Academic ranks in France

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The following summarizes basic academic ranks in the French higher education system. Most academic institutions being state-run, people with permanent positions are civil servants. Several parallel, more or less equivalent, career paths exist, depending on the type of institutions. On the other hand, in most cases, a complete career requires at least two open recruitment procedures, as there is no individual promotion from the level equivalent to Associate Professor to the level of Full-Professor.

Public institutions


Faculty Research-only Teaching-only Part-time
Tenured positions Professeur des universités
Directeur d'études (école des chartes, école des hautes études en sciences sociales, école pratique des hautes études, école française d'Extrême-Orient)
Astronome (observatoire de Paris)
Physicien (institut de Physique du Globe de Paris)
Professeur des universités-praticien hospitalier (Teaching hospitals)
Directeur de recherche Professeur des universités associé
Maître de conférences
Astronome-adjoint (observatoire de Paris)
Physicien-adjoint (institut de Physique du Globe de Paris)
Maître de conférences-praticien hospitalier
Maître-assistant (Architecture Schools, Agricultural Science Schools, institut Mines-Télécom, Veterinary Schools)
Chargé de recherche Professeur agrégé or
Professeur certifié
Maître de conférences associé
Non-tenured positions Attaché temporaire d'enseignement et de recherche (ATER)
Assistant (Agricultural Science Schools, Veterinary Schools)
Assistant hospitalo-universitaire (Teaching Hospitals)
Chef de clinique des universités-assistant des hôpitaux (Teaching Hospitals)
Post-doctorant Chargé d'enseignement
Doctorant contractuel chargé d'enseignement Doctorant contractuel


In French, the word professeur is used much more widely than the English "professor", and when used on its own it suggests a schoolteacher in secondary education. Qualified terms such as professeur des universités are therefore used to clarify the function of the professeur.

After gaining a doctorate from a university, and usually after several years of temporary postdoctoral positions, scholars who wish to enter a more permanent academic career may apply for the position of maître de conférences (MCF, roughly equivalent to "associate professor"). To achieve this, they must first be approved by the National Council of Universities, made up of elected and appointed MCFs and university professors. For candidates who have first been approved in this way, the recruitment to positions is carried out in each individual university, mostly by a selection committee of other MCFs and professors, half from the university where the position is available, half from other universities, rather than by administrators.

The salary scale is national, so pay does not vary from one university to another. A recent reform allows for the possibility of salary modulation in the universities, but for now this remains to be implemented.

After some years in the maître de conférences position, an MCF may take an "habilitation" to become a supervisor of doctoral theses before applying for a position of professeur des universités ("university professor"), whether in their home university or in another institution. Their suitability for such a position will be judged by the National Council of Universities (restricted to full professors). Each individual application is examined by a selection committee, composed exclusively of full professors, mostly on their published original research as well on teaching and administrative duties. In the past, this required a higher doctorate ("state doctorate"). In some fields, such as law, management (gestion), and economics, candidates take the competitive examination known as agrégation; only those achieving the highest grades are appointed.

Both MCFs and professors are civil servants, but they benefit from a special statute which guarantees academic freedom. As an exception to civil service rules, appointments to these positions are made regardless of citizenship. There also exist equivalent ranks as state employees (non civil service) for professors coming from industry. These ranks are maître de conférences associé and professeur des universités associé (PAST), depending on academic experience.

In higher educational establishments outside the university system, such as the École polytechnique, teaching staff follow different hierarchies and career paths.

Senior Positions Junior Positions Class of Higher education institution
Professeur des universités ("full professor") Maître de conférences (Associate Professor) universities
Professeur des universités–Praticien hospitalier ("Professor-practitioner") Maître de conférences des universités–Praticien hospitalier ("Lecturer-practitioner") university hospitals
Astronomes physiciens ("Astronomer physicists") Astronomes adjoints ("Associate Astronomers") physiciens adjoints ("Associate Physicists") Observatories
Directeurs d'études ("Research Advisors") Maîtres de conférences EHESS, EPHE, École des chartes and École française d'Extrême-Orient

Tenured positions

Maître de conférences and Professeurs des universités are both permanent positions, and since all French universities are state-run, professors are also civil servants. The permanent position is not the same as tenure, strictly speaking, but is instead due to the status of civil servant in public universities. These positions have various subcategories, but the title is always the same. No one can become Professeur or Maître de Conférence without a doctorate.

  • Professeur des universités (PU), a position similar to Full Professor. In some institutions (école des chartes, école des hautes études en sciences sociales), Professors use the title directeur d'études (Director of Studies). There are three pay ranks in the position of PU : 2nd class, 1st class, and exceptional class.
  • Maître de conférences (MCF), roughly translated as Master of Lectures, or accurately as Lecturer. The title is roughly equivalent to the rank of Assistant or Associate Professor (depending on the curriculum) in North America, and Senior Lecturer in the United Kingdom.[1] There are two pay ranks in the position of MCF : normal class and outstanding class.

The habilitation (HDR) to direct doctoral theses[2] is a necessary step to be promoted from MCF to PU.

In Law, Political Science and Economics it is possible to be recruited directly as a full professor by passing the agrégation (distinct from the secondary school system's agrégation, more widespread). Consequently, some scholars become professors without prior experience as a Maître de conférences. This remains rare however, most of the time the aggregation is a way to accelerate career advancement for the Maîtres de conférences (this is known as the voie courte, or short way, as opposed to the voie longue).

Non-tenured positions

  • Attaché temporaire d'enseignement et de recherche (ATER), roughly translated as Teaching and Research Temporary Attaché. ATERs usually are completing a PhD or have just done so. They have a one year contract renewable once, except for civil servants, who may hold an ATER position up to 4 years in total. ATERs have the same responsibilities and compensation as many non tenure-track faculty in North America. They do research work and 192 hours/year of teaching at both graduate and undergraduate levels for about 20,000 euros/year.
  • Doctorant contractuel : PhD candidates who have obtained, based on their academic accomplishments, a 3-years position (non renewable). They are awarded a research contract which is actually a salary (1400 euros/month) and are expected to work on a dissertation and to participate in research activities. In addition, sometimes contractuels also are chargé d'enseignement (Teaching Assistant, 1700 euros/month), meaning that they teach about 64 hours per year, usually at the undergraduate level. Being a moniteur usually helps a lot to eventually get a faculty position: less than 1/4 of the regular PhD students have the chance to be a chargé d'enseignement.

Research positions

There also exist permanent, research positions, without teaching duties. They are offered by certain public research institutions, the Public Scientific and Technical Research Establishments, for instance the French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS), the Institute of Research for Development (IRD), the National Institute of Health and Medical Research (INSERM), or the French Institute for Research in Computer Science and Automation (Inria). Again, people in these positions are civil servants (thus, in this sense, tenured).

There are two levels, matching those of the teaching-research staff :

  • directeur de recherche (Research Director, sometimes translated as Senior Researcher), equivalent to professeur
  • chargé de recherche (Researcher, sometimes translated as Young Scientist), equivalent to maître de conférences

The French National Centre for Scientific Research (CNRS) maintains an online French-English glossary of administrative terms including recommended equivalents for directeur de recherche and chargé de recherche.[3]

There are no internal promotion from one level to the other, but a procedure of recruitment in each case (a certain number of positions at each level are opened at a national level and people apply). Inside one level, there are several degrees :

  • directeur de recherche 2nd, 1st, exceptional classes (DR2, DR1, DRCE)
  • chargé de recherche 2nd and 1st classes (CR2, CR1)

Passing from one degree to the other is also decided by a national commission, by examination of the work of the candidates. Inside each degree, there are also sub-degrees, between which the progression is more or less automatic and concerns only the salary level.

The complete name of the position usually makes the institution explicit, e.g. : directeur de recherche au CNRS, or chargé de recherche à l'INRIA. It has to be noticed that some of these positions can be located not in a laboratory proper to the Public Scientific and Technical Research Establishment, but in a mixed research structure, common with a university (UMR).

These establishments also offer engineer positions that include a research part, besides more technical duties (e.g. preparation of a database, experimental apparatus, etc.) : ingénieur d'études may include an important research part, ingénieur de recherche always includes a dominant research part.

There also exists some contractual positions (from a few months to a few years).


  • Professeur agrégé (PRAG) : Secondary school teachers teaching at university level (for example a foreign language).
  • Professeur certifié (PRCE) : secondary school teacher teaching at university level. These teachers have a lesser degree than PRAG teachers.
  • Chargé d’enseignement  : title used broadly for every instructor who teach at a regular basis in any university, though not at a full-time position.

Private schools

The Grandes Écoles is a parallel educational system generally attributed to Napoleon. These institutions of higher education each specialize in a specific domain, such as business, political science, or engineering. Some of them are grands établissements (for example Sciences Po Paris) are part of the state university recruitment system. The others - mainly the private ones - follow various guidelines. Among the business schools it is common to follow the North American terminology. That is,

  • Instructor (vacataire or chargé d'enseignements)
  • Adjunct professor (professeur affilié)
  • Assistant professor (professeur assistant(e))
  • Associate professor (professeur associé)
  • Full professor (professeur)
  • Chaired professorships are a new phenomenon and can be given to either an associate professor or full professor.

Typically, anyone teaching in a private school will identify themselves publicly as "Professeur" regardless of their internal rank. This is an acceptable practice for tenured or full-time staff ("professeurs permanents") and permanently employed part-time staff (professeurs affiliés). It is considered inappropriate for others who teach a single course (vacataires or chargés d'enseignements).

Administrative ranks

  • Recteur (Rector) :High-level civil servants appointed by the Ministry of education to oversee an Académie or large educational district, they are formally chancellor of the universities in their district. They usually are chosen among senior university professors.[4]
  • Président de l'université (University President) : Elected position usually held by a professor for four years.[5]
  • Doyen (Dean (education)) or Directeur d'unité de formation et de recherche (Director of Teaching and Research Unit): Elected position, chairperson of one of the university schools, called faculté or unité de formation et de recherche.[6]
  • Directeur d'école doctorale (Director of Graduate School) : Elected position, chairperson of one of the special schools for graduate research.[7]
  • Directeur d'unité de recherche (Director of Research Unit) : Elected position, chairperson of a research lab.

See also