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This press release by an Italian union mentions a huge difference between the number of academic positions in various countries:

Per fare solo un esempio, sul personale, a fronte dei circa 50.000 docenti universitari nel nostro Paese, ce ne sono circa 250.000 in Germania, 200.000 nel Regno Unito, 95.000 in Spagna, 80.000 in Francia e analoghe differenze si verificano rispetto al personale tecnico e amministrativo.

My translation:

As an example, let's mention personnel: corresponding to about 50,000 university professors in our country [Italy], there are about 250,000 in Germany, 200,000 in the United Kingdom, 95,000 in Spain, 80,000 in France, and there are similar differences regarding clerks and technicians.

Are these numbers accurate? Do they compare apples to apples? For instance, as far as I understand, many PhD students in Germany are employed as "Wimi"s and would probably be counted as "academic personnel", while in Italy they are still considered students and they would not fit in the same category.

Regarding Italy, this 2018 press release by the Italian ministry of education shows that in 2017 there were 54,235 academic positions in Italy, counting only professors and junior positions, both temporary and tenure-track (Professore ordinario, professore associato, ricercatore a tempo indeterminato, ricercatore a tempo determinato). This excludes postdoc grants (13,946) and all PhD students (9,288 in 2017 according to another source).

Where can I find similar breakdowns regarding Germany, UK, or other countries?

  • Google translates docenti universitari to university professors. (I didn't understand what a university teacher is.) But, what does that mean? Should we include those equivalent to associate professors? – user2768 Aug 26 at 12:45
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    @user2768 Docenti universitari in this context, when referring to the Italian system, means full professors, associate professors, and assistant professors. Some assistant positions in Italy are tenure track, some are permanent, and some only last for 3+2 years. It excludes postdocs and phd students. It's not clear what it means with respect to the other countries. – Federico Poloni Aug 26 at 12:59
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    @user2768 I have updated the translation to "professors", anyway, thanks for the suggestion. – Federico Poloni Aug 26 at 13:09
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    See table 3 here hesa.ac.uk/news/18-01-2018/… for UK data. About 200,000 academic staff, but only 20,000 professors. – alephzero Aug 26 at 22:11
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    @JeremyC The point that press release is trying to make is that Italy should hire more professors because they are behind with respect to the rest of Europe. I don't disagree with that, personally, but I am just trying to fact-check their numbers and see if they are making a fair comparison. A factor 5 difference with Germany seems too much, to me. – Federico Poloni Aug 26 at 22:27
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The data is roughly accurate for France. The French ministry's HR department releases data periodically, and one of the latest report (2017-2018) is available there: http://cache.media.enseignementsup-recherche.gouv.fr/file/statistiques/62/3/Note_NP_2017_2018_1146623.pdf

In summary, in 2018, there were 81,563 teachers in French public universities. This includes 62,491 permanent positions (full professors, lecturers, and full-time tenured teachers), and 19,072 non-permanent. Of these, 7110 are PhD students with teaching duties, and 4500 are "ATER" (a kind of "postdoc", it's complicated). Depending on how you want to count what, the 80k figure is probably overestimated if you exclude PhD students and postdocs, but it's in the ballpark.

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    Thanks! It seems then that, at least for France, that report is indeed comparing apples to oranges: phds and postdocs are counted for France, but not for Italy, and when one accounts correctly for them the numbers are not so dramatically different (54k vs 62k faculty, or 77k vs 81k total, and then one must consider also that the population of France is slightly larger than that of Italy, 60M vs 67M according to Wikipedia estimates). – Federico Poloni Aug 26 at 11:08
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    It should be mentioned that ATER is mainly a teaching position (a constant complain I hear is that it leaves almost no time for research). – Denis Nardin Aug 26 at 19:48
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The numbers for Germany are definitely counting different things. Take the following official source

https://www.destatis.de/DE/Themen/Gesellschaft-Umwelt/Bildung-Forschung-Kultur/Hochschulen/Publikationen/Downloads-Hochschulen/personal-vorbericht-5213402188004.html

On page 98 is the full list, in which a number around 250.000 indeed occurs, but as the number of total full time scientific personal, which on one hand includes 193.000 "Wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiter", i.e. PhD students and Postdocs, many of which will be involved in teaching, but only some of which might be counted in similar statistics for other countries. So if you count only full professors and "Lehrbeauftragte", you will actually get a lower number then for the other countries, but then again you will have missed many non-tenured people you would have counted in other countries.

Also this number excludes around 100k part-time (which can mean anything from giving a small one week-course once a year up to 49% of a position) "Lehrbeauftragte", which often do the similar work to professors especially at "Fachhochschulen", where most of them teach.

I think it is impossible to get comparable numbers for a common definition of "university teacher" for the different countries. Personally I would go the other way and compare the number of full time scientific (teaching and academic research, especially including paid PhD Students) personell between the different countries instead.

  • Thanks! These Lehrbeauftragte / adjuncts sound a lot like the Italian professori a contratto, which aren't counted in the stats for Italy either. – Federico Poloni Aug 26 at 11:54
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    @FedericoPoloni You are probably right about that, although the question would be why they are not counted, when they do similar work. (Only with less pay and job security, which has been controversial in Germany for quite some while.) – mlk Aug 26 at 12:14
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    @mlk I cannot substantiate, but the impression I had was that in Italy "professori a contratto" were mainly professionals in related fields (engineers, lawyers, doctors...) doing the teaching as a side gig. This impression, truthful or not, may account why in Italy they are considered "not really professors". – Denis Nardin Aug 26 at 19:53
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    @DenisNardin In theory it works the same in Germany. In practice while this is true for many, there are quite a few people who survive only on those kind of jobs, in the hope of finally getting a permanent position. And of course there are less and less of those, as hiring someone on a contract instead is significantly cheaper for the university. This is compounded by the fact that the "venia legendi", the right of a person to teach independently and the corresponding title "Privatdozent" can be lost, if they do not teach regularly. So in short, the situation is complicated. – mlk Aug 27 at 7:58
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Do they compare apples to apples?

No, among other reasons because they aren't demographically normalized:

  1. The population sizes of these countries differ.
  2. The numbers of foreign Ph.D. candidates per capita differ.

Other normalizations may be relevant as well.

  • Of course one should take polulation sizes into account, but a quick look on Wikipedia gives populations of roughly 46 millions for Spain, 60 for Italy, 66 for the UK, 67 for France, and 83 for Germany, so it's not like they're comparing Italy to the US. – Arnaud D. Aug 27 at 7:28
  • @ArnaudD.: 1. But the Spain and France numbers on the same order of magnitude as Italy. 2. It could still be the case that some countries' universities simply attract lots of foreign Ph.D. candidates. – einpoklum - reinstate Monica Aug 27 at 8:18
  • Actually, correcting for population amplifies the difference in the case of Spain, making it look like they have almost 2.5 times the number of professors in Italy (with UK and Germany having roughly 3.5 times the number of Italy). – Arnaud D. Aug 27 at 8:30

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