Dutch Academic Job Titles Explained

Leestijd: 4 min · Door Academic Positions

What's the difference between a universitair docent and a hoogleraar? What about a postdoc and a universitair hoofddocent? While there will be some differences university to university, here's a breakdown of the most common academic job titles used in the Netherlands.


A Dutch PhD student is called a promovendus. The PhD is the highest academic degree and it is required to work as a professor or researcher. Broadly, the path to a PhD consists of four years of advanced research that culminates in the writing of a dissertation which is then orally defended. Some programs require PhD students to gain teaching experience as well. As PhD candidates are paid, they are seen as employees rather than students even though they do not have the same rights as employees. They they usually hold the position of Assistant-in-Opleiding (AiO) or Onderzoeker-in-Opleiding (OiO).


After earning their PhD, many researchers go on to a postdoc often at another university or in another country. A postdoc is a continuation of the researcher’s training that allows them to further specialize in a particular field and learn new skills and techniques. Postdoc research is usually themed or project specific. A Dutch postdoc is often two years.

Universitair docent

This position is equivalent to the rank of assistant professor or lecturer and is the first permanent academic position. The initial contract is often for four years at which point the professor is evaluated and their position may become permanent. If the position becomes permanent, it is not uncommon to stay a universitair docent until retirement. However, many positions in the Netherlands are temporary and job security is perceived to be very low. As a result, tenure-track universitair docent position are being introduced. A more experienced candidate with the potential to become a universitair hoofddocent can become a tenure track universitair docent. After four to six years their performance is evaluated and academics who have published and received major grants are promoted to universitair hoofddocent.

Universitair hoofddocent 

A universitair hoofddocent is equivalent in rank to an associate professor or senior lecturer. Traditionally to become a universitair hoofddocent, a universitair docent had to apply for a vacant position. However it is possible to be promoted to this position based on performance. This is a permanent position and it is not uncommon to remain a universitair hoofddocent until retirement. The rank of universitair hoofddocent is often associated with major administrative roles such as coordinator of degree programs and chairs of committees. As of June 2017, those holding the rank of universitair hoofddocent can supervise PhD students. Previously only those holding the rank of hoogleraar could be a PhD student's primary supervisor.


A hoogleraar is equivalent to a full professor and is at the top of the professorial hierarchy. They have substantial research accomplishments that have established them as an international or national leader in their field. This rank is often associated with major administrative roles such as Dean of the Faculty, Head of the Department or Institute, or Research Director of the Department or Institute. They are also the only ones who can supervise PhD dissertations. Unlike the North American tenure system, there is no automatic promotion to hoogleraar. To become one, a universitair hoofddocent has to apply for a vacant position.

There are further ranks of hoogleraar, including buitengewoon hoogleraar (an externally funded chair created for specific expertise), bijzonder hoogleraar (an externally funded, temporary and often part time professorship that can also be fiven as an honourary title), and universiteits-hoogleraar (a prestigious chair which allows the professor to focus solely on research by relieving them on administrative and teaching duties). 

Door Academic Positions · Published 2019-11-07

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