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fact sheet
07 December 2020

Academic careers of researchers

This factsheet describes some characteristics of the academic career: the job classification, men and women in science and internationalization.

In het kort:

  • Nederland telt 3.000 hoogleraren, 2.400 universitair hoofddocenten, 5.400 universitair docenten en 8.800 promovendi.
  • Vrouwen zijn in de minderheid maar het aandeel vrouwen in de wetenschap neemt langzaam toe.
  • Er zijn steeds meer buitenlandse onderzoekers in Nederland.

The first step in an academic career is a doctorate title. After that, it takes an average of 19 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 doctorale candidates working on their dissertation who then move on to the category of ‘other academic staff’ (researchers – including postdocs – and lecturers). Above them are university lecturers and senior university lecturers, who have almost reached the top of the ladder. Professors occupy the top rung of the academic career ladder.

In 2019 the Dutch universities affiliated to the Association of Universities in the Netherlands (VSNU) had 3002 FTE (11.1%) in professorships, 2377 FTE (8.8%) in associate senior university lecturers positions and 5376 FTE (19.9%) in university lecturers positions. Other academic staff (mainly postdocs) accounted for 7518 FTE (27.8%) and doctorate candidates for 8731 FTE (32.3%).

The path from doctorate to professorship generally takes an average of 19 years to complete. Researchers are aged 29.5 on average when they complete their doctorate, and 37 when they become university lecturers. The average age of a new senior university lecturer is 42 and new professors are an average 49 years of age.

Academic 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 VSNU publishes an annual report on university staff (known as WOPI), with figures for 31 December of the year in question. The report excludes medical staff. The WOPI shows that the number of academic staff increased from 19 610 FTE in 2005 to 27 005 FTE in 2019; the number of support and administrative staff increased from 16 419 FTE to 19 611 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 senior university lecturers positions, 80% of which are filled by academics already on the university career path. In the case of university lecturers and professors, 40% of all new appointees are not from within the university system. Almost 10% of professorships change incumbent each year, 12% of senior university lecturer positions change hands, and 15% of university lecturer 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 senior university lecturers leaving their post do so because of a promotion to professor, 32% leave the university and the rest retire. Among university lecturers, a higher proportion leave (47%) than are promoted to the post of senior university lecturer 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 (university lecturers, senior university lecturers or professor).

Men and women in academia

Women are underrepresented in academic jobs: the more senior the position, the smaller the proportion of women (see figure below). In 2019 female professors at the Dutch universities (affiliated to the VSNU) totalled 732 FTE, female senior university lecturers 696 FTE, female university lecturers 2253 FTE, other academic staff 3248 FTE and female doctorate candidates 3807 FTE.

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 academic study 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).

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