7.5.4Summary and discussion

In this chapter we zoom in on the details of the professorial career trajectory in Flanders. More specifically we examine how the careers of starting assistant professors within the Flemish university system evolve. For this research we looked at those who began their assistant professorship at one of the Flemish universities between 1999-2000 and 2016-2017 (N=+/-3,400).

On average, the number of starting assistant professors in the period between 2007 and 2016 was higher than in the preceding period of 1999-2006 (respectively 214/year versus 153/year). In 1999-2000 the share of women and non-Belgians among these starting assistant professors was low (24% and 8% respectively); a steady rise over time finally led to 41% women and 23% non-Belgians among the starters in 2016-2017.

Not all starting assistant professors continued their academic career in Flanders: seven years after starting, an average of 15% were no longer employed as professors in Flanders. The proportion of assistant professors who stopped their professor's career in Flanders was higher among non-Belgian assistant professors compared to their Belgian peers and lower in the medical and natural sciences compared to the other scientific clusters. The database contains no information on what has happened to the leavers; a part of them will have continued their academic careers outside Flanders, a part will have quit the academic career track, and of course some will no longer be part of the database because they are deceased.

The largest part of assistant professors who advanced to a next career step did so within seven to eight years after starting. The promotion to (senior) full professor occurred faster in the older cohorts, but in the end all cohorts presented a more or less equal share of assistant professors who had been promoted to (senior) full professor: somewhat less than one in three of the assistant professors still present had moved on to (senior) full professor nine years after starting. At that moment, an average of 18% was still employed as an assistant professor and 50% as an associate professor.

As known, there was an increase in the share of women among starting assistant professors1. Among the assistant professors who began in 2016-2017, 41% were women. There was no difference between men and women in terms of the age at which they were appointed as assistant professors. The analysis shows, however, that both in the 1999-2002 and the 2005-2008 cohort, women advanced less rapidly to a next career step. ECOOM-brief no 15 has already shown that the proportion of women has gradually been increasing at all levels of the professorial trajectory1, but the current results based on the cohort starters from 1999-2002 and 2005-2008 do not show that this is related to an increasing speed of promotion among women compared to men.

The share of non-Belgians among starting assistant professors has steadily increased from almost non-existent to 23% in 2016-2017. Due to the low influx of non-Belgians at this level and the high share of leavers among non-Belgian assistant professors only a small number is eventually appointed as professor within Flanders. Their share in the total population of professors in Flanders may be compensated by non-Belgian professors who start as associate professors or higher, but this number falls outside the scope of the current analysis. The career progression of the remaining non-Belgian assistant professors does not differ from that of their Belgian peers.

The professorial career trajectory differed by the scientific clusters. In the medical sciences we observe the largest share of assistant professors who have not advanced to a further career step. This is partly due to the combination with clinical practice. Also striking are the findings in the applied and in particular in the natural sciences; in addition to a low share of leavers, we observe a faster promotion to a next step in the professorial career. Although previous results have shown that in the natural and the applied sciences it is more difficult to promote to professor at one of the Flemish universities after doctoral and/or postdoctoral research, and that on average it takes longer to do so compared to the other scientific clusters2, the professorial trajectory in these clusters seems more stable and faster once it has started.

This is the first time a mapping of the career trajectory of assistant professors in Flanders is made. The figures allow to gain insight into this trajectory and to identify and monitor trends. These 3,400 incoming assistant professors are, of course, only a part of the entire pool of professors. For example, the approximately 1,300 persons who were employed as associate professors or (senior) full professors during the same period are not taken into account. However, the current chapter aims to report on the rather traditional academic career trajectory. In the future, the other group will also be subject to analysis, as this can provide important information about the influx from outside Flanders.

In the current chapter no distinction is made based on the appointment percentage of starting assistant professors. The main reason being that the intention was to capture all starting assistant professors. Moreover, given the discipline-dependent characteristics - for example, more part-time appointments in medical sciences - it is not easy to use a clear cut-off point that ensures that all disciplines are treated equally. This chapter serves rather as a basis and a starting point for further more detailed analysis whereby, if necessary, the appointment percentage of the starting assistant professors can be taken into account. Finally, it is worth mentioning that the policy on professorial careers may differ from university to university and that changes have taken place over time. Although interuniversity differences in Flanders in this respect are expected to be small, it might be worthwhile to explore this further on.

  1. Debacker, N., Vandevelde, K. (2018) The share of women among professorial staff in Flanders (Belgium). ECOOM Brief 15: https://biblio.ugent.be/publication/8613159/file/8613163.pdf.
  2. HRRF Basisindicatoren senior researchers update 2016-2017 (2019). ECOOM: https://www.ecoom.be/nodes/hrrfbasisindicatorenenkerncijfers/nl.