Tenure-track programmes are a good way for promising researchers to embark on an academic career. In offering attractive career prospects, they allow universities to compete for talent internationally and they help to build a more mobile research work force in Europe and beyond.
Today the League of European Research Universities (LERU) releases a paper sharing its universities’ experiences with setting up tenure track programmes over the past decade.
Providing a more structured and accelerated path for those aspiring to an academic career, tenure track is fairly new in Europe, in comparison with North America where it has been for decades the back bone of academic recruitment and career progression, even though it has come under pressure there. Tenure track in the European context is defined in the LERU paper as a fixed-term contract (usually for three to six or more years) leading to a permanent position at a higher level if the candidate receives a positive evaluation. The LERU paper uses its own and the European Commission’s four-stage classification of researchers’ career stages, with tenure tracks spanning the third and fourth stages.
A survey of the 21 LERU universities in ten countries shows that three countries do not have tenure track as such (France, Spain and UK), although the LERU universities there have other schemes for young faculty. In the other countries (Belgium, Finland, Germany, Italy, the Netherlands, Sweden and Switzerland), tenure track programmes have been developed in various ways and along three basic models, which are described in detail in the paper. The survey was conducted by the University of Freiburg in Germany, which has had a 4+2 year model since 2009.
Although the number of faculty on tenure-track at LERU universities is substantial (43 per university on average in 2012 – albeit with large variations), it is too early to evaluate the wider effects, and universities are learning from the first cohorts going through, fine-tuning and modifying the process as needed, and using it alongside more traditional career paths.
All tenure-track positions at LERU universities are granted on an “up-or-out” premise, meaning that candidates who receive a negative evaluation at the end of the period in practice usually find themselves out of a job at that university. So far the success rates have been very high, and while the numbers are too small to make sweeping conclusions, it does possibly point to a very strong selection at the start.
The paper ends with recommendations for universities, governments and the European Commission, calling on all to do their part in thinking up innovative and alternative career paths, in offering attractive positions based on open and merit-based recruitment, and in eliminating barriers to an open labour market for researchers in Europe.