The Game of Thrones in Austria

In my previous posts, I discussed about investing your time in Ph.D. training aiming as a return to get a (full) Professor position at a University. I also commented on how similar tenure can be with a technology startup.

At the closing event of the “Postdoc Forum Austria” in June 2017 (LinkedIn group and Facebook event), we discussed about the apparent lack of numbers in Austria. As a follow-up, I did some desk research. There are indeed nice numbers produced by the Bundesministerium für Wissenschaft, Forschung und Wirtschaft (BMWFW, Federal Ministry for Science, Research, and Economy) under their unidata initiative. And I guess this is the nice part of it. To boldly summarize:

The Austrian system outputs every two years more Ph.D. holders
than all tenured professor positions available in the country.

The number of Full Professors serving in an Austrian university increased by 295 (or 13.4%) from 2005 to 2016. There are on average 25 more new Full Professor positions each year in Austria.

Full Professors in Austrian Universities (2005-2016)

There were no Associate or Assistant Professor positions until 2009, according to unidata. The number of Associate Professors increased ninefold, from 85 in 2010 to 752 in 2016. In contrast, the number of Assistant Professors increased by 120%, from 284 in 2010 to 626 in 2016.

By the end of 2016, there are 3.872 professors of all ranks serving at an Austrian university. When adding these additional 1,378 professors, there are on average 139 more new tenured professor positions each year in Austria.

Professors in Austrian Universities by Rank (2005-2016)

Let’s turn our focus now on the production of candidates to fill these positions. A Ph.D. degree is the absolute minimum requirement for being eligible to bid for these positions (there are some corner cases but we ignore them for the sake of simplicity). So, how is the local (Austrian) system doing? Does it produce enough educated and trained people or Austria has to rely on help from abroad?

Ph.D. enrollments in Austrian universities (2001-2016)

In the winter semester of 2016, there were more than 25.000 active enrollments for a Ph.D. degree in Austrian universities  (Source: unidata Doktoratsstudien an Universitäten – Zeitreihe Wintersemester). You can check the distribution of these enrollments in different fields of study in the unidata report “Doktoratsstudien auf Studium-Ebene“. Do you know what happened in 2001 that caused people to stop their Ph.D. studies en masse? Or in 2009 that they enrolled en masse again? If yes, please, drop me a message. Thank you!

Let me interpret the available numbers. For more than 15 years now, there are on average 23.000 persons pursuing a Ph.D. degree in Austria. At the same time, there are on average 139 new tenured professor positions in the Austrian universities.

I am not sure if it is a relief but the number of new enrollments for a Ph.D. is steadily dropping, driven by the Austrian students not enrolling as much as before. Once more, if you know what happened in 2009, please do drop me a message. Thank you!

New enrollments for Ph.D. studies at Austrian universities (2000-2016)

Still, one might claim that not all people enrolled for a Ph.D. degree will eventually get it. Let’s turn our focus on how many Ph.D. degrees are awarded each year. Again, unidata is the valuable source of information. The report “Studienabschlüsse von Doktoratsstudien auf Studium-Ebene” provides a detailed analysis per degree type. Here, we focus on the aggregate numbers across all disciplines.

Awarded Ph.D. degrees by Austrian universities (2001-2016)

There are 2,200 new Ph.D. degrees awarded each year by Austrian universities. At the same time, tenured positions expand by 139 every year. On average. Allow me to oversimplify and state that there is a 6.3% probability to land in one of these new tenured professor positions.

There are other factors not accounted for (e.g., how many persons come with a Ph.D. from abroad to pursue (?) an academic career in Austria starting with a postdoctoral research contract, how many persons leave the country, how many tenured professors leave the system, etc.). I am not aware of any reliable source about these flows, apart from a study dating back in 2011. Judging by the situation in other countries, I doubt you can make that ratio better than 10% with all factors in.

To put that in perspective. Every two years the academic system of Austria outputs more Ph.D. holders than all the available tenured positions in Austria. Please, take a moment and think of it …

In summary:

Awarded Ph.D. degrees (cumulative) and number of professors (all ranks) in Austria (2005-2016)