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fact sheet
26 October 2021


postdoc Academic careers
In this factsheet we discuss the function of postdocs and presents data on their numbers by field and their nationality.

In short

  • The number of postdocs employed by Dutch universities has grown from over 2,000 fte in 2005 to over 3,800 fte in 2020.
  • Approximarely 40% of al postdocs is female.
  • The proportion of non-Dutch postdocs employed in the Netherlands is 67%.
What is a postdoc?

The number of postdocs increases

There is clear growth in the number of fte postdocs in the Netherlands. The number of fte postdocs employed by Dutch universities was 2,146 in 2005. In 2020, this number has grown to 3,867 fte. Postdocs are found mostly in engineering and natural sciences. However, their numbers have also grown rapidly in law and in language and culture, as shown in the figure below.

More female postdocs and postdocs from non-Dutch nationalities

The proportion of female postdocs rose from 34% in 2005 to 40% in 2020. The proportion of female postdocs is highest in behavioural sciences (59%) and lowest in engineering (26%).

The proportion of non-Dutch postdocs employed in the Netherlands rose from 46% in 2007 to 67% in 2020. Many postdocs are part of a large international community of young researchers. The figure below shows the strong growth in the number of postdocs from the rest of Europe, and the increase in postdocs from the rest of the world.


What is the postdoc position for?

A postdoc is not an official position described in the university collective labour agreement. It falls into the category of ‘other academic staff’. Numbers have risen for a range of reasons. It is attractive for employers to take on postdocs to help out with the large amount of work to be done at a university (due to growing numbers of students/degrees and doctorates and an increase in research). A lot of the university’s income is not structural, but comes in the form of grants for a certain period or project. In such circumstances it is very tempting to take on temporary staff. On the other hand, a postdoc position allows talented researchers to be spotted. More and more people are obtaining a doctorate, and the supply of potential postdocs is large.

For a researcher recently awarded a doctorate, a postdoc position provides an opportunity to stay and perhaps to advance in academia. But the likelihood is small, and competition is fierce. While the number of postdocs has been rising, the number of permanent university lecturer positions has in fact fallen over the past few years. Anyone who does not manage to obtain a tenured position at a university will therefore be forced to try their luck elsewhere.



Photo: Bram Belloni/Hollandse Hoogte

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