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One-fifth of the world’s top universities are now led by women

One-fifth of the world’s top universities are now led by women, according to data from the Times Higher Education (THE) World University Rankings.

This is the first time the number of female vice-chancellors has reached this milestone.

Forty-one of the top 200 universities in the 2021 rankings have a female leader, a rise from 39 (19%) last year and 34 (17%) in 2018.

Of the top ten universities led by women, five are in the United States, four are in the United Kingdom and one is in Canada. Two of these institutions are ranked within the top ten – the University of Oxford, which leads the rankings, and the University of California, Berkeley, in seventh.

However, despite its strong showing at the top of the table, the US has seen a decline in the number of institutions led by women. In the most recent rankings, 10 of its 59 top-200 universities (17%) had a female leader, a decline down 13 out of 60 in last year’s rankings).

This is still the highest number of female vice-chancellors by country in the top 200 list, closely followed by the UK. Nine of the UK’s 29 representatives on the list are led by women, an increase on seven from 28 last year.

The Netherlands, Italy, the UK, Switzerland and Australia outperform the global average in their share of female-led top universities, according to the analysis.

Finland, New Zealand and South Africa each have one university in the top 200, but all three are led by women. Proportionally, they are followed by Sweden and France, where two out of their five representatives (40%) are female-led.

Suzanne Fortier, principal and vice-chancellor of McGill University (the ninth-highest ranked institution led by a women) said: “The statistics released by Times Higher Education represent a tangible sign of progress – both in academia and in society more generally.

“These numbers reflect the important discussions that have taken root to raise awareness about the existence of gender discrimination and the lack of diversity in positions of leadership.

“Nevertheless, there is still much work to be done to ensure that the policies and social structures in place do not maintain or create artificial barriers that prevent women from filling more senior, decision-making positions.”

Ellie Bothwell, Rankings Editor at THE, said: “It is fantastic news that the number of female university leaders is continuing to rise and has reached a new milestone this year: one fifth of the world’s top universities are now led by a woman.

“However, the pace of change has to improve. Six years ago, 14% of top universities had a female leader, meaning there has been an average annual rise of just 1 percentage point. If this rate continues, it will take another 30 years for full parity.

“Universities do so much work to widen access to higher education but to have true equality in the sector more women need to be progressing into leadership roles.”

In 2019, it was reported that one in six universities globally has a female leader, and 54 nations do not have a single female vice-chancellor.

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