Women in university leadership – some progress but more to do

07 March 2022

International Women’s Day provides an opportunity to reflect on the gender disparities in university leadership. This article, presenting the latest data and trends in female leadership in EUA member universities in 48 countries*, is part of EUA’s contribution to this important debate.

More women becoming rectors

The proportion of female rectors has increased by 73% over the past eight years according to EUA data. But despite this significant gain, women are still strongly outnumbered by men as university leaders, accounting for less than a fifth in all EUA member universities in 2022.

2022 IWD Evolution of female rectors final

Nevertheless the situation varies across the continent. In some countries more than 30% of rectors are women, but in others there are currently no female rectors at all among EUA members, although the number of countries where this is the case has been decreasing year on year.

2022 IWD female rector map final

A steady increase in female vice-rectors

Similarly, there is a trend for more women being appointed as vice-rectors, with the proportion increasing by 24% between 2014 and 2022 according to EUA data. However, they still only represent less than a third of the total in all EUA member universities.

2022 IWD Evolution of female vice rectors final

Again, this situation varies across countries. Whereas female vice-rectors are either the majority or have reached parity in ten countries, in others there are none. However, as with female rectors, the number of countries with no women as vice-rectors has steadily decreased in recent years.

2022 IWD female vice rector map final

More gender equality in senior management

When it comes to the numbers of women in senior management, the picture is more balanced. EUA data shows that women currently hold nearly 60% of such positions, however the proportion varies according to the types of department – while women account for 45% of heads of research, they represent over 65% of heads of international offices.

2022 IWD Evolution of females in high level university management positions

Barriers to gender equality

The EUA data reveals that the proportion of women in university leadership positions differs by role. As women move up the career ladder, they become progressively outnumbered by men. The two main bottlenecks for women seem to be achieving full professorship – which in many countries is seen as a prerequisite for top-level positions such as rectors or vice-rectors – and institutional mindsets that resist change.

Despite the progress of the past eight years, it is clear that there is still plenty to be done at the institutional, national and European levels if women are to take their place as equals in the ranks of university leadership.

* The data refers solely to the EUA member universities and is not based on all categories of EUA members.

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