Tenure Track in the Netherlands

Eva Lantsoght
2 May ’24

The Tenure Track in the Netherlands is perhaps a relatively new addition to the academic career path in the Netherlands, and it is still subject to change.

In Delft, the tenure track was introduced first somewhere around 2012-2013 (the exact year is difficult to trace back) under the name of the tenure track. These appointments were originally for six years, with the tenure decision at the end of the fifth year, when tenure could be granted or not. At that time, there would be a midterm revision at 2.5 – 3 years into the process. The contracts were for six years, so that those who would not obtain tenure would have one year to find a new position. The decision to obtain tenure was separate from promotion to associate professor.

Nowadays, the tenure track in Delft is replaced by the Academic Career Track.The ACT now results in a permanent contract (i.e. tenure) after 18 months, and then the promotion to associate professor after five to eight years (with the midterm review still around 2.5 years). And while this system is still being developed and finetuned, there are also some criticisms voiced.

With this short introduction to the current system in Delft (which reflects how the Dutch universities are trying to define their academic careers these days), I wanted to highlight a few particularities of the current system, which may surprise you if you come to the Netherlands from abroad:

1. Duration

The “old” tenure track system was about six years in length, the new academic career track is about 8 years, with a permanent contract at 18 months. The tenure timelines in other countries may be more mature and better-defined.

2. Evaluation criteria

Tenure track performance criteria are often not based on hard numbers, but in the Netherlands you are expected to obtain your University Teaching Qualification during your tenure track. In addition, it is my impression that in the Netherlands your ability to attract funding (and pay for your work and hire researchers) weighs more than your publication output, and that leadership is a very important aspect in the evaluation for being promoted to associate professor.

3. Workload distribution

In some parts of the world, contracts clearly state which percentage you are expected to dedicate to research, to teaching, and to service (such as the 40-40-20 splits). In the Netherlands, these percentages are not very clear, but the financial system may be based on an 80-20 or 75-25 (research-teaching) split.

4. Lost in translation

While the English terms of assistant and associate professor are now quite commonly used, you may find many people also refer to the terms UD (universitair docent = assistant professor) or UHD (universitair hoofddocent = associate professor).

5. Tailored funding

Some of the Dutch funding calls, such as those for the Veni grants, are particularly tailored to early career researchers. Not only are these calls interesting because they are fully tailored towards the development of young faculty; they will also give you a very nice big star on your resume for the academic career committee.

6. Labor laws

Changes to the academic careers in the Netherlands need to comply with the governing labor laws. The change from the tenure track system to the academic career track system follows from the labor laws: the relatively long but not permanent contracts on the tenure track were ultimately considered as a violation of the labor law. Changes in the academic careers in the Netherlands can be closely related to national labor laws.

7. Union representation

Very much in line with my previous point: many academics in the Netherlands are union members, and the union reviews the changes to the academic careers, to verify if they comply with the labor laws and to check if they would not mean an increase in workload and/or a reduction in wellbeing for faculty.

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