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Academic Career Structure




Competitiveness: Spain's academic structure is centrally regulated but its funding and management are decentralized at the regional level. In general it is characterised by little competition in line with the traditional European Continental model but there are a few nodes of excellence which have become highly competitive by having established their own rules to foster high quality research and teaching.

Openness to non-nationals: Bureaucratic formalities, the use of Spanish as the main teaching and research language and the strong link between university faculty and territory (especially regarding recruitment), all contribute to create barriers to access for non-Spanish academics. Click here for more information. There are, however, a handful of leading research centres and university departments that are really competitive and open to international researchers. Among the former, one can point at CEMFI in Madrid, and CREI and IAE/CSIS in Barcelona. Among the latter one finds e Departments of Economics.of Law and of Political and Social Science of University  Pompeu Fabra  in Barcelona and Carlos III in Madrid, together with the Departments of Economics at the universities of Alicante and Autonoma de Barcelona. A coalition of the excellence research units in Catalonia has led to the launching of the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics (BGSE) which is becoming a top graduate centre in Europe and is the only centre in the social sciences to have been awarded the Severo Ochoa excellence award (and funding). Finally, there are also some initiatives at the regional level that recruit competitively international researchers (most notably ICREA in Catalonia but also IKERBASQUE in the Basque Country, among others).

Postdoc: In recent years, a number of postdoc programmes were started, which are open also to international researchers, such as the Programa Postdoctoral del MEC, the Programa Juan de la Cierva, the Programa Ramón y Cajal and the Programa Torres Quevedo. Click here for other information. However, the number of grants offered by these programmes has been lately shrinking as a result of R&D budget cuts in the process of fiscal consolidation.

Entry positions: The temporary position of “Profesor Ayudante Doctor” is the usual entry position for an academic career in Spain. “Profesor Contratado Doctor” (lecturer) is the next step in the academic career, for which  3 years of postdoctoral experience and a specific researcher accreditation certificate are required. Click here for more information.

Career progress: There are two levels of professorship: “Profesor Titular” and “Catedrático” (Full Professor). Obtaining a professorship depends on the evaluation of the candidate's scientific work and, in case of the highest Professor B positions, the availability of positions. Click here.

Temporary/permanent positions: All tenured professors have a civil servant status. The position of  “Profesor Contratado Doctor” entails an indefinite labour contract  but not a civil servant position. Click here to know more.

Salaries: Basic salaries are fixed by the central government and are relatively low. However, professors are allowed to have alternative sources of income and can apply for productivity bonuses related to their research output (sexenios) and teaching quality (quinquenios). See salaries for more information.

Gender: Given their late access to the R&D system in Spain, women only represent about 15% , 35% and 50% of full (catedras), associate (titulares) and assistant (ayudante, contratado doctor) professorships, respectively. Yet there is strong variation by field of research. Since women achieve a majority in undergraduate and postgraduate programmes a slow catching up process with males is bound to take place in the future. There is a very active committee (COSME) sponsored by the Spanish Economic Association in charge of monitoring how women fare in the Economics profession. In collaboration with the Ministry of Science and Technology, COSME  produced a comprehensive White Paper on historical trends about female participation in the Spanish R&D system from a cross-country perspective.

Universities and research instititutions: Click here for the list of Spanish universities.

Job postings: Openings for competitions in the academia are published in the Gaceta Universitaria. The most competitive Departments and research centres make public calls using the standard channels. The webs of the universities provide more detailed information about job openings. On top of this, a distinctive feature in Economics is the job market for recent Phds that takes place every year during the Annual Symposium (SAE) of the Spanish Economic Association in mid-December. About 120 candidates from all over the world and around 20/25 EU academic institutions attend the meetings and interview students to fill the available vacancies just before the much larger American job market opens in early January. Indeed, SAE has become the most popular doctoral job market in Europe, even more popular than the one organized by the UK universities.   


Higher Education in Spain

Spain has 70 universities, of which 50 are public (state-owned) and 20 private (six of them Catholic). There are about 1,6 million students enrolled in higher education out of which around 1,45 attend the public university system.

.The Council of Universities (where the universities are represented) and the Coordination Council (composed of central and regional ministries) coordinate the activities of state and private institutions and propose the main lines of educational policy.

The current structure of the university system was established in the Ley Orgánica de Universidades (LOU, Organic University Law) in 2001, which was reformed in 2007. The legislation on university autonomy provides for administrative, academic and financial autonomy. 

General funding for public universities mainly comes from the regional governments, together with student fees, European funds, local institutions and emerging contribution from the private sector. There is a national programme of competitive research funds that provides regular funding for active research groups, for specific research proposals, as well as different regional programmes. Research assistantships and pre-doctoral grants are linked to the research proposals funded by those programmes.


Career Curriculum

1. PhD Candidate/Research Assistant (“Becario de investigación” or “Ayudante”)

2. Postdoctoral Researcher (Profesor Ayudante Doctor)

3. Lecturer (Contratado Doctor)

4. Professor B (“Profesor Titular” / Associate Professor)

5. Professor A (“Catedrático” / Full Professor)


Requirements for Positions

Postdoctoral positions as Profesor Ayudante Doctor posts are temporary positions (4 years) for which a PhD degee is required. Candidates must obtain the necessary accreditation from the ANECA, the national evaluation agency.

The  figure of “Contratado Doctor” is an indefinite position regulated by standard labour legislation. In order to be hired as such, one needs the specific accreditation from the ANECA. To obtain this accreditation, one typically has to prove at least 3 years of postdoctoral experience.

Professors A and B are permanent civil servants. Postdoc grants normally have a two-year duration. A researcher may hold a series of Postdoc or Assistant positions before advancing to a permanent position, which are applied for in open competition.

Before one can apply for a tenured civil servant position as Professor, it is necessary to obtain a national accreditation made by quality agencies and to pass the selection made at institutional level. The criteria on which merit is judged include teaching, research, coordination and supervision of academic activities and administration. Research is the item that weighs more in the final decision, but really not enough (an outstanding research with low teaching or management experience will most likely fail in the “acreditación”).

At the time of writing (2007), national accreditation was made by disciplines (àreas de conocimiento). This means that academics are not accorded much leeway as regards movement between disciplines: once qualified one is required to remain within this particular discipline throughout the career. (This will supposedly change with the new law of 2007).

Once appointed professor B, promotion to professor A depends on available positions. Normally one needs to have been B professor for at least three years to be able to apply, and far from all tenured staff reach this level. At present, as consequence of the economic crisis, there is a rule that permits to call only for 10% of the positions that are available typically through retirements

A relevant factor for promotion, especially between professorial levels, is the system of incentives for research known as 'sexenios de investigación'. The evaluation exercise screens individuals’ research in six-year periods. While it may seem to have a relatively minor effect on the salary, it is important at least for two reasons. First, because it is a permanent increase in the salary that accumulates as successive evaluations are passed. Second, because it strongly impacts one's prestige and recognition for certain tasks (taking part in committees, phd supervising, leading research projects) or promotion. It is granted by committees appointed by the CNEAI (Consejo Nacional de Evaluación de la Actividad Investigadora), a body which is part of the Ministry of Education. Some Regional Governments have now set up their own evaluation bodies which, in a variety of forms, evaluate research and teaching of university teachers and grant pay increases on similar grounds.


Research Career

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Barriers to Career Advancement

The main barrier for career advancement is the transition from a temporary to a permanent position. With the exception of the above-mentioned leading departments, most department lack  a clear tenure track process. In this fashion inbreeding strongly emerges as a dominant strategy implying that those those young researchers who are already inside a department (e.g. because they did their PhD there and now hold a temporary contract as ayudante doctor) are much more likely to be promoted than newcomers who either graduated abroad or in other Spanish universities. This process hampers academic mobility.

Another related barrier for career advancement is that much postdoctoral research and interest areas of young researchers do not necessarily fall within the traditional disciplines. This make it difficult for young researchers to meet the requirements in the current recruitment and promotion system, which rely only on work that falls within the established 'knowledge areas'.

Economic insecurity during the postdoctoral phase is also an issue, as grants applications often take a long time and researchers in the postdoctoral phase often end up with several periods without income due to long bureaucratic application processes.

As mentioned earlier, internal promotion is the most frequent path in the Spanish academia. Indeed, for many advertised positions the candidate has been chosen beforehand. Professors often handpick their students for research posts. It can thus be crucial to have a network to help kick-start the career. It has been noted that in Spanish academia one needs very stable relations with one's nearest academic environment in order to have the opportunity to be promoted (Mora 2003, Suarez et al. 2005).


Job Security

Academics with permanent positions (professors) in universities are civil servants. Professors at different levels represent about 60% of the total academic staff. Salaries and workloads of professors (civil servants) are defined by the central government. A recent reform  has established  that those Professors with more than three positive research evaluations (“tramos de investigación”) will have a reduction in their teaching load.

Security in the postdoctoral phase varies substantially depending on the appointment. Usually the “Ayudantes Doctores” move towards the (permanent) Lecturer position without much trouble. Those holding post-doctoral grants have much harder times, as the openness of the system to external competition is extremely low.


Contracts and Duties

Postdoc/Assistant (Ayudante Doctor): This position may adopt a variety of forms, from a postdoctoral grant to the more formal “Ayudante Doctor”. It is a temporary position entailing both research and teaching.

Lecturer (Profesor Contratado Doctor): This is a permanent but non-civil servant position. Lecturers are expected to do both teaching and research and have full autonomy for teaching and developing research programmes.

Professor (level B and A): Professors are permanent civil servants. They are expected to do both teaching and research. A high level of initiative towards general development and running of the department is also expected.

In general, the teaching load for all academic positions at Spanish universities is relatively high, but may be reduced by successful research activities. Teaching activities are controlled by the universities, whereas research is normally more independent.


Sabbatical Opportunities

There are no clear regulations about sabbatical rights, even though it is recognised as a possibility, and depends on the internal rules of each university. In general Professor B and A can have sabbatical periods by internal agreements  made between the individual and the institution or within the Department. The government has also created a sabbatical programme named Movilidad: Sabaticos Profesores. 


Gross Salaries

Estimated Gross Monthly salaries in 2003


Postdoc/ Ayudante


1,.584 €/month


Lecturer/Contratado Doctor


2,250 €/month


Associate Professor (B)


2,750 €/month


Full Professor (A)


3,584 €/month


Source: Jose-Gines Mora, Centre for the Study of Higher Education Management (CEGES), Technical University of Valencia.

Note: These are gross salaries. The personal tax rate is around 25%, depending on the personal financial situation. This is a rough estimation that includes seniority bonuses but not regional productivity bonuses and research contract earnings.

The basic salaries are established by the central government and are relatively low. Yet, one is allowed to have other sources of income and to apply for productivity bonuses. According to CEGES, an active professor with high performance in contracts and many bonuses may earn a much higher salary.


Number of Existing Positions

Number of existing positions, University Sector 2004-2005

--All Disciplines

Temporary staff (Assistants, Postdocs,
teachers etc.)


Lecturer/ Contratado Doctor


Professors A & B




Source: Consejo de Cordinacion Universitaria


Internal Recruitment

Although no exact numbers are available, it is generally stated that in Spain mobility between institutions is very low. It is not uncommon for academics to stay in the university where they studied and to retire from the same place.


Accessibility for Non-Nationals

 The long bureaucratic application process is mentioned as a barrier for potential foreign (postdoc) applicants, as the application process is often faster and more accessible in other European countries. Yet some years ago some of the paperwork was simplified and now the universities may validate doctoral degrees, when necessary.

Language may also be a barrier for foreign applicants. This is not least reflected in the fact that almost all calls for applications and application forms are in Spanish only. Spanish is the language used at all universities, so if you are a foreigner and speak Spanish, you can have good chances. Recently, there are steps that have been taken to internationalise the Spanish university structure and some universities have started to imitate the leading ones in offering  bilingual degrees where most if not all subjects are taught in  in English.

A well established network and inside knowledge are important at many Spanish universities and may create a barrier for foreign applicants. As Mora (2003) affirms: 'In most cases, universities not only have no foreign members of staff, but the majority of their academic staff comes from the same region where the university is situated'. However, the group of leading universities have been rather successful in attracting foreign students, especially in their graduate programmes. The international success of the Barcelona Graduate School of Economics (BGSE) provides a good example of this strategy.


National Universities

 A full list of public and private universities in Spain can be found on the website of the Spanish Rector’s Conference.Many relevant data and key features of the Spanish universities can be found here.


Research Institutions

Research is mainly publicly funded and done by the universities. The individual universities have a number of  research institutes, which also offer PhD and postgraduate studies.

There is also a national research institute, the Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIS), which has various branches and centres (in some cases linked to the universities).


Academic Unions

Unions play a marginal, formal role in defining the working conditions of academic staff. Their main influence is at the central level, and discussion regards all civil servants and not just academic staff at the universities.

The Negotiation Board of University Staff (Mesa Negociadora de Universidades) discusses working conditions and salaries of non-civil servant staff with the Ministry of Education.


Useful Websites


Info for History

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Info for Economics

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Info for Law

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Info for Social and Political Science

Spanish Association of Political Science and Administration


Postdoctoral Information

  • At the national level, Spanish Government publishes plans for research funding and calls for postdoctoral programmes, such as this one: Programa Postdoctoral del MINECO (call for 2013).

  • The Spanish Ministry of Presidency has established a Centro de Estudios Politicos y Constitucionales, which hosts many researchers with postdoctoral fellowships from Spain (García-Pelayoand others) and Europe (Marie Curie).
  • The Ministry of Education has established bilateral agreements with some countries to incorporate doctors in foreign educational systems, for instance with the Mexican government and with the Brazilian government.
  • The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has established a doctoral and postdoctoral programme through the Spanish Agency of International Cooperation (AECI - Agencia Española de Cooperación Internacional), which comes in useful for studies on Latin America, for instance.
  • Every regional government has established its own doctoral and postdoctoral programmes. See for instance the Andalusian Government´s Programme.
  • The Consejo Superior de Investigaciones Científicas (CSIC) has its own doctoral and postdoctoral programme. Concerning single universities and research centres, see:
  • Barcelona Institute of International Studies.
  • The former government created a semi-public foundation, the Fundación Carolina, which is financed by the Ministry of Education, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and various private entities, and offers doctoral and postdoctoral fellowships.

Finally, there are many private foundations offering doctoral and postdoctoral fellowships. For instance:


Websites for Job Postings



Griffin, Green et al., 2005, 'The Relationship between the Process of Professionalization in Academe and Interdisciplinarity, A Comparative Study of Eight European Countries', University of Hull.

Mora, Jose-Gines, 2001, 'Adapting to Change: The Academic Profession in Spain', chapter 13 in Academic Staff in Europe, ed. by Jurgen Enders.

Mora, Jose-Gines, 2003, 'Academic Staff in Spanish Universities', retrieved from the author, April 2007.

MWP, Report on the 2nd Academic Careers Conference, 'Academic Careers in the Social Sciences & Humanities: National Comparisons and Opportunities', November 2007.

Suarez et al., 2005, 'Disciplinary Boundaries between the Social Sciences and Humanities, National Report on Spain', University of Hull.


Special thanks to:

José-Ginés Mora, Centre for the Study of Higher Education Management (CEGES), Technical University of Valencia

Juan José Dolado, European University Institute

Antonio Villar, Universidad Pablo de Olavide

Jose María Aguilera Manzano, Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellow, EUI 2006-07

Jose-Gines Mora, Director, Centre for the Study of Higher Education

Management (CEGES), Technical University of Valencia

Rubén Ruiz Rufino, Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellow, EUI, 2007-08 

Diederik Boertien, Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellow, EUI 2013-14

David Pretel, Max Weber Postdoctoral Fellow, EUI 2012-2013

Page last updated on 28 August 2018

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