There has been a slow, steady decline in the percentage of female higher education CIOs in the US, but that trend could reverse itself in the next decade, according to research from the Center for Higher Education CIO Studies (CHECS).

Currently, 21% of university CIOs are women, down from 26% in 2008. But among CIOs, more men than women are planning to retire in the next 10 years, opening the door for more women.

That's one finding of the centre's wide-ranging survey of 360 CIOs in higher education. Wayne Brown, founder of CHECS, says many factors may have kept women from becoming CIOs, including the fact that they are less likely than men to have a computer-science degree. The study reports that 51% of university management teams say CIOs should have had a technology major.

Management teams also prefer CIOs with advanced degrees, the study says, adding that there's a correlation between the level of the CIO's degree and who they report to. Some 44% of university CIOs with doctorates report to the CEO, compared to 30% of CIOs with master's degrees and 26% of those with bachelor's degrees.

Brown, a former CIO, says it's crucial for the CIO to have a seat at the management table and, at present, only 32% of university CIOs report to the CEO, which is an all-time low in the 10-year-old study. "If you report to the CFO, you may never have contact with the other vice presidents," he says. "CIOs make huge, expensive decisions all the time, and they could be doing it in a vacuum."

The lack of CIOs at the management table could be a result of management teams that still don't view CIOs as true leaders, Brown says. Management teams ranked leadership as the third-most-important skill CIOs should have, behind communication and technical knowledge.