What's the difference between a docent and a hoogleraar? What about a professeur and a professeur ordinaire? Belgian job titles and their accompanying responsibilities are slightly different from their American equivalents and there different sets of titles for Flemish (Dutch-speaking) or Wallonian (French-speaking) universities. While there will be some differences university to university, here's a breakdown of the most common academic job titles used in Belgium.
Here is the career path at a Dutch-speaking Belgian university:
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 culminate in the writing of a dissertation which is then orally defended. Some programs require PhD students to gain teaching experience as well. PhD students often are employed as assisterend academisch personeel (academic assistant staff) or an assistent (research assistant).
After earning their PhD, many researchers go on to a doctor-assistent or postdoc. 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 Belgian postdoc lasts three years.
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 three years and may become permanent following a positive evaluation. If the position becomes permanent, it is not uncommon to stay in this position until retirement. Consequently, universities are starting to introduce tenure-track docent positions. A more experienced candidate with the potential to become a hoofddocent can become a tenure-track universitair docent. After four years their performance is evaluated and academics if they have a strong publication record and have received major grants they are promoted to hoofddocent.
A hoofddocent is equivalent in rank to an associate professor or senior lecturer. Traditionally to become a hoofddocent, a docent had to apply for a vacant position. However it is possible to be promoted to this position based on performance. This is permanent position and it is not uncommon to remain a hoofddocent until retirement.
A hoogleraar is equivalent to a 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. The position is similar to that of a department chair in that a hoogleraar supervises all the other professors in their department or group. They are also the only ones who can supervise PhD dissertations. Unlike the North American tenure system, there is no automatic promotion to hoogleraar.
The academic career path at a French-speaking university in Belgium is a little different:
Etudiant en doctorat
The doctorat is the highest academic degree and it is required to hold academic positions. It is a research-only degree that culminates in the writing of a thesis which is then orally defended in front of a jury. It takes three years to earn a doctorate.
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. Postdocs in French-speaking Belgium last a maximum of three years.
Chargé de cours
Chargé de cours is the normal entry position in Belgian academia. It is equivalent to an assistant professor and is usually a permanent position. Less experienced academics may be appointed as a temporary chargé de cours for a probationary period of three or four years. If their research and teaching is evaluated positively, their position will become permanent.
A chargé de cours with at least eight years of experience can apply to professeur positions. A professeur is equivalent to an associate professor. Belgian professeurs have strong publication records, proven teaching skills, and have been successful as a PhD supervisor. They have usually established themselves as an international or national leader in their field.
A professeur can be promoted to a professeur ordinaire, the most senior academic position in Belgium. It is roughly equivalent to an American endowed chair. In addition to research and teaching, these professors are expected to take on an academic leadership role in the department or faculty. It is only possible to become a professeur ordinaire through promotion.
Other Teaching Positions
Maître de conférences (MCF)
A Belgian maître de conférences is quite different to its counterpart in France. In Belgium, maître de conférences is a title, not a rank, held by a foreign academic in a temporary position who fills a teaching need.