Organisation - December 14, 2017

Five questions about tenure track 2.0

Linda van der Nat,Albert Sikkema

The Executive Board wants to make the tenure track system more flexible so that not everyone has to become a professor holding a personal chair and career opportunities are also available for people who do a lot of teaching. That plan has now been sent to the WUR Council for its approval. If the plan gets the go-ahead, what does that mean in practice? Five questions about the new tenure track policy.

Tenure track 2.0 will have more to offer academic staff who focus on teaching. Photo: Guy Ackermans

1. How many tenure track staff will be affected by the new rules?

The university currently has 230 staff on the tenure track. This career path policy started in 2009. Eight years later, 30 academics (20 men and 10 women) have reached the finishing line of a personal professorship. There are also over 110 assistant professors and almost 90 associate professors on the tenure track. More than 40 percent of them are women. In the past few years, the number of tenure track staff has increased by about 20 per year. Around 30 staff are taken on every year and about 10 employees leave the tenure track.

2. Associate professor will become the ‘default’ final stage. What if you want to become a personal professor?

An associate professor who wants to become a personal professor will have to satisfy the same criteria as now but these criteria will be enforced more strictly. For example, in the new situation it will no longer be possible to compensate for criteria. In the past, if you didn’t score that well in ‘PhD supervision’ you could compensate for that with a higher score on ‘publications’, for instance. Now associate professors will have to satisfy all the criteria in order to be promoted to personal professor. On the other hand, the personal professor 2.0 will earn more. Professors holding a personal chair will be on the same salary scale as other professors. That does not mean that they will have the same responsibilities. Professors with a chair group have more management tasks and therefore do not need to satisfy all the tenure track criteria. The Tenure Track 2.0 working group expects about 10 to 20 percent of the associate professors to progress to a personal professorship.

3. What will happen to the personal professors who don’t satisfy all the tenure track criteria?

A transitional period will apply for personal professors who used compensation to obtain their position. Under the current system, each personal professor is reassessed after five years. If any of them fail to satisfy all the criteria, they will remain in their current job (as personal professor) but on the present salary scale. Personal professors who do satisfy all the criteria will be put on the higher salary scale. Researchers who secure prestigious funding such as a Vidi or Vici need special attention as they will temporarily be unable to fulfil all the teaching criteria. In that case, the appointment advisory committee can grant compensation or postpone the assessment. In this way, the new tenure track will offer greater flexibility for talented academics.

4. What research obligations will staff have who choose the teaching career path?

It is as yet unclear how much research someone on the teaching career path will have to do. There are two options. The first is to maintain the close links between teaching and research. Rector magnificus Arthur Mol has hinted at this option: he does not want Wageningen to have professors who specialize in teaching. The second possibility is a specific teaching career path for a small group of employees who only have limited research obligations (10 to 20 percent of their time). These teaching professionals will be expected to improve the quality of the teaching, in terms of both content and methods, and to deliver innovation in education. These teaching specialists can be promoted to ‘lecturer 1’, a job at associate professor level that already exists but is barely used.

5. What will the change in policy mean from a financial perspective?

The current tenure track policy is pushing up staff costs as staff get a salary increase with every new step in their career. The intention is that the changes will lead to smaller increases in staff costs in the coming years. The Executive Board predicts that if the policy were to remain the same, the tenure track costs would increase from 24.5 million euros in 2017 to 29.5 million in 2025, by which point 40 percent of staff would be personal professors. According to the board, the proposed new policy — in which fewer candidates progress to a personal professorship — would cause costs to increase by 4 million up to 2025, or one million euros less than under the current policy.