Male vs female university leaders: the hard facts on International Women’s Day

06 March 2020

International Women’s Day, celebrated on 8 March, is a moment to recognise the great achievements that women have made in history, as well as reflect on what still holds them back. Every year, EUA takes the occasion to present the latest data on female leadership among its 800-plus member universities. As the figures show, there is some improvement, but women continue to be underrepresented.

The present situation of female university rectors*

In 2020, 15% of rectors in EUA member universities in 48 countries are female, compared to 85% being male. The situation varies across countries as the proportion of female rectors is above the average in 19 countries, and below in eight countries. Notably, 20 countries currently do not have any female rectors. 


On a positive note, there is a tendency for more women to become rectors. Looking back at past data, the proportion of female rectors has steadily increased between 2014 and 2020 by 38%.

The present situation of female university vice-rectors*
Similarly, female vice-rectors are outnumbered by male vice-rectors. Again, looking at EUA member data, the latest figures show that, on average, nearly 30% of all vice-rector positions are held by women. In some countries female vice-rectors constitute a majority (Iceland, Latvia, Denmark, Norway, Finland), while other countries have gender parity (Croatia, North Macedonia, Moldova, Cyprus). 

IWD 2020 Female vice rector map

The tendency for female vice-rectors over the years demonstrates progress. According to EUA data collected between 2014 and 2020, the proportion of female vice-rectors has increased by 17%.

The present situation of females in high-level university management positions*
The figures on females holding high-level management positions at universities - such as heads of research - are more uplifting. Almost 60% of all positions is occupied by women, however with variabilities between the types of departments.

 IWD 2020 Evolution of females in high level university management positions






Overcoming gender imbalance in university leadership

The EUA data shows that as women move up the academic leadership ladder, they are considerably more underrepresented. The bottlenecks for female leaders seem to be the achievement of full professorship, which is considered as a prerequisite for top-level positions, such as rectors or vice-rectors. The challenge is also rooted in institutional mindsets that resist change.


* The data refer solely to the EUA membership. The data on vice-rectors and high-level management positions are not based on all EUA members.

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