Competitiveness: the academic system in the Flanders is relatively open and merit based, resembling other Northern European countries systems.
Openness to non-nationals: the system is relatively open to international researchers. Research and funding opportunities are being increasingly advertised on university websites and the use of English is becoming more common. The Catholic University of Leuven is an example of a university trying to internationalise itself.
Postdoc: different opportunities are open to both Belgian citizens and non-Belgian citizens.
Entry positions: entry positions vary depending on their temporary or permanent character.
Career requirements/progress: the Docent position becomes permanent following a positive evaluation. Each year a variable number of research professors is appointed. Appointment depends on the candidate’s qualifications.
Temporary/permanent positions: the academic career structure combines temporary and permanent positions.
Salaries: salaries depend on grade and seniority. Concerning Junior Staff, there is concern about the diverging working and salary conditions. Every university has its own system.
Gender: please contact us or post a comment by clicking below if you have information on women’s participation in Flemish universities.
Universities and research instititutions: Flanders has six universities (the University of Leuven has a campus also in Kortrijk). Click here to access links to their websites.
Belgium is a federation of three communities, each with its own legislative council and government. The Dutch-speaking North is home to the Flemish Community, which counts 6 million members, living in Flanders and Brussels. The southern part of Belgium is called Wallonia, where French is spoken. There is also a very small German speaking community on the eastern border.
The three communities have obtained autonomy on a number of important issues, such as education. Consequently, the structure of the educational systems differs.
Higher education in Flanders is taught at the universities and the ‘hogescholen’ (university colleges). The institutions are fairly autonomous. The Flemish Government provides the legislative context regarding salary scales and grades.
All universities distinguish between Zelfstandig Academisch Personeel (Independent Academic Staff, ZAP), Assisterend Academisch Personeel (Academic Assistant Staff, AAP) en Bijzonder Academisch Personeel (Special Academic Staff, BAP). Broadly speaking, ZAP includes professors and senior staff with a permanent position (from Lecturer to Full Professor), while AAP and BAP are Junior Staff in a temporary position (Reserch, Teaching and Postdoc Research Assistant). The only difference between AAP and BAP is the funding: AAP is funded by the university and BAP by other sources.
PhD students hold AAP positions at their university while doing their doctoral research. However, positions only become vacant when another person is leaving. Furthermore, this system has become very irregular. Sometimes, in order to save money, universities leave these positions open for some time.
Officially, Research Assistants are not affiliated to one Professor, but to a Research Unit. However, conditions may vary according to the customs of that particular unit. In most cases, PhD students holding a Research Assistant position work with their PhD supervisor with whom they usually share some research interests. Or vice versa, the Research Unit only hires people who are interested in doing research related to their fields of interest. Eventually, there is the possibilty of changing from the position of Research Assistant to a Bursary Status, although this implies that one earns a little bit less.
PhD students can also be hired by the Fonds voor Wetenschappelijk Onderzoek (FWO) – the Flemish Research Foundation competent for the social sciences and the humanities – and become part of the BAP a university. While the FWO pays the salary and the taxes, on matters of academic discipline PhD students are subject to the university they chose when applying to the FWO. Every year, the FWO has a call for positions for the folllowing academic year. The number of stipends paid by the FWO is not fixed and depends on various factors. The application procedure is based only on the written application, without any interview. The choice of the supervisor may strategically increase chances of success. The research topic is selected by the candidate. Every year, the PhD student has to send a progress report to the Research Foundation. The contract lasts for 2+2 years. A renewal is granted on the basis of a full dossier and after substantial progress during the first two years.
Doctor-Assistent positions are given only to postdoctoral students by their university. See below our section onPostdoctoral information for various postdoc opportunities granted by the FWO.
The Docent position is a temporary position of three years, which becomes permanent following a positive evaluation. As opposed to Dutch academia, a Docent is already considered a professor in the Flemish system.
Each year a variable number of research professors is appointed through a university fund called Bijzonder Onderzoeksfonds (BOF), which is financed by the Flemish Government. Professors paid through the BOF are called BOF-ZAP. Conditions of appointment differ a little according to the university.
A limited number of positions for research professors (permanent ZAP professorships) are made available, on an annual basis, for excellent researchers with a high-quality research programme. The number of positions varies between nine and fourteen, depending in practice on the available budgetary resources. At the time of application, candidates must have at least three full years of experience in research after they obtained their doctoral degree. However, preference is given to candidates with at least six years of research experience.
Barriers to Career Advancement
In comparison to the Netherlands, there is a more congested ‘bottle-neck’ in carrer advancement after completing the PhD. Universities are aware of the problem and try to support doctors once they enter the job market. The University of Leuven developed a profile of the skills acquired during the PhD.
Contracts and Duties
Research Assistants are employed on a 2+2+2 contractual basis and have 30-40% administrative or teaching duties. Bursaries are employed on a 2+2-system basis, with 20% administrative or teaching duties.
A BAP position held by a PhD student entails 20% of administrative or teaching duties at that University.
Research professor positions are primarily research-oriented. However, applicants must be prepared to accept limited teaching assignments. During the first ten years, these assignments may not exceed nine study credits per year as a three-year average.
More and more, Belgian Universities offer free time for sabbatical leaves. In practice, you need to negotiate the leave with your immediate colleagues.
Gross monthly salary levels since October 2008:
|Full Professor(Gewoon hoogleraar)||
Source: Academic Service KU Leuven (the page contains more detailed information, in Dutch).
The salary depends on grade and seniority. A salary scale consists of a minimum and a maximum salary, with several intermediary steps, which mark periodic salary increases. The salary scales of independent and assistant academic staff are laid down by decision of the Flemish Government. In addition to their monthly salary, all staff are entitled to holiday pay and an end-of-year bonus. Net amounts are circa 1/3 lower.
As regards junior staff, there is much concern about the diverging work and salary conditions. Each university has its own system and conditions. Click here for more information (in Dutch).
Accessibility for Non-Nationals
Due to Belgian history and politics, language regulations in higher education are relatively rigid. In principle, Dutch is the language of instruction and you normally need to understand and speak Dutch in order to obtain a degree at a Flemish university.
However, due to the changing international academic environment and the increasing mobility at the post-graduate level, this requirement is more loosely applied. This applies to the natural sciences and to the faculties of Arts and Philosophy. Every Flemish university now has special funding programmes to attract foreign students, in which language requirements are more lax (you can take a Ph.D. in English, with a summary in another language).
In Leuven there is a strong tradition of foreign Ph.D. students, especially in the Faculties of Philosophy and Theology. Here one can study and live relying on English and without speaking any Dutch.
When doing a Ph.D. it is important to communicate clearly with your professor about language competences. Often, professors refuse to take responsibility for English grammar and orthography, leaving the cost of language correction to the student (and not to the university’s Research Unit). However, once this is settled, professors will usually arrange for a defence in English or even French.
Furthemore, foreign language courses, courses with foreign guest speakers and teachers, internationally-oriented courses, courses in the framework of international developing co-operation, courses in the framework of international exchange programmes and courses for groups of foreign students are taught in languages other than Dutch. Course material may be in any language. Foreigners without a knowledge of Dutch can therefore obtain positions. Universities sometimes require succesful candidates to learn Dutch within a certain time period.
Flanders has six universities (the University of Leuven also has a campus in Kortrijk) and the transnational University of Limburg, which is a joint programme by the University of Maastricht (the Netherlands) and the University of Hasselt:
- University of Antwerp
- Hogeschool-Universiteit Brussel – Katholieke Universiteit Brussel
- Vrije Universiteit Brussel
- Ghent University
- Hasselt University
- Katholieke Universiteit Leuven
- Katholieke Universiteit Leuven, campus Kortrijk
- transnationale Universiteit Limburg
- Flemish Government, Legislation regarding education
- Flemish Government, Universities and higher education
- Research Foundation Flanders – FWO Vlaanderen
- Researcher’s Mobility Portal Belgium
- Staff KU Leuven
- Vlaamse Interuniversitaire Raad – VLIR
- VUB: info on recruitment, remuneration, and fringe benefits
Postdocs are funded either by universities through Doctor-Assistant positions or by the FWO. For more information on FWO grants, check here.
Websites for Job Postings
On university websites:
- Vacancies University of Antwerp
- Vacancies HUB-KU Brussel
- Vacancies VU Brussel
- Vacancies Ghent University
- Vacancies Hasselt University
- Vacancies KU Leuven
Special thanks to
Violet Soen, MWP Fellow, 2008/9