Skip to content

France, Academic Career Structure





Competitiveness :

French academia displays many traits characteristic of the Continental Europeanacademic model. It features a very centralised system, with obstacles to entry and advancement, and a very high level of job security.

Openness to non-nationals: The French system is marginally open to non-nationals, as academic staff are the only civil servants who do not have to hold French nationality. The careers in French academia for nationals and non-nationals are slowly converging. Further details.

Postdoc: Post-doc it is not a pre-condition for advancement. The Agence nationale de la recherche (ANR) as well as research institutions and individual universities are gradually broadening the offer.

Entry positions: Recruitment is monitored and controlled by commissions selected at the national and individual university levels. Higher academic authorities have no major say in the process. Only recently a reform partly decentralized the system and increased university autonomy. However, recruitment into entry positions is still influenced by informal agreements and contacts between candidates and academics. Further details .

Career requirements/progress: Advancement from Assistant to Full Professor happens in different ways. It is often necessary to pass the very demanding agrégation du supérieur. Further details .

Temporary/permanent positions: As civil servants, the vast majority of Assistant and Full Professors are tenured.

Salaries: Salaries are centrally set by the Ministère de l'Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche (MESR).

Gender: Female recruitment as Assistant or Full Professors has been constantly rising for 20 years, but it is still insufficient. In 2008/09, 19.1% of Full Professors and 41.2% of Assistant Professors were women. The percentage of Full Professors almost doubled in 2 decades. As of 2010, females made up only 19% of Grade A staff.

Universities and research institutions: More than 80 French universities are listed here .

Job postings: Check the Bulletin officiel de l’éducation nationale and the Journal official de la république for job openings in France.


Higher Education in France

France had 2.23 million students in 2009/10 in higher education institutions . French academia has two distinct branches: universities (or grands établissements such as the École des hautes études en sciences sociales (EHESS) or Sciences Po) and research institutions, such as the Centre national de la recherche scientifique (CNRS) or the Institut national de la recherche agronomique (INRA). Some grandes  é coles, distinct from universities and usually more prestigious, offer chairs in the SSH, but they do not usually offer a full study programme in Economics, History, Law, Political Science or Sociology.

In general, academia in France is highly centralised and belongs almost entirely to the public sector.

In 2007, a new law (Law Pécresse) was enacted, introducing significant changes in French academia. For more information check here. One of the provisions of this law, for example, was establishment of the Evaluation Agency for Research and Higher Education (AERES).


Career Curriculum

1. PhD Candidate
2. Non-tenured staff, such as the Attaché Temporaire d’Enseignement et de Recherche (ATER) or the Allocataire de recherche-moniteur
3. Maître de conférences (MCF) - ordinary class and exceptional class - equivalent to a tenured Assistant/Associate Professor, whose yearly teaching load is 126 hours 'ex cathedra' or 192 hours as teaching assistant, or a mixture of both
4. Professeur des universités - second class, first class, and exceptional class - equivalent to a tenured Full Professor

Note: Part of the teaching at universities is done by ‘teaching only staff’. There are two categories, the Professeur agrégé (PrAg), i.e. secondary school professors teaching at university level with no research duties, and the Professeur invité (similar to a professor of practice in the United States).


Requirements for Positions

In order to become Assistant Professor (MCF), a PhD holder must obtain from the Conseil national des universités (CNU) a qualification, i.e. the insertion on a national list of those qualified for the position of Assistant Professor. This can be done through the GALAXIE/ANTARES portal (an online application, only in French). Enrollment takes place between mid-September and the end of October, prior PhD defense is not necessary. Additionally, the applicant has time to submit detailed application files (on paper and CD) to the two 'rapporteurs' nominated by the CNU until mid-December (and concomitantly defend the PhD). The decisions on the application are communicated in January and the qualification is valid for 4 years.

The file to obtain the qualification requires a list of documents: 1) copy of the PhD diploma (CNU decides on diploma equivalence), a translation into French and a 'déclaration sur l’honneur' that the translation is faithful; 2) detailed CV, including working and teaching experience, on 2 pages at most and a precise list of publications on 4 pages at most; 3) three best articles/publications; 4) a copy of the 'rapport de soutenance', i.e. the report of the defense committee, if there is one; 5) the 'déclaration de candidature' obtained from the GALAXIE portal; 6) a copy of the thesis (highly recommended). The same file may be reused to apply to become Assistant Professor. In humanities, academics are encouraged to have obtained the agrégation du secondaire, i.e. to be able to teach as a Professeur agrégé (PrAg). 

Once the qualification is obtained, the candidate applies to the job openings that are offered on the dedicated section of the GALAXIE portal . Application is one job at a time, and the application file has to be sent by post within 30 days. The Ministry of Education announces most vacant positions of Assistant Professor at French universities during February and March. However, some universities post jobs also during the year, 'au fil de l'eau' job posting. 

Part of the vacant positions of Assistant Professor are filled by transfer (mutation) of people who are Assistant Professor at another university rather than by new recruitment.

To fill the vacancies by new recruitments, competitions are being organised at university level. Committees, set up per discipline, are composed of an equal number of Assistant and Full Professors and are re-elected every three years. They select the candidates invited for an interview (usually up to 10 per position). The interviews last 20-30 minutes per candidate, expenses are not covered and the date is not negotiable. Univesities cannot contract directly with candidates, hence, the selection committee ranks three to five candidates per position and CNU posts it on the GALAXIE portal. Successful candidates can decide whether or not to accept the job in order of ranking. For positions 'au fil de l'eau', successful candidates have exactly 8 days to answer to an acceptance proposition, again on GALAXIE. 

Further details on the application process can be found on the website of the Ministère de l'Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche  (MESR, in French) and in the brochure A Guide to Applying for an Academic Position in France .

Promotion to a higher class within the position of Assistant Professor is decided competitively within the limits of the number of promotions allocated by the ministry for a given year. Half of these promotions are decided by the CNU. The other half is distributed among the universities and each decides which of the applying maîtres de conferences will get a promotion.

To become a Full Professor, one has to prepare an 'habilitation à diriger des recherches', which is akin to another PhD (a defence must also take place). But the importance of this habilitation and the procedure to professorship differ for Economics, Law, Management and Political Science on the one hand, and all other disciplines such as History and Sociology on the other.

In Economics, Law, Management and Political Science the habilitation is required but is of secondary importance. The normal way to become a professor is then to pass the highly selective agrégation du supérieur: national selection committees, which are composed ad hoc of professors of the discipline, interview and select the candidates through a series of tests over a period of about 6 months.The exam is national and comprises two steps. In the first, a commission composed of the renowned professors of the field for which the candidate is applying reviews and evaluates the dissertation and publications. On the basis of that evaluation, the commission decides to let the candidate in for the second phase of the examination. In public law, a 24-hour exam awaits the candidate who successfully overcomes the first hurdle. Generally speaking, the commission tends to put the emphasis on the rhetorical skills of the candidates and their ability to master the style of French legal academia (such as the binary structure presentation, 'le plan binaire').

In the end, if N positions are opened by the ministry, up to N candidates will be ranked by the committee. In order of ranking, successful candidates can choose a position from the list of available full professorships in their field at the public universities. The universities have no voice in the selection process of the staff that will be appointed to them.

Note 1: In parallel part of the vacant positions of Full Professor are published and filled on competitive basis by transfer (mutation) rather than by new recruitment.

Note 2: There exist other ways than the agrégation du supérieur to become professors for these disciplines but they are less prestigious and also rare.

To become Full Professor in Humanities and Sciences, the procedure is similar to that of becoming Assistant Professor: one needs to obtain an inscription on the list of people who are qualified for the position of Full Professor before one can apply for vacancies at the universities. To obtain the inscription on the list, the main criterion is to be holder of a ‘habilitation’ (habilitation à diriger des recherches). At the universities, selection committees composed of Full Professors screen, interview and rank the successful candidates.

Promotion to a higher class within the position of Full Professor is decided competitively within the limits of the number of promotions allocated by the ministry for a given year. Half of these promotions are decided by the CNU. The other half is distributed among the universities and each decides which of the applying professors will get a promotion.

Note: Part of the vacant positions of Full Professor are filled by transfer (mutation) rather than by new recruitment.

Further details on the application process can be found on the website of the Ministère de l'Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche  (MESR, in French). The time schedule (2009/10) for both MCF and Full Professors is available on this website .


Research Career

1. PhD Candidate
2. Non-tenured Postdoctoral Researcher
3. Chargé de recherche (CR) - second class and first class - equivalent to a tenured Research Fellow
4. Directeur de recherche (DR) - second class, first class and exceptional class - equivalent to a tenured Research Director

A career in a public research centre is the main alternative to a career at a university. As the career paths are similar, transfers between both sectors occur, but are still rare.

The two research institutions most relevant for the SSH and are open to international scholars are the Centre National pour la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and the Institut National pour la Recherche Agronomique (INRA).

The application procedure to become a permanent researcher at the CNRS is posted on its website. Job openings are posted in early December and applications are to be handed in by early to mid January. To apply one has to have defended the PhD before the interview and possibly have published at least two articles. Eligible candidates are interviewed in Paris between February and May (no expenses are covered). The selection committee has 18 academic members and the application file consists of 2 documents: a 10-page summary of past research achievements and a document on future research intentions (6-10 pages). Candidates should indicate the CNRS centre of choice and contact its director beforehand. The first selection is made a week after the interviews and the final decision (usually a confirmation) is made by another committee in June. Jobs start in October. See also the CNRS brochure.

The application to INRA is similar to CNRS. Deadlines and positions are posted on their website. Applications take place between mid-January and the end of February, the selection of eligible candidates is done in April and May and interviews follow in May and June. Jobs start in September. 

For CR positions, the gross monthly pay ranges from €2,075 for a newly recruited researcher to €3,752 with incremental yearly increases. For DR positions, the gross monthly pay ranges from €3,007 for a newly recruited researcher to €6,033. Yearly bonuses ranging from €676 to €1,320 are added to this base pay, as well as family and other bonuses, where applicable (data for November 2008).


Barriers for Career Advancement

The main barrier in French academia is to get into the system and obtain the position of Assistant Professor. While acquiring the national qualification of Assistant Professor is not easy, the competitions to fill vacancies take place at individual university level and do not match the number of candidates. Connections therefore are important and applicants often have to try several years to get a position.


Security in the Position

Successful academics obtain tenure at an early stage of their career: Assistant Professors at public universities and Research Fellows at research centres are granted tenure (the researcher is 'titularisé') after a probation period of approximately one year. Academics have status of civil servants. As 80% of the academic staff occupy permanent tenured positions, France enjoys a very high level of job security. However, as of 2010, control over employment conditions has been somewhat transferred to University Presidents who have more authority to dismiss high-ranking academics (Dobbins and Knill, 2014:75).


Contracts for university staff are standard contracts and non-negotiable. Tenured staff of universities are supposed to spend their working time half on teaching and half on research. The teaching load is set at 192 hours per year spent in the classroom with students (or the equivalent thereof).


Sabbatical Opportunities

Please contact us or comment below if you can provide relevant information.


Gross salaries

Gross monthly salary levels in 2009 (before tax but after social security contributions)

 StartAfter 2 YearsLast Stage (9)
Normal Class
Last Stage (6)


3,100 €/month




Assistant Professor

2,069 €/month

2,329 €/month

3,741 €/month

4,388 €/month

Full Professor

2,998 €/month

3,345 €/month

4,388 €/month

6,015 €/month


Source: Agence nationale de la recherche (ANR) and Ministère de l'Enseignement Supérieur et de la Recherche .

*Returning young researchers programm (Retour de post-doc).

In France salaries are fixed by the MESR and do not vary by university or discipline. There is no margin for negotiation. Salaries are topped up with bonuses for research, research supervision, overtime teaching or administrative work. Salary increases within one class are based on seniority.


Number of existing positions in university sector 2008/09

 Law, SPS, EcoHumanitiesAll Disciples 

Assistant Professors




Full Professors





Source: MESR note d'information .


Internal Recruitment  


The majority of staff is recruited internally. According to Christine Musselin (Centre de Sociologie des Organisations, CNRS), this is partly the result of the constraints faced by recruiters (hiring committees have only 1.5 months to assess applications), a way to control uncertainties about the candidates’ quality, and a way to reward institutional commitment.


Accessibility for Non-Nationals

Almost 15% of newly recruited Assistant Professors in 2008 are foreigners, which is above the yearly average. Circa 46% come from other EU Member States, and around  31% are from African countries, 2% hold US nationality.

Of the Full Professors who were recruited in past years, on average 15% hold nationalities other than French (12.7% of new recruits in 2008). However, the majority of them have been already Assistant Professor in France. This means that the academic careers in France of French nationals and foreigners is converging. As a result, very few ‘new’ foreigners become Full Professor (only 4.9% in 2008).

Academic staff are the only French civil servants who do not need to hold French nationality. Nonetheless, foreigners who have not studied or spent time as visiting professors or post-docs in France seldom obtain a tenured position at French universities.

In recent years it has become easier to hire foreign professors, since they can be exempted from the requirement to be accredited by the CNU (National Council of Universities) on the basis of their demonstrated qualifications. However, recruiting academic unit must convince university scientific council of the merit of passing over the long list of French candidates that are accredited for the function in question. 

Because French academics are civil servants, there are fewer opportunities to attract talented professors with the promire of better work or better research and teaching positions. 

It is generally expected that staff at French universities speak the language. It is possible though, to find teaching opportunities in English as well, but not at undergraduate level.


National Universities

List of universities in France


Research Institutions  

Careers at research institutions are a valuable alternative to a university career in France. The two research institutions most relevant for the SSH and are open to international scholars are the Centre National pour la Recherche Scientifique (CNRS) and the Institut National pour la Recherche Agronomique (INRA). The CNRS alone employs over 11,000 researchers.


Academic Unions

L’Association pour la Qualité de la Science Française
Fédération des syndicats généraux de l'éducation nationale et de la recherche publique (Sgen-CFDT), which is part of the Confédération française démocratique du travail, linked to the Parti Socialiste (PS).

Syndicat National de l'Enseignement Supérieur  (SNESUP), which is part of the Confédération Générale du Travail, linked to the Parti Communiste (PCF).

Union nationale interuniversitaire (UNI), linked to the right-wing Union pour un Mouvement Populaire (UMP)


Useful Websites


Info for History

L’album des sciences sociales  (discontinued in 2008, but still available online) 

Blog du Département d’Histoire - Paris VIII-Saint-Denis


Info for Economics


Info for Law

Please contact us if you can provide relevant information.


Info for Social and Political Science  


Postdoctoral Information

Postdoctoral positions are published on the websites of individual institutions of higher education and research and on the web pages of the Agence nationale de la recherche (ANR).


Websites for Job Postings

Competitions for the academic positions are advertised in two official state publications:

Bulletin officiel de l’éducation nationale

Journal official de la république



Chevaillier (2001), 'French Academics: Between the Professions and the Civil Service', Higher Education, Vol. 41 (1).

Lacroix, Robert and Maheu, Louis (2015), 'Leading Research Universities in a Competitive World', McGill-Queen's University Press, Montreal. 

Le Feuvre & Metso (2005), 'Disciplinary Barriers between the Social Sciences and Humanities - National Report on France ', Report written for the Research and Integration Project, University of Hull.

Musselin, Christine (2004), 'Towards a European Academic Labour Market? Some Lessons Drawn from Empirical Studies on Academic Mobility', Higher Education, Vol. 48.

Musselin, Christine (2005), 'European Academic Labor Markets in Transition', Higher Education, Vol. 49.

Musselin, Christine (2005), 'Le marché des universitaires. France, Allemagne, États-Unis', Sciences Po, Paris.


Special thanks to:

Mohmaed-Ali Adraouli, Max Weber Fellow, EUI, 2013-2014

Cécile d’Albis, Max Weber Fellow, 2010-2011

Christine Musselin, Centre de Sociologie des Organisations, CNRS

Boris Najman, Assistant Professor, Université Paris 1 Panthéon Sorbonne

Valeria Pansini, Max Weber Fellow, EUI, 2006-2007

Page last updated on 28 August 2018

Go back to top of the page