In the French education system, what is the difference between doctorant ("PhD student") and doctorant contractuel ("contractual PhD Student")?

1 Answer 1


In France (like other countries), there are several ways to fund a PhD student.

A doctorant contractuel is a legal designation used to refer to someone who has signed a specific job contract called a contrat doctoral. This contracts allows universities to hire PhD students and describes the working conditions of the PhD student as an employee of said university.

Note that, in addition to this contract, a decree (2009-464 in the Wiki link) can also modify the working conditions by stating that a PhD student funded with such a contract must spend 100% of his/her time on research activities. As a result, an additional clause must be signed to be allowed to do teaching activities. From what I know, this is the one crucial point to be aware of when proposing or signing such a contract.

A doctorant is a just a term used to designate a PhD student, without any distinction regarding the nature and source of the funding.

  • I'm not sure I understand your third paragraph. The decree you mention doesn't say that a doctorant contractuel must spend 100% of his time on research duty (read Article 5), and of course there isn't a new decree for every contract signed. What is true is that most contracts say that the doctorant only has a research mission, but an avenant (amendment in English) can be signed later for additional missions such as teaching for up to 1/6th of time. Some contracts (e.g. mine) have the teaching duties in it from the get-go.
    – user9646
    Mar 2, 2016 at 13:58
  • @NajibIdrissi Yes, you are correct. My point was to highlight the fact that, unless explicitly written on the contrat doctoral, a PhD student cannot legally do teaching activities (otherwise, it's either volunteering from the student's side if it's done for free, or unreported employment from the university's side if paid). Hence the necessity to sign the amendment (which I refered to as the additional clause in my answer).
    – PatW
    Mar 2, 2016 at 14:22
  • As of 2016, doctorants contractuels can do extras (vacations, such as colles). Aug 29, 2017 at 1:20

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