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Belgian Academic Job Titles Explained

5 min read · By Academic Positions

What's the difference between a docent and a hoogleraar? What about a professeur and a professeur ordinaire? Belgian job titles and the Belgian academic career path is slightly different than in the US. Job titles and responsibilities also differ between Flemish (Dutch-speaking) and Wallonian (French-speaking) universities. Here's a breakdown of the most common academic job titles used in Belgium.

Here is the typical career path at a Dutch-speaking university:

PhD Student

A PhD required to work as a professor or researcher in Belgium. 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 a researcher’s training that allows them to further their professional development and start to transition from student to independent scholar. A Belgian postdoc lasts three years.


This position is equivalent in rank to an assistant professor or lecturer and is the first permanent academic position. The initial contract is often for three years and may become permanent after a positive evaluation. If the position becomes permanent, it is not uncommon for someone to stay at the docent rank until retirement. However, some universities are starting to introduce tenure-track docent positions. A more experienced candidate who has the potential to become a hoofddocent can be appointed to a tenure-track universitair docent position. After four years, their performance is evaluated and if they have a strong publication record and have received major grants they are then promoted to hoofddocent.


A hoofddocent is equivalent in rank to an associate professor or senior lecturer. Traditionally to become a hoofddocent, a docent would apply for a vacant hoofddocent position. However it is also possible to be promoted to this position based on performance. This is permanent position and it is not uncommon for someone to remain a hoofddocent until retirement.


A hoogleraar is equivalent to a professor and is at the top rank in the professorial hierarchy. A hoogleraar haw substantial research accomplishments that haw established themselves 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 is a little different:

Etudiant en doctorat

A doctorat is required to hold any higher academic positions in Belgian French-speaking universities. 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 usually takes three to six years to earn a doctorate.


A post-doc is a continuation of a researcher’s training that allows them to further their professional development and start to transition from student to independent scholar. 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 or premier assistant is the normal entry-level position in French-speaking 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 or premier assistant for a probationary period of three to five years. If their research and teaching is evaluated positively, their position will become permanent.


When a chargé de cours meet the conditions (as defined by their university), they may apply for a professeur position. 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.

Professeur ordinaire

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 an academic in a temporary position who fills a part-time teaching need.

By Academic Positions · Published 2019-10-28

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