Alison Richard became vice-chancellor of Cambridge University this month
Students at Oxford and Cambridge universities are campaigning to protect women-only colleges.
There are three colleges at Cambridge which are reserved for women and one at Oxford - and student unions in both universities have joined together to support the principle of women-only institutions.
The Campaign in Support of Women's Colleges has been launched in response to concerns that St Hilda's College in Oxford could change its women-only status.
The campaign, which has been collecting signatures in support of keeping all-women colleges, says that single-sex colleges provide an alternative that some women students prefer.
"Many women prefer a mixed environment, others feel more empowered in an all-female space. So that everyone can have the chance to choose the environment in which they'll flourish, it's essential to keep all-women colleges," said Oxford University Students' Union Women's Officer, Catherine Wallis.
Single-sex colleges could also focus more effectively on the particular needs of women students, say the campaigners.
Jo Read, Cambridge University Students' Union Women's Officer, said that the colleges had been an important way of ensuring that women had access to higher education.
"Women's colleges enabled women to start attending University in this country, and only their continued existence can ensure that all women can continue to attend the university of their choice," she said.
At Cambridge, the three remaining women's colleges are Newnham, New Hall and Lucy Cavendish. A previously all-female college, Girton, became mixed in 1977.