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Careers of researchers

The Council has initiated a project examining the careers of researchers in industry and academia in 2017-2018.

Within the last two decades, careers in research in Denmark have undergone significant changes. Firstly, the Danish Council for Research and Innovation Policy (DFiR) notes that the number of individuals working with research and development, especially in the private sector, has increased. Since the turn of the millennium, the private sector has surpassed the universities and the public sector by far as the main R&D sector in Denmark. Secondly, DFiR has examined career paths and recruitment in the Danish universities. Here the Council notes the emergence of structural career malfunctions.

Figure 2 shows number of researchers in different Danish sectors from 1967-2017. The green shows the Buisness sector. The light blue shows universities and the dark blue shows the public sector in total (including universities)

Malfunctions occur due to; (a) the significant increase in the number of postdocs in Danish universities. From 2007 to 2017, the number of postdocs in Denmark increased dramatically by almost 2,700 positions. This is partly due to the increase in external funding, which has been concentrated in large grants, with a large proportion of the grants being allocated for temporary positions for younger researchers; (b) a significant delay in career advancement from 2008 to 2017. On average, it takes almost three more years to become a full professor from the time of receiving one’s PhD than was the case ten years ago; (c) a rise in the proportion of women with children leaving academia and other gender equality indicators, which underlines that the pool of talented female researchers at Danish universities might be diminishing; (d) the Danish position of Professor “MSO” (professor with special responsibilities) is not being used as intended, but is reduced to merely a professorship trial; (e) the open competition in Danish research is not sufficiently transparent in the recruitment processes for research positions in the universities. Only 47 pct. of the research positions in Danish universities are filled in open competition. 26 pct. of the positions are filled without open calls. Moreover, 26 pct. of the calls only have one qualified candidate. DFiR therefore calls for changes in the career structures in the Danish universities. In its ‘Careers in Research’ report, DFiR has identified a number of areas where career perspectives and career paths in research in industry as well as in universities could be improved. The Council aims to improve the attractiveness of research careers and to support career paths to suit the needs of society.

On the basis of analysis and data, DFiR forwards two conclusions and six recommendations to the Danish Ministry of Higher Education and Science, to industry, to the universities and the research-funding foundations in Denmark. The conclusions and recommendations can be found in the English Executive Summary (page 11-18) in the publication below:

Purpose of the project

The purpose of the project was to obtain information about researchers’ careers in order for DFiR to provide research and innovation policy advice to the Minister of Higher Education and Science, the Danish Parliament and other interested parties. The aim of the policy advice is to improve the framework conditions for research careers in Denmark and enhance more attractive and efficient career paths in order to maintain a continually high level of research quality, both in the private and the public sector.

Project elements

The project consisted of different analytical elements. The focus was on researchers and research leaders in the private sector at universities in Denmark and in Europe. The project elements include:

  • A quantitative register analysis of research careers in Danish universities, based on employment data during the period 1998-2017
  • A quantitative analysis of all Danish universities' recruitment of researchers in the period 1993-2016, based on      data from the Ministry of Higher Education and Science
  • An assessment of international studies, such as the EU survey reports MORE2 and 3 regarding researcher mobility
  • A qualitative study of international scientific staff employed at Danish universities and reflections on the Danish  research career system.  
  • A qualitative study of scientific staff and research leaders’ reflections on strategies for research careers in  Denmark and internationally, at universities and the business world
  • Visits to a selected group of universities and  companies in Denmark and the Low Countries

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last modified December 08, 2021