Belgium (French Community), Academic Career Structure

Belgium

 

Introduction

Competitiveness: universities in the Belgian French Community are relatively internationalized but have some features of the European Continental model, including the importance of informal procedures at different stages of the academic career.
Openness to non-nationals: universities in Wallonia are moderately accessible. Speaking French is an asset but a number of MA programmes offer courses in English. Having connections with academics in the system is very important for getting a position. Click here to know more.
Postdoc: for postdoctoral positions you are better off getting in touch with a Department directly. Pure research careers are also available
Entry positions: assistant professorship is a typical entry position for PhD holders. Click here for more information.
Career requirements/progress: to become a lecturer one has to pass a competition. A lecturer will not lose her/his position as long as minimum output standards are met. It is hard to predict when a lecturer will become professor as the requirements for this transition are flexible. Click here for more information.
Temporary/permanent positions: both lecturer and professor positions are permanent tenure positions.
Salaries: see the salaries section for related figures.
Gender: in 2009, about 23.5% of the academic staff of Wallonia were women (slightly increasing). Only 12% of ordinary professors were female. See the Stats at the Rector's Council .
Universities and research instititutions: click here to access links to the websites of universities and here for the websites of many Brussels-based research institutions.
Job postings: click here for a list of useful websites.

 

Higher Education in the Belgian French Community

The three communities in the Belgian federal system (Dutch, German and French) have obtained autonomy on a number of key issues, education being the most important.

Consequently, the structure of the educational systems differs in the three communities. In Wallonia and Brussels, there are seven universities with departments of social and political sciences, history and economics. As higher education is established on a binary scheme (university education and non-university education), there are also Hautes Écoles and Écoles supérieures offering both long and short cycle studies.

There is no formal training of higher education teaching staff. Teachers may need to have the Licence, the Master or the Doctorate depending on the position offered.

 

Career Curriculum

Non-tenured staff (personnel hors cadre) 

1. PhD Candidate - usually up to 3 years

2. Post-Doctorate

Tenured staff - research (personnel scientifique)

3. Assistant

4. Premier assistant

Tenured staff - academic (personnel académique)

5. Maître de conférences (MCF) - less common than in France, is roughly equivalent to a tenured Lecturer

6. Chargé de cours - equivalent to a tenured Lecturer

7. Professeur - equivalent to a tenured Associate Professor

8. Professeur Ordinaire - equivalent to a tenured Full Professor

 

All academic positions are advertised on the Moniteur Belge. Applications are usually submitted directly to the university of interest.

The application procedure at UC Louvain consists of 3 parts:

1) fill in an online application form;

2) send an application package via email, including: i) detailed CV; ii) a complete list of publications as well as the abstracts of teh 3 most relevant ones; iii) a research project of maximum 3,500 characters; iv) a pedagogical/teaching project of maximum 3,500 characters;

3)  require 3 internationally renowned referees to send in by email (PDF) and by post the references, which have to mention the position applied for. 

Entry positions are usually fixed-term, up to 3 years, which can be prolonged another 2 years maximum. The nomination act determines what kind of contractual conditions apply: part- or full-time, fixed-term or permanent, and the department/administrative unit of affiliation.

Upon obtaining a PhD, a researcher can continue his research as either a salaried employee or as a post-doctoral bursary. A post-doc has a couple of conditions/limitations: i) international mobility is required; ii) the PhD defence must have taken place at most 6 years before the application; iii) the post-doc lasts at most 36 months.

 

Research Career

1. PhD candidate

2. Chargé de recherches (CR) - equivalent to a Post-Doc (up to 4 years, also part-time)

3. Chercheur qualifié (CQ) - equivalent to a tenured Research Fellow

4. Maître de recherches (MR) - equivalent to a tenured Research Assistant or Associate 

5. Directeur de recherches (DR) - equivalent to a tenured Research Director

Maître and Directeur de recherches are considered to be the so-called 4th stage of a researcher's career (chercheur expérimenté). This may continue within the Fonds de la Recherche Scientifique (FRS-FNRS), i.e. the main Walloon institution offering to national, but also foreign researchers, job opportunities. However, in most cases researchers switch to academia, thereby freeing up permanent positions at FRS-FNRS.

Very exhaustive documents (in French) helping researchers to find their way when applying to a call are posted on the dedicated part of FRS-FNRS website  (including a guide for candidates , the manual to use SEMAPHORE  and the regulations regarding calls and acceptance of job offers and, finally, the guide on the evaluation of applications). Here, we provide a brief overview of the selection process, the requirements for each position (post-doc in particular) and the 2010 deadlines.

All applications can be done via the dedicated web portal MonFNRS , which contains the application SEMAPHORE to which the applicant has to register online.

FRS-FNRS provides a detailed schedule for all its job offerings. From 2010 onwards, FRS-FNRS will issue more than one yearly call. The current call for research positions opened on 11 January and will close (the dates vary by position) by mid-March at the latest. Results are expected to be published in late June. 

Before the evaluation process itself, a Comité d'accompagnement (14 members of which 12 Walloon academics and 2 external representatives of research institutions) indicates the composition of scientific commissions (Commissions scientifiques) and individual evaluators (évaluateurs individuels). The latter evaluate individual proposals. The 13 scientific commissions (5 for SSH) are set up accordint to the European Research Council's thematic guidelines.  Each commission has 15 members (9 non-Walloon).

The evaluation procedure at FRS-FNRS consists of 4 phases:

i) FRS-FNRS receives the application and veriefies eligibility;

ii) individual evaluators are being contacted, prepare inidvidual reports and send them (through rapporteurs) to the relevant scientific commissions;

iii) the scientific commissions prepare their own reports, which are then submitted to the FRS-FNRS board of directors;

iv) the board decides on financing of projects within budgetary limits and FRS-FNRS administration contacts the successful candidates.

For the prolongation of existing positions (e.g. the 4th year for a 3-year post-doc), the evaluation procedure is simplified.

The candidate has much voice in the selection of the scientific commission and can indicate up to 3 evaluators whom he deems not suitable.  

The call for researchers (appel 'chercheur') offers job openings for all 5 research positions above. To be eligible for various post-doctoral positions, the candidate has to submit a PhD-equivalent document issued by one of the Walloon universities. A general criterium for most FRS-FNRS calls is to be attached, directly or indirectly through a promoteur, to a Walloon or Belgian federal research institution after acceptance. The application has to be validated by both the candidate and the promoteur.

All applications can be submitted either in English or in French, however, the title(s) and abstracts have to be written in both languages. The language of choice also influences the selection of individual evaluators. Each application has 3 dimensions, regarding: i) the candidate, to assess one's eligibility and which has to contain a detailed CV; ii) the research proposals, consisting of 5 parts (objectives, state of the art, research project, workplan, bibliography) and has to be 4-pages long at most, plus 2 for tables and graphs; iii) the research environment, i.e. the intellectual, material and human resources at disposal to the candidate to carry out research, maximum 1 page. Within the application, the list of publications is of great importance and has to follow very specific guidelines.

As for the specific requirements for post-doctoral positions, Chargé de recherches (CR), the candidate must have defended his PhD before the closing date of the call, but not more than 5 years before that. After the candidate's validation, the application is validated by the promoteur and the rector. The proposition's 3 dimensions carry different weights: i) candidate (40%), in addition to the CV, the abstract of the PhD thesis and maximum 5 articles as well as the names of 2 referees have to be submitted; ii) research project (40%), including maximum 3 relevant publications and abstracts; iii) research environment (20%).

The procedure to become a tenured Research Fellow, i.e. a Chercheur qualifié (CQ), is similar. The candidate must have defended her PhD (Belgian or foreign and certified as equivalent) at most 10 years before the closing date of the call. Validation is similar. The proposition's content and weights are different: i) candidate I (40%), academic experience, maximum 5 articles, prizes and the names of 4 referees; ii) candidate II (25%), professional experience to evaluate research potential and international recognition; iii) reaserch project (25%), see above; iv) research environment (10%).

Becoming a Chercheur qualifié (CQ) is a necessary condition for advancement to Maître de recherches (MR) and Directeur de recherches (DR). Apart from the candidate's merit, there are seniority rules that apply. To become MR one has to have at least 8 years (4 with a diploma as d’Agrégé de l’Enseignement Supérieur) as tenured Research Associate and a further 4 years as MR to become a Directeur de recherches.

Additionally, FRS-FNRS introduced a new instrument - Ulysse  - aimed at Belgian and foreign researchers working outside of Belgium to pursue their careers in academic institutions of Wallonia. Ulysse offers fixed-term contracts of 2+1 years and a maximum credit of 200 thousand Euros. If after the project's completion, the university or FRS-FNRS decide to continue with the researcher's involvement, the institutions try to offer her a tenured position. 

Eligibility conditions include: not to have a contract with FRS-FNRS, to be working aborad for at least 5 years and not to have participated to Ulysse more than 2 times. The application process is less structured. The CV and relevant documents have to be uploaded via MonFNRS in PDF format and include the acceptance letter by the rector of the hosting Walloon university.

     

Barriers to Career Advancement

Gender is a thorny issue when pursuing an academic career in Wallonia. Whereas more than half of the teaching staff in high schools and secondary education institutions (hautes écoles) are women, this percentage drops to 23.5% in academia. Upward mobility of women in academia is particularly difficult. In fact, the percentage of women at lectureship level (full-time) is 31%, but at professorial (full) level is only 12%. 

More detailed statistics are available on the Rector's Council website.

 

Both the lecturer (Chargé de cours) and professor positions are permanent tenured positions. A lecturer does not lose her/his position as long as minimum output standards are met. However, it is hard to predict when a lecturer becomes a tenured professor as the requirements for this transition are not predetermined.

 

The main duties of an assistant professor are supporting a professor's research as well as publishing articles. In addition, the 'first assistant' teaches parts of the professor’s courses, presents paper at conferences, etc. A lecturer teaches several courses at the B.A. and M.A. levels. S/he also works with an assistant.

 

The 'congé de perfectionnement' or sabbatical leave is usually granted to tenured staff only. The scholar can leave for one academic year, for a semester or for a shorter period of time, provided that the beneficiary carries out new research, publishes or undergoes further training. Leaving for foreign institutions is encouraged. No less than 6 years can pass between 2 sabbatical leaves.

 

Gross Salaries

Salaries in academia follow seniority scales (from the time of the PhD defense) and salary brackets are fixed by decree. The number of years at work to get the end-of-career salary varies depending on the position: 24 years for a Lecturer, 18 for a Professor and 15 for a Full Professor. Gross monthly salary levels in Euro per month for tenured academic positions from June 2009 are available here:

Seniority 0612Max

Lecturer

4,249

4,857

5,464 

6,679

Professor 

4,976

5,851

6,725 

7,599

Full Professor

5,574

6,752 

 -

8,519

Source: Université Catholique de Louvain and for more details see also the dedicated tables provided by UC Louvain.

Even though gross salaries are comparatively high, one has to bear in mind that the tax wedge in Belgium is very high, ranging between 45% and 52%. 

Foreign academic staff has further advantages: i) an installation budget for research; ii) a resettlement allowance; iii) French courses to achieve academic proficiency.

 

Gross monthly salary levels in Euro per month for scientific positions from December 2008 are available here: 

Seniority0612Max
Chargé de recherches 3,605 3,972 4,378 5,055
Chercheur qualifié 3,710 4,190 4,671 5,471
Maître de recherches 3,771 4,268 4,765 6,090

Source: for more details see the dedicated tables provided by UC Louvain.

Regarding taxation, the same considerations as above apply. 

Finally, post-docs in academia do not receive a salary but rather a stipend (which is subject to scoail security contributions but not to taxes). The post-doc lasts at most 36 months, but there are small differences in seniority, i.e. time elapsed since the PhD defense. Additionally, candidates from third countries (EEA and those with which Belgium does not have a bilateral agreement) get a lower stipend.

Gross monthly stipend levels in Euro per month for scientific positions for 2010 are available here: 

Seniority0246
Post-doc home 2,359 2,431 2,462 2,524
Post-doc 3rd countries 2,151 2,217 2,246 2,302

Source: for more details see the dedicated table provided by UC Louvain.

 

Number of Existing Positions

Measured in Équivalent temps plein (ETP) for February 2009.

   All Disciplines

PhD students and Post-docs

2,027

Teaching staff

1,955 

Research staff (tenured)

   489

Research staff (non-tenured)

1,530

Source: Conseil Interuniversitaire de la Communauté Française, Statistiques 2009 . For further details and 2009 data, see the Rector's Council website .

 

Internal Recruitment

As the Chargé de cours is often the first entry position in Walloon academia (one can also apply directly to professorship if she had worked elsewhere), career advancement is usually for internal staff only.

To become a Professor one has to have worked as Chargé de cours for at least 8 years and has to be positively evaluated by an internal ad hoc commission. To become a Full Professor, one has to pass a yearly competition, which is evaluated by an internal commission. The best candidates are then ranked and put on a list, which has to respect a legally binding quota.

 

Accessibility for Non-Nationals

Figures on access by foreigners to the universities in the French-speaking part of Belgium are relatively high. According to the Rector’s Council, around 18% of both academic research or teaching staff working in the Belgian French Community in 2007 were foreigners.

Yet, there are at least two major barriers to entry in the system. One is the knowledge of French, which is definitely an asset to obtain a position in Wallonia. In fact, even most job offers are only published in French. Yet, things are now changing, especially since an increasing number of M.A. programmes offer courses also in English.

The other entry barrier is not having connections with academics in the system, which penalizes those who do not live in Wallonia. Such contacts can be crucial to get a job. A foreign researcher may obtain a position (especially at junior level) because a Department is interested in her/his work, even if there is no formal job opening for that position.

 

Research Institutions

The main research institution in Wallonia is the:

which offers Belgian and foreign researchers a structured career path from doctoral studies up to Directeur de recherches.

Additionally, due to the presence of the EU in Brussels, there are a large number of think-tanks, private research centres and consultancies in the city and elsewhere which normally recruit Ph.D. holders including foreign-born researchers. See the list below and the last link for centres and information.

Useful Websites

Info for History

Please contact us if you can provide relevant information.

 

Info for Economics

Info for Law

Please contact us  if you can provide relevant information.

 

Info for Social and Political Science

Postdoctoral Information

Post-doctoral researchers can apply in Belgium for either salaried temporary employment in academia or for a post-doctoral scholarship. The latter has 3 conditions attached: i) the researcher has to be internationally mobile; ii) applications have to be submitted at most 6 years after the PhD defense; iii) the scholarship lasts at most 3 years.

The position enables junior researchers to gain the main skills and responsibilities in order to become a senior researcher. Positions are not easy to find however. Young researchers are sometimes advised to make direct contact with a department where they would like to work. For more information see the Espace docteurs.

 

Websites for Job Postings

Sources

Please contact us if you can provide relevant information.

 

Special thanks to:

Ms Claire Brumagne, UC Louvain

Mr Van de Venne, Conseil des Recteurs

Mr Lalout, Conseil Interuniversitaire

Mr Michele Fontaine, UC Louvain

 

Page last updated on 28 August 2018

Back to top