Despite High-Profile Resignations, The Number Of Women-Led Universities Is On The Rise

There has been a 4% increase in the number of female leaders of the world’s top 200 universities — despite two high-profile female leaders, Harvard’s Claudine Gay and University of Pennsylvania’s Elizabeth Magill, recently resigning — data gathered by Times Higher Education (THE) show.

Women are the heads of 50 out of the world’s top 200 universities — 25% for the first time ever — with two more female leaders in the job compared with last year. This is 22 more than in 2015 when THE first started collecting the data, representing a 79% increase over nine years.

While the United States is home to the highest number of female leaders, it has seen a decline from 16 to 15 in post, as of February 1. The U.S. has 56 universities in the top 200, making their share of leading universities run by women, 27%.

World University Rank 2024 University Country University leader
1 University of Oxford United Kingdom Irene Tracey
3 Massachusetts Institute of Technology United States Sally Kornbluth
5 University of Cambridge United Kingdom Deborah Prentice
9 University of California, Berkeley United States Carol Christ
17 Columbia University United States Minouche Shafik
20 Cornell University United States Martha Pollack
25 University of Washington United States Ana Mari Cauce
27 New York University United States Linda Mills
47 Universität Heidelberg Germany Frauke Melchior
50 Karolinska Institute Sweden Annika Östman Wernerson

Source: THE


There are five more leaders across Europe compared with last year. The UK now has nine leaders, up from eight last year, after Deborah Prentice took charge at the University of Cambridge in July 2023. More than a third (36%) of top UK universities are led by women.

Elsewhere in Europe:

  • The Netherlands has 11 universities in the top 200. It has six, up from five last year, females leading higher education institutions in the country — taking 55% of the top positions.
  • Germany has consistently had a strong cohort of female leaders and, this year, six of its 21 top universities have women at the helm (29%). Sweden has doubled its female leaders in the top 200, from one to two.
  • Italy has one female leader in the top 200, from Sapienza University of Rome. Finland, Ireland and New Zealand each have one university in the top 200 led by women.

This year’s figures show a year-on-year increase of female university leaders with 48 led by women last year, 43 in 2022, 41 in 2021, 39 in 2020 and 34 in 2019 and 2018. Despite this positive news, with 50 of the top 200 global institutions being led by women, it is way off parity. Of the 27 countries that feature universities in the top 200, 14 countries (52%) did not have any women leading their top institutions.


Claudine Gay — Harvard University’s second female and first black president — stepped down in January amid plagiarism accusations and criticism following her appearance before a congressional hearing on antisemitism. Professor Gay’s presidency lasted six months — the shortest in Harvard’s 388-year history.

Elizabeth Magill, who was president of University of Pennsylvania, was also at the hearing and resigned in December after appearing to evade the question of whether students who called for the genocide of Jews would be in breach of the university’s code of conduct. Professors Gay and Magill were both replaced by men.

“The resignations of two very distinguished female leaders from two prestigious Ivy League universities was a massive set-back and was only offset by the increase in the number of female leaders in Europe,” says Times Higher Education’s rankings editor Ellie Bothwell. “While progress has been made over the last nine years, which is encouraging, there is still a long way to go to get an equal number of male and female leaders.”

The data was drawn from THE’s World University Rankings 2024.

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