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While learning about the different faculty jobs in France, I discovered that the two different ranks of faculty are subdivided in classes: maitre de conférence are sorted in "normal class" and "outstanding class", while professors are sorted in "second class", "first class", "exceptional class". You start in the lowest class and if you're good you can be promoted.

From an outsider perspective I could not find any difference other than salary. However reading the history of these ranks they used to correspond to, I think:

  • maitre-assistant -> new maitre de conférence
  • old maitre de conférence -> professor "second class"
  • non-titular professor -> professor "first class"
  • professor titular of a chair -> professor "exceptional class"

Today, other than salary, does the class change anything? Does a higher class faculty have more weight with the university or something? More responsibility? Or is it purely financial?

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Generally speaking, it is financial. The responsibility difference is between HDR-holders and non HDR-holders (HDR = Habilitation à diriger les recherches).

Maîtres de conférences are not always allowed to supervise research alone (for example: you cannot supervise a PHD student alone).

To do so you need to hold an HDR: it is a university diploma, something like a smaller PhD thesis that proves that you can supervise others. It's similar to Habilitation in many European countries, like Germany for example.

All "Professeurs" have an HDR : it is a condition (but not the only one) to get promoted. Some "Maitre de Conférences" have an HDR, some do not.

Please note there are two fields in French universities where the "Maître de Conférences/Professeur" distinction is different, for historic reasons : Law and Economics. You become a "Professeur" by completing a competitive examination: "l'agrégation". HDR is this case is not necessary.

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    My understanding of the French system, from what I was told during my stay there (so I don't know personally, else I'd answer; this is hearsay, but it's consistent with your answer), is that it is a completely flat hierarchy. Senior professors who have won many awards can be teaching the problem sessions to a lecture run by fresh hires, for example. Not to say that there's no departmental politics, and so people who have a little more pull than others, but the positions themselves don't intrinsically encode or enforce this. – zibadawa timmy May 2 '18 at 11:08
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    @zibadawatimmy While the part about teaching is true, there is a kind of hierarchy in French universities: inside a département (which is usually a combination of a teaching unit and a research unit) you have the director and councillors of he teaching units, and the directors and councillors of the research unit, for example. All of these positions are elected (eg every 5 years), and there are seats reserved for professors and seats reserved for maîtres de conférences. In fact it's like that on almost every level in the university (the administrative board, the research council...) – user9646 May 2 '18 at 12:01
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    Yes there is some hierarchy in the council representation, but not overall in day to day work. A Prof. is not a MdC's boss, there are roughly considered the same by students and other academics. Some MdC have a lot of weight at the university. For example, the Deputy Director of my faculty (Engineering) is a MdC (it's a position that not many people want to fill, but one with responsibility nonetheless !). This is very different in Law studies (using the aggregation system) where there is a big gap in prestige between both positions, and that has consequences in teaching assignments. – Viscaro May 2 '18 at 15:47

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