Breaking Glass Ceiling: 60 Best Global Universities Led by Women
Higher Education News
Mar 22, 2023
History shows that women have made an outstanding contribution to society, reaching heights of success in various fields, from making incredible key inventions to becoming state leaders.
Many have also played a crucial role in the higher education revolution, standing at the top of universities globally.
The Al Quaraouiyine University in Morocco, the world's second-oldest university was established in 859 by Fatima al-Fihri, who is believed to have founded the institution with the money inherited from her father to build the Al-Qarawiyyin Mosque.
Erudera has compiled a list of 60 women who currently lead some of the world’s best universities listed by several different rankings.
1. Sally Kornbluth, President of Massachusetts Institute of Technology (United States)
Sally Kornbluth assumed the position of the 18th president of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology on January 1, 2023. She is a renowned cell biologist with a proven track record of success as the provost of Duke University, where she served for eight years and was the first woman to be appointed provost at Duke.
Kornbluth earned her bachelor’s degree in political science from Williams College in 1982 and another BA in genetics from Cambridge University in 1984 as a scholarship holder. In 1989, she obtained her Ph.D. in molecular oncology from Rockefeller University and afterward completed postdoctoral training at the University of California, San Diego.
Sally Kornbluth is named as MIT’s 18th president: As Duke University’s provost since 2014, she has advocated for faculty excellence and reinforced the institution’s commitment to the student experience. https://t.co/rqOAiaRD5z pic.twitter.com/zss9qFHyGG— Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) (@MIT) October 20, 2022
Kornbluth was also appointed the Vice Dean for basic science at the Duke School of Medicine in 2006, her first senior administrative role. She served in this position until she was named Duke’s provost in 2014.
2. Irene Tracey, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford (United Kingdom)
Irene Tracey is a Professor of Anaesthetic Neuroscience in the Nuffield Department of Clinical Neurosciences who assumed her duties as the Vice-Chancellor of the University of Oxford in January 2023.
Image source: Oxford website
She completed her undergraduate and graduate studies in Biochemistry at Oxford and then held a postdoctoral position at Harvard Medical School.
Irene joined Oxford again in 1997, becoming a founding member of the Oxford Centre for Functional Magnetic Resonance Imaging of the Brain, today the leading Wellcome Centre for Integrative Neuroimaging.
We’re delighted to announce that Prof Irene Tracey has been nominated as Oxford’s next Vice-Chancellor.— University of Oxford (@UniofOxford) May 9, 2022
Prof Tracey is currently Warden of @MertonCollege and is a renowned neuroscientist known for her work on pain and the brain.
Read more ⬇️
Among other roles, Irene was also a member of many national and international committees. She is also the Head of the Federation of European Neuroscience Societies (FENS).
3. Ana Mari Cauce, President of the University of Washington Seattle (United States)
Ana Mari Cauce is a psychologist who was named the University of Washington president in October 2015.
image source: University of Washington website
She is the 33rd president of UW, and her leadership prioritizes activities focused on innovation, race, equity, and well-being. Ana Mari Cauce has also been a member of the university since 1986.
4. Elizabeth Magill, President of the University of Pennsylvania (United States)
Elizabeth “Liz” Magill joined the University of Pennsylvania on July 1, last year, becoming the ninth president of Penn.
Magill obtained her bachelor’s degree in history at Yale University in 1988. After this year, she worked for four years as a senior legislative assistant for energy and natural resources for US Senator Kent Conrad.
Image source: University of Pennsylvania website
Magill also attended UVA’s School of Law, where she worked as articles development editor of the Virginia Law Review and graduated in 1995.
Previously, she served as the Richard E. Lang Professor and Dean of the Stanford Law School and then as the Executive Vice President and Provost at the University of Virginia.
The three last presidents of the University of Pennsylvania were women:
- Amy Gutmann President (2004 - 2022)
- Judith Rodin President (1994-2004)
- Claire Muriel Mintzer Fagin (1993-1994)
5. Martha E. Pollack, President of Cornell University (United States)
Martha E. Pollack was elected Cornell University president on April 17, 2017, becoming the second woman to lead Cornell, after Elizabeth Garrett, who died in March 2016.
President Pollack earned her BA in linguistics at Dartmouth College and her master’s and PhD in computer and information science from the University of Pennsylvania.
Image source: Cornell University website
Before she was appointed president of Cornell, she served as provost and executive vice president for academic affairs at the University of Michigan, where she also taught computer science and information.
Pollack is the 14th president of Cornell University.
6. Jane Hansen, Chancellor of the University of Melbourne (Australia)
Jane Hansen assumed the role of the 23rd Chancellor of the University of Melbourne at the beginning of January 2023.
“I view it is a privilege and a responsibility to be appointed as the next Chancellor of the University of Melbourne. I look forward to continuing to work with my colleagues on the Council to progress further the important work currently under way across the institution, where students are at the heart of everything we do.”
Image source: Peter Casemento | University of Melbourne
She was initially a member of the University of Melbourne Council, and then she was elected Deputy Chancellor, which she held from January 1, 2018, to December 31, 2022.
Hansen earned a Bachelor of Economics from Monash University and a Bachelor of Arts in history from the University of Melbourne. Meanwhile, she obtained her master’s degree in Finance and Business Administration from Columbia University, New York.
7. Carol Christ, Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley (United States)
Previously President of Smith College and professor and administrator at UC Berkeley for more than three decades, Carol Christ is the 11th Chancellor of the University of California, Berkeley. She took office in July 2017.
“I arrived at Berkeley in 1970 as a freshly minted PhD who had never been west of Philadelphia, and this institution transformed me – just as it continues to transform so many of those who study here, work here, visit, and otherwise come into contact with our campus.”
Image source: University of California, Berkeley website
Christ received her bachelor’s degree in 1966 from Douglass College, while her M.Ph in 1969, and PhD in 1970 from Yale University.
8. Deborah Buszard, Interim President & Vice-Chancellor of the University of British Columbia (Canada)
The University of British Columbia appointed Deborah Buszard as Interim President and Vice-Chancellor in October 2022.
Her background is in plant science with a particular focus on fruit crops, and her interests are also in global agriculture, food innovation, sustainability, and organizational and system transformation.
Image source: Deborah Buszard Twitter account
Previously, Buszard served as the Deputy Vice-Chancellor and Principal of the UBC Okanagan campus between 2012 to 2020.
“I am delighted to have the opportunity to once again be part of the larger UBC community of students, faculty and staff,” she said upon her selection as Interim president.
9. Deborah Terr, Vice-Chancellor & President of the University of Queensland (Australia)
Deborah Terr has served as the Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Queensland (UQ) since August 2020. Before being named chancellor, she worked as Vice-Chancellor of Curtin University in Western Australia for six years, specifically from 2014 to 2020.
Image source: UQ News Twitter
She has a PhD in Social Psychology from the Australian National University in Canberra. Currently, she is a member of the Boards of the Australia and New Zealand School of Government, AARNET, Westpac Scholars, and Universitas 21 Executive Committee.
10. Margaret Gardner, President and Vice-Chancellor of Monash University (Australia)
Margaret Gardner assumed the role of President and Vice-Chancellor of Monash University on September 1, 2014.
She has a first-class honors degree in Economics and a PhD from the University of Sydney. In 1988, she was awarded a Fulbright Postdoctoral Fellowship and pursued studies at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, Cornell University, and the University of California, Berkeley.
Image source: Margaret Gardner's official Twitter account
Gardner is currently a Director of Infrastructure Victoria, the Australia and New Zealand School of Government (ANZSOG), and Chair of CASE Asia-Pacific Regional Council. Additionally, she remains a Director of the Group of Eight Universities in Australia from 2020 to 2023.
Before joining Monash, she served as the Vice-Chancellor and President of RMIT from April 2005 to August 2014.
11. Geert ten Dam, President of the University of Amsterdam (Netherlands)
Geert ten Dam is a Dutch scientist who serves as the president of the Executive Board of the University of Amsterdam.
Alongside this role, she has worked as a full professor of Education at the same university since 1999.
Image source: UvA Amsterdam Twitter account
Ten Dam also served as the president of the Education Council of the Netherlands from 2011 to 2014, and before that, she was the rector of the university teacher training programs and chair of the department of Child Development, Education, and Teacher Training.
12. Nathalie Drach-Temam, President of Sorbonne University (France)
Nathalie Drach-Temam was elected the president of Sorbonne University on December 14, 2021.
She is a mathematician who has also worked as a professor of computer science since 2004, starting at UPMC and continuing at Sorbonne University following the institution’s merger.
© Laurent Ardhuin
Drach-Temam was also Vice President of Research, Innovation, and Open Science at Sorbonne University. She was in this role from 2018 to 2021.
13. Christine Clerici, President of Université Paris Cité (France)
Christine Clerici has been leading the Université Paris Cité since 2019 when members of the Board of Directors elected her as the university chair.
In 2020, she was appointed President of Udice, an association that brings together the ten most important research-intensive French universities.
©Université de Paris
Currently, she is a member of the Ethics College of the Ministry of Higher Education, Research and Innovation and a member of the Inserm Transfer Supervisory Board,
14. Joan Gabel, President of the University of Minnesota Twin Cities (United States)
Joan Gabel is the 17th president of the University of Minnesota. Prior to joining the institution, Gabel served as the Executive Vice President and Provost at the University of South Carolina (UofSC).
image source: University of Minnesota website
She was also Dean of the University of Missouri’s Robert J. Trulaske, Sr. College of Business, where she launched innovative and entrepreneurship programs.
15. Julia von Blumenthal, President of Humboldt University of Berlin (Germany)
Julia von Blumenthal assumed the presidency of Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin on October 1, 2022. Her academic background includes studies in Political Sciences, Law, and Slavonic Studies (Russian Studies) from 1989 to 1996 in Heidelberg and Hamburg.
She obtained her PhD in 2001 and Habilitation in Political Sciences from the University of the Federal Armed Forces Hamburg (now the Helmut Schmidt University) in 2007.
Photo: Philipp Plum | HU
Julia von Blumenthal has also worked as a Professor of German Politics at the Department of Social Sciences of the Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin since 2009.
Previously, she served as Dean of Studies and then as Dean of the Faculty of Arts III, while in 2014, she became the Founding Dean of the Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences.
Congratulations to Prof. Dr. Julia von Blumenthal on her election as new President @HumboldtUni! 👏 #EUAmember— EUA (@euatweets) February 16, 2022
Other women leading universities in 2023 are:
16. Nancy Rothwell, President & Vice-Chancellor of the University of Manchester (United Kingdom)
17. Annetje Ottow, Leiden University (The Netherlands)
18. Carol Folt, President of the University of Southern California (United States)
19. Mirjam van Praag, President of Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam (The Netherlands)
20. Neeli Bendapudi, President of Pennsylvania State University (United States)
21. Sjoukje Heimovaara, President of Wageningen University & Research (The Netherlands)
22. Evelyn Welch, Vice-Chancellor & President of the University of Bristol (United Kingdom)
23. Nancy Ip, President of Hong Kong University of Science and Technology (China)
24. Sari Lindblom, Rector of the University of Helsinki (Finland)
25. Cynthia K. Larive, Chancellor of the University of California at Santa Cruz (United States)
26. Daniela Mapelli, Rector of University of Padua (Italy)
27. Teresa K. Woodruff, Interim President of Michigan State University (United States)
28. Dawn Freshwater, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Auckland (New Zealand)
29. Antonella Polimeni, Rector of Sapienza University Rome (Italy)
30. Astrid Söderbergh Widding, President of Stockholm University (Sweden)
31. Precious Moloi-Motsepe, President of the University of Cape Town (South Africa)
32. Christina Paxson, President of Brown University (United States)
33. Simone Buitendijk, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Leeds (UK)
34. Shearer West, President of the University of Nottingham (UK)
35. Eva Wiberg, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Gothenburg (Sweden)
36. Andrea Schenker-Wicki, President of the University of Basel (Switzerland)
37. Pamela Whitten, President of Indiana University Bloomington (United States)
38. Katherine Banks, President of Texas A&M University (United States)
39. Harlene Hayne, Vice-Chancellor of Curtin University (Australia)
40. Sarah C. Mangelsdorf, President of the University of Rochester (United States)
41. Sasha Roseneil, Vice-Chancellor and President of the University of Sussex (UK)
42. Jens-Peter Schneider, President of the University of Freiburg (Germany)
43. Barbara J. Wilson, President of the University of Iowa (United States)
44. Karla Pollmann, President of Eberhard Karls University of Tubingen (Germany)
45. Rianne Letschert, President of Maastricht University (The Netherlands)
46. Margareth Hagen, President of the University of Bergen (Norway)
47. Kathleen Plinske, President of Valencia College (United States)
48. Linda Doyle Provost, Provost of Trinity College Dublin (Ireland)
49. Milena Králíčková, Rector of Charles University Prague (Czech Republic)
50. Huang Ru, President of Southeast University
51. Nemat “Minouche” Shafik, President of the London School of Economics & Political Science (United Kingdom)
52. Amy Parsons, President of Colorado State University (United States)
53. Karen O’Brien, Vice-Chancellor of Durham University (UK)
54. Geraldine Rauch, President of the Technical University of Berlin (Germany)
55. Eva Inés Obergfell, President of Leipzig University (Germany)
56. Carine Bernault, President of Nantes Universite (France)
57. Mari Walls, President of Tampere University (Finland)
58. Sabine Seidler, President of Technische Universität Wien (Austria)
59. Phumzile Mhlambo-Ngcuka, University of Johannesburg Chancellor (South Africa)
60. Pamela Whitten, President of Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis (United States)
Four Other Women Set to Lead Famous Universities in the Upcoming Months
The 17th president of New York University will also be a woman, the NYU board of trustees has decided. Linda G. Mills, who for more than a decade served as NYU’s Vice Chancellor and Senior Vice Provost for Global Programs and University Life, will become the first woman to lead the university, starting from July 1, 2023.
A number of NYUers shared their thoughts about the appointment of President-Designate Linda G. Mills: pic.twitter.com/y9ihQmqOnX— New York University (@nyuniversity) February 16, 2023
A woman is expected to lead one of the most prestigious universities in the world, too, Harvard University. Harvard elected Claudine Gay as its 30th president, who will take up the position in July of this year. Claudine is also the first woman of color to lead Harvard.
For the next ten years, University College Dublin will also be led by a woman - Marie O’Connor, who will be the first female president in the university’s 169-year history. She will assume office on May 1, 2023.
Likewise, Saint Joseph’s University’s Board of Trustees has elected a female president for the first time in its more than 170-year history. Cheryl A. McConnell, PhD, will be the 29th president of Saint Joseph’s University
>> “Another Glass Ceiling Has Been Shattered” - Ireland’s Oldest University Elects First Female President In Its 429-Year History
>> Ellen Granberg, First Woman to Lead George Washington University
>> Hillary Clinton to Teach Global Politics at Columbia University Starting February
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