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Academic careers of researchers

fact sheet
28 October 2021
Academic careers research
In this factsheet we describe some characteristics of the academic career: the job classification, men and women in science and internationalization.

In short

  • The Netherlands counts 3,000 professors, 2,500 senior university lecturers, 5,800 university lecturers and 9,400 doctorate candidates
  • Women are in the minority, but the share of women in science is rising slowly.
  • The share of foreign researchers in the Netherlands is growing.

The first step in an academic career is a doctorate title. After that, it takes an average of nineteen years to become a professor. (Source: Factsheet Women in academia).

Academic job structure

The academic job structure is hierarchical. At the base are two large groups of young staff, starting with doctorate candidates working on their dissertation who then move on to the categories of researchers (including postdocs) and teachers. Above them are assistant professors and associate professors, who have almost reached the top of the ladder. Professors occupy the top rung of the academic career ladder.

Data below includes the number of scientific personnel per category in 2020:

  • 9.431 FTE PhDs (33% of the total scientific staff)
  • 5.767 FTE assistant professors (20%)
  • 4.346 FTE researchers (15%)
  • 3.496 FTE teachers (12%)
  • 3.008 FTE professors (10%)
  • 2.549 FTE associate professors (9%)
  • 347 FTE other scientific staff (1%)

The figure below show the number of scientific personnel per category from 2005 onwards.

The path from doctorate to professorship generally takes an average of nineteen years to complete. Researchers are aged 29.5 on average when they complete their doctorate, and 37 when they become assistant professors. The average age of a new associate professor is 42 and new professors are an average 49 years of age.

Scientific staff and support and administrative staff

Dutch universities categorise their staff into two main groups: academic staff and support and administrative staff. The latter group is wide-ranging, and includes members of the Executive Board, other administrators, laboratory assistants and secretarial staff. Academic staff are responsible for teaching, research and valorisation.

The figure below shows that the number of scientific staff increased from 19,610 FTE in 2005 to 28,943 FTE in 2020; the number of support and administrative staff increased from 16,419 FTE to 20,494 FTE.

Dynamics of the academic job market

The job market for academic staff is highly dynamic, with staff regularly moving to more senior positions, or to a similar position at another university (reference date 31 december 2011). They also move in and out of positions in academia and other sectors. This applies less to associate professor positions, 80% of which are filled by academics already on the university career path. In the case of assistant professors and professors, 40% of all new appointees are not from within the university system. Almost 10% of professorships change incumbent each year, 12% of associate professors positions change hands, and 15% of assistant professor posts.

The same dynamism is seen in staff leaving academia. A third of professors who leave their post do so because they have reached retirement age, while two-thirds take a job outside the Dutch academic world. 43% of associate professors leaving their post do so because of a promotion to professor, 32% leave the university and the rest retire. Among assistant professors, a higher proportion leave (47%) than are promoted to the post of associate professor or professor within the same university (37%).

There is even more dynamism among other academic staff (including postdocs). More than one in four leave each year, with only a relatively small proportion (18%) moving on to a more senior position in the university (assistant professor, associate professor or professor).

Less women in academia

Women are underrepresented in academic jobs: the more senior the position, the smaller the proportion of women. The share of female scientific staff in 2020 can be found below:

  • 44% female PhDs
  • 52% female teachers
  • 38% female researchers
  • 41% female other scientific staff
  • 44% female assistant professors 
  • 31% female associate professors
  • 26% female professors

The figure below shows the number of female per category from 2005 onwards.

The total share of women has increased in recent years, but the differences between the job categories remain stark. In the case of doctorate candidates the proportion of female staff slowly decreases from 2012. 


Science and academics are becoming more and more international. This is reflected in the nationality of academics at Dutch universities. As many as half of doctorate candidates come from abroad. The proportion of non-Dutch academics gradually rises every year in all positions (see figure below).