Temporary contracts: large differences between universities

Whereas one university readily hires lecturers and ‘assistant professors’ on a permanent basis, another prefers to offer its teaching staff temporary positions. The differences between institutions are large, says the Rathenau Institute.

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At Utrecht University, nearly 90 per cent of lecturers are on temporary contracts, compared with 30 per cent in Eindhoven. The differences are also wide one rung higher up the ladder at the assistant professor level, varying from almost no temporary contracts in Delft to around 60 per cent in Tilburg.

It is no secret that around half of university lecturers are on temporary contracts. Furthermore, they do not always earn much, with some taking home a salary comparable with that of a primary school teacher, reported HOP. Nearly three in ten university lecturers are also on temporary contracts. The Rathenau Institute has set out the differences in an interpretive overview.


Other positions, such as professors and associate professors, do not diverge as much. Holding one of these positions in Groningen or Maastricht does not make much of a difference in terms of the type of contract. The same applies to support staff.

Two explanations

Why is the situation so different for lecturers? The Rathenau Institute considers two explanations for the high number of temporary contracts: growing student numbers and the increase in project-based financing (i.e. temporary funding).

“However, the number of lecturers on temporary contracts does not seem to depend exclusively on the influx of new students,” the researchers have determined. “Other causes could be busy periods or temporary replacements in the event of illness.” Moreover, rising student numbers certainly do not explain the situation for all university lecturers.


The problem of temporary contracts is particularly significant in the postdoctoral phase, when researchers have obtained their PhDs and hop from post to post. Within Europe, the Netherlands is among the countries with the most temporary contracts, along with Denmark, Sweden, Norway and Belgium.

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