor Rosa Ellis said that on the one hand it’s amazing to see that four of the top five universities in the world will shortly be led by women, and they will be an inspiration to their staff, students and other universities around the world. “But, and it’s a shame there’s a but, only 24% of the top 200 universities are led by women,” Ellis said. “While progress is happening, universities, which are the world’s beacons of learning, knowledge and human progress, need to do much more to advance women’s roles not just at the top of universities but in every position and in all of its outputs.” Of the top 200 universities, 2.5% (or 10% of female-led institutions) are led by women of colour.
Dismal picture in India
Even though India is led by a woman (President Droupadi Murmu) both gender inclusion and diversity remain a challenge in leadership roles at academic institutions.
For instance, of the 23 IITs, none has had a woman director. Of the 31 NITs, there have been only two — Mini Shaji Thomas and G Aghila, both at NIT Tiruchirappalli.
India has 20 IIMs, and only two have had woman directors — Neelu Rohmetra of IIM Sirmaur (completed her term in 2022) and Anju Seth of IIM Calcutta (resigned before completing her term in 2021).
Of the 56 central universities, only seven have woman vice-chancellors. These include Najma Akhtar (Jamia Millia Islamia), Shantishree Pandit (JNU), Annpurna Nautiyal (Hemwati Nandan Bahuguna Garhwal University), Neelima Gupta (Dr Harisingh Gour Vishwavidyalaya), Malini V Shankar (Indian Maritime University), Sunaina Singh (Nalanda University) and Sangeeta Srivastava (University of Allahabad).