What is the salary of a university professor in Spain?
This post is created after my PhD student, Daniel Uroz, published a post (in Spanish) describing the salary of a researcher in the Spanish university system (and in particular, with the salaries of the University of Zaragoza and the scholarships of the Autonomous Community of Aragon – they may vary in each university and Autonomous Community). As I have been a PhD student and now an Associate Professor, I think my point of view on this complements Daniel’s post and may also be of interest.
First, I will describe the types of teaching positions that existed (the law has recently changed) and exist within the Spanish university system to give some background. Then, I will tell what my professional career has been within the Spanish university system. Last, I will comment on the evolution of my salary during my career and the pros and cons of working as a professor. Finally, I would like to point out that everything I report here is my personal experience and that my particular case cannot be extrapolated to other professors in the Spanish university system.
The Spanish University System
Ley Orgánica de Universidades (LOU)
From the beginning of 2002 until March 22, 2023, the Spanish university system was regulated by the «Ley Orgánica 6/2001, de 21 de diciembre, de Universidades» (called LOU). This organic law defines that the teaching and research staff of public universities will be made up of civil servants from the university teaching bodies and contracted personnel.
Different figures of contracted personnel are defined:
- Assistant Professor without PhD (in Spanish, Profesor Ayudante): this figure was the entry figure in the Spanish university system, and was focused on those who are pursuing a doctorate in any PhD program of the university. The maximum number of teaching hours is 60 hours and they can only be laboratory sessions, the contract is temporary and with full-time dedication. The maximum time a person can be in this contract is 5 years, and the minimum is 1 year. There are some exceptions to extend this maximum period in certain cases (temporary disability, maternity leave, etc.). According to other professors at the University of Zaragoza, the last time a person was hired with this contract in a department at the University of Zaragoza was during the 2011/2022 academic year. This figure was designed so that a university professor would have enough time to research and obtain a doctorate, in addition to teaching. However, the class hours/cost ratio was too low to be profitable for universities, so gradually the call for this type of position began to disappear, becoming the next figure the first figure to enter the Spanish university system.
- Assistant Professor with PhD (in Spanish, Profesor Ayudante Doctor): to access this position it is necessary to be a PhD and have a positive evaluation (for this position) from the National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation or from the regional agencies of accreditation. There is no maximum number of teaching hours in the law, but I can tell you that it is 240 hours (24 ECTS) in the University of Zaragoza. As before, the contract is temporary, with full-time dedication, and the maximum time a person can be in this contract is again 5 years, and the minimum is 1 year (as before, with extensions in certain cases). This maximum of years also considers the time of service as Profesor Ayudante.
- Associate Professor (in Spanish, Profesor Contratado Doctor): as before, to access this position it is necessary to be a PhD and have a positive evaluation (for this position) from the National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation or from the regional agencies of accreditation. There is no maximum number of teaching hours in the law, but again it is 240 hours (24 ECTS) in University of Zaragoza. Unlike before, the contract is permanent, with full-time dedication.
- Part-time Lecturer (in Spanish, Profesor Asociado): This figure is designed for those people who carry out a professional activity outside the university and, in addition to having a job outside the university, dedicate a few hours to teaching within the university. Their contract is temporary and the dedication is part-time.
There are other figures, such as Visiting Professors and Emeritus, but I do not need to describe them since they are not related to the professional career in the Spanish university system.
Regarding the civil servant figures, they are:
- Associate Professor (in Spanish, Profesor Titular de Universidad)
- Full Professor (in Spanish, Catedrático de Universidad)
To access these positions it is necessary to be a PhD and have a positive evaluation (for the corresponding position) from the National Agency for Quality Assessment and Accreditation.
Keep in mind that the access to each of these positions (contracted and civil servant) requires taking a merit opposition examination, which consists of an evaluation of the candidate’s teaching and research career (merits) and of a teaching and research project, plus a public exhibition and subsequent discussion of the project with the Selection Committee.
Ley Orgánica del Sistema Universitario (LOSU)
In March 22, 2023, the new organic law that currently regulates the Spanish university system was pusblished. As the previous organic law, it defines that the teaching and research staff of public universities will be made up of civil servants from the university teaching bodies and contracted personnel.
Civil servant figures have not changed, unlike contracted figures:
- Assistant Professor (in Spanish, Profesor Ayudante Doctor): although the name is the same, there are some changes. The most remarkable, there is no requirement of positive evaluations for this figure. The contract is temporary and with full-time dedication, with a maximum number of 180 teaching hours (18 ECTS). The maximum time for this contract is 6 years (there is an extension to 8 years if the person has a disability), with an intermediate evaluation (after the third year) being carried out by quality assessment agencies (national or regional, I guess).
- Permanent Professor (in Spanish, Profesor Permanente Laboral): just a rebranding of the previous figure of Profesor Contratado Doctor, but a positive evaluation for this figure is necessary. I suppose that the criteria for having a positive evaluation will be very similar to the criteria for Profesor Contratado Doctor.
- Substitute Professors (in Spanish, Profesor Substituto): this figure is for hiring faculty to replace teaching and research staff that temporarily suspend the provision of their services for various reasons.
- Part-time Lecturer (in Spanish, Profesor Asociado): this figure has the same name as before, but a few changes. In particular, the maximum number of teaching hours is 120 (12 ECTS) and the contact is permanent. Their teaching tasks may not include the performance of structural management and coordination functions.
There are still other figures, such as Visiting, Emeritus, and Distinguished Professors. If you’re interested on these figures, I recommend you to read the organic law.
Another major change in this law is that the merit opposition examinations will only consider the evaluation of the candidate’s teaching and research career (merits). In other words, the teaching and research project is no longer required, nor the public exhibition and subsequent discussion of the project with the Selection Committee.
In September 2003 I started the 5-year BSc degree on Computer Science and Engineering at the University of Zaragoza (UZ). A few months before finishing it (on September 19, 2008, with an average grade of 7.04 out of 10), in June 2008 I began a year of Posgraduate Internship at Aragón Technology Institute (in Spanish, Instituto Tecnológico de Aragón). During that year, I decided to join the PhD program in Systems and Computer Engineering at the University of Zaragoza under the supervision of Prof. José Merseguer and Prof. Jorge Júlvez to investigate UML (expertise of Prof. Merseguer), Petri nets (expertise of Prof. Júlvez), and security (my research interest) cross-domains. My PhD advisors were members of the Discrete Event Systems Engineering Research Group (in Spanish, Grupo de Investigación en Ingeniería de Sistemas de Eventos Discretos, GISED), and they offered me a scholarship to do the PhD while working as research staff at the University – which, of course, I gladly accepted.
Since my undergraduate grade point average was not spectacular, my applications for national PhD funding applications (in 2008, 2009, and 2010) were unsuccessful. I also tried to apply for a PhD funding related to a GISED research project (of four years), but unfortunately I was the second candidate. As a consequence, the GISED scholarship I got was temporary and I had to renovate the contract from time to time, since it depended on whether there was enough money to finance me for a few months. In particular, the specific terms and contracts were as follows:
- July 1 to December 31, 2009 (scholarship)
- January 1 to February 15, 2010 (temporary research contract)
- February 15 to December 31, 2010 (scholarship)
- January 1, 2011 to March 31, 2011 (scholarship)
- April 1, 2011 to December 31, 2011 (temporary research contract)
- January 1, 2012 to December 31, 2012 (temporary research contract)
- January 1, 2013 to February 28, 2013 (temporary research contract)
I remember that sometimes this situation created a bit of anxiety and frustration, but I always try to see the positive side of things and just take it as what comes [life’s a bitch, bro. Get used to it].
I finished my MSc degree on June 28, 2010 with an average grade of 8.63 (out of 10). In March 2013 I started working as a non-PhD researcher in a project founded by EU ARTEMIS at the Polytechnic University of Madrid (UPM), with the BABEL group. On June 24, 2013 I got my doctorate. On June 26, 2013 I applied for the national evaluation of the Profesor Ayudante Doctor accreditation, but my application was denied. Shortly after, I continued to apply for national post-doctoral funding (Juan de la Cierva Programme, JdC) in the following three calls (JdC 2012, JdC 2013, and JdC 2014), as well as tried different post-doc positions in international universities. In none of these I was successful. In particular, I tried the following:
- June 2013: Post-doctoral position on model checking and testing, LAAS-CNRS, Toulouse (France).
- July 2013: Full-time academic vacancy in the Research Group DistriNet, Department of Computer Science, Faculty of Engineering Science, KU Leuven (Belgium).
- August 2013: Post-doctoral research assistant in the project “Mining the Network Behaviour of Bots”, Information Security Group of Royal Holloway University of London (UK).
- September 2013:
- Post-doctoral research fellow position on the EPSRC-funded project “Automated Game-Theoretic Verification of Security Systems”, School of Computer Science, University of Birmingham (UK).
- Post-doctoral position in privacy-preserving biometrics, Networks and Systems Division, Department of Computer Science and Engineering, Chalmers University (Sweden).
- October 2014: Post-doctoral position in formal methods in Computer Science, DTU Compute, Department of Applied Mathematics and Computer Science, Technical University of Denmark (Denmark).
On March 19, 2014 I applied again for the national evaluation of the Profesor Ayudante Doctor as well as Profesor Contratado Doctor accreditations, but my applications were again denied. On July 7, 2014 I won a position as Senior Researcher on Cybersecurity at the then newly founded Research Institute of Applied Science to Cybersecurity, University of León (ULE), also located in Spain. I applied again for the national evaluation on both figures on February 16, 2015, and this time I got the positive evaluation for the Profesor Ayudante Doctor figure on April 15, 2015. I got a position as Profesor Ayudante Doctor (with no chance of promotion to other teaching figures) at the University of Zaragoza, starting on October 6, 2015. During 2015 and 2016, I also tried a few positions as Lecturer, with the same negative results:
- May 2015: Department of Computing, Imperial College London (UK)
- July 2015: School in Computing at University of Kent, Canterbury Campus (UK)
- April 2016: Departmental Lecturer in Security position, Mathematical, Physical, and Life Sciences division, University of Oxford (UK)
On February 14, 2016 I applied again for the national evaluation for the Profesor Contratado Doctor figure, and got a positive evaluation few months later (on May 9, 2016). My first contract as Assistant Professor ended on September 18, 2016, but I got another similar position in the same Department from October 21, 2016 to September 17, 2017 (again, with no chances of promotion). On February 21, 2017 I obtained a position as an Assistant Professor at the Centro Universitario de la Defensa-Zaragoza (CUD), a teaching center associated to the University of Zaragoza. On September 8, 2019 I left that job and started again as Assistant Professor at the University of Zaragoza on September 16, 2019, and this time (finally!) with the possibility of promotion.
On January 4, 2021 a Profesor Contratado Doctor figure emerged in my Department (Computer Science and System Engineering), which I applied for and finally won the merit opposition examination process on March 23, 2021. My request for promotion (carried out on December 2020 while I was Profesor Ayudante Doctor) was evaluated positive by the University of Zaragoza, so the merit opposition examination for Profesor Titular de Universidad was held on February 22, 2022.
And… that’s all for now, folks. So in summary, so far I have taken a total of 10 merit opposition examinations. In particular:
- Profesor Ayudante Doctor: 8
- 2015, University of Zaragoza: 1 failed, 1 won (no chance of promotion)
- 2016, University of Zaragoza: 1 failed, 1 won (no chance of promotion)
- 2017, University of Zaragoza: 1 failed
- 2017, Centro Universitario de la Defensa-Zaragoza: 1 won
- 2018, University of Zaragoza: 1 failed
- 2019, University of Zaragoza: 1 won (with chance of promotion)
- Profesor Contratado Doctor: 1
- 2021, University of Zaragoza: 1 won
- Profesor Titular de Universidad: 1
- 2022, University of Zaragoza: 1 won
Evolution of Gross Salary
As you can see, I’ve been working mainly in the Spanish universities (or in public teaching and research institutes) since I started my PhD on 2009. Salaries during my pre-doctoral days were mostly scolarships ranging between 1000€ and 1200€ (monthly), while the salaries as a research assistant and senior researchers where in the range of 33~36K€ (annually). The salaries of Professors of the University of Zaragoza are publicly available here, and depend mainly on the figure and the number of complements. For instance, as public administration personnel, we have a seniority bonus that is achieved for every three years worked in a public administration. The seniority bonus is 49,59€/month in my current figure and at the moment of this writing (July 2023). We have another bonuses: one related to teaching excelence (every 5 years) and another related to research productitivity (every 6 years). At the University of Zaragoza, these bonuses were only applicable to civil servants until 2023 (more or less), but now this has changed and contracted personnel can also request them and have an increase in their salaries if the evaluation is successful. All numbers related here refer to gross salary.
To summarize the evolution of gross salary over these years, I have extracted the data from the Spanish personal income tax for each year, considering exclusively my activity in Spanish universities or related centers (that is, I am excluding other income related invited talks, technical courses, etc.):
- 2009: 12,933.33 € (UZ)
- 2010: 15,494.25 € (UZ)
- 2011: 16,540.69 € (UZ)
- 2012: 15,555.39 € (UZ)
- 2013: 31,460.37 € (UZ, UPM)
- 2014: 36,136.31 € (UPM, ULE)
- 2015: 41,136.00 € (ULE, UZ)
- 2016: 23,339.53 € (UZ)
- 2017: 33,902.91 € (UZ, CUD)
- 2018: 36,339.97 € (CUD)
- 2019: 36,912.43 € (CUD, UZ)
- 2020: 30,332.14 € (UZ)
- 2021: 36,723.28 € (UZ)
- 2022: 43,985.65 € (UZ, 3 seniority bonus)
I’ve also indicated the places where I was working during those years and plotted as a stacked bar in the next figure.
At the moment of this writing (on July 2023, while teaching a Summer School on Secure Software Programming at Xidian University), I have been awarded with 2 research productivity bonus, but they have still not been incorporated in my salary. Likewise, I have been awarded with 1 teaching excelence on February 13, 2023 (1636.92€/annually). Therefore, my gross annual salary of 2023 will almost certainly be higher than in 2022.
If you do the math, the average salary I’ve earned in these 14 years is 29,342.30€, while the median is 32,681.64€. Of course, the salary during the first years as PhD student was very low, being widely surpassed in the following years. Currently I have a very decent salary to live comfortably in Zaragoza.
The Pros and the Cons of Working as a (Markovian) Professor
You may be wondering if all the long journey it took me was worth it. Well in my case definitely yes, it was worth it. I’ve never had many expensive vices, and my ability to save money has always been good, even when I was a PhD student. In 2010 I went to live with my girlfriend at the time (today my wife), and a little later we obtained a mortgage to buy a house in Zaragoza.
Although surely in the private company the evolution of the salary would have been much faster (and surely higher), I have the life I wanted to lead, with which I cannot complain: I like my job, I am happy going to my job, and my job makes me feel useful in society. From my point of view, doing what you like is one of the most necessary things, since unless you are rich, you will have to work for the rest of your life. Therefore, at least do something you like!
Working as a Professor (or faculty) has some pros and cons.
- Autonomy and academic freedom: we often enjoy a considerable degree of autonomy in our work. We can design courses and other academic initiatives aligned our expertise, and we have the freedom to choose your research interest (although this freedom may be limited by your research fundings).
- Teaching and mentoring, which can be rewarding as we have the opportunity to inspire and guide the next generation.
- Wide network of contacts: collaboration with colleagues and researchers from various disciplines, national and international, with companies in the sector, for participation and development of joint projects. This allows the possibility of traveling to many countries for meetings, congresses, etc.
- Intellectual stimulation: you have the opportunity to participate in research, explore new ideas, and contribute to the advancement of knowledge in your field, which can be very rewarding.
- Job stability, once you have successfully completed the tenure process.
- Excess workload: professors have multiple responsibilities, such as teaching, research, administrative tasks, committee work, etc. This workload can be demanding and requires efficient time management and a strong work ethic. You have to learn to say “no” without regret (I still haven’t fully learned…). There is a very detrimental culture in the academic world of working on weekends. From my point of view, this may be justified at very specific moments, such as very close dedlines, but it should not be a rule. If you have been working all week and have not completed a task that you had planned, the problem is probably because you have not estimated the time it will take you to do it, or you have not spent the time efficiently to achieve it. If you are a PhD student or an early-career professor, I strongly recommend that you sharpen your work habits as soon as possible.
- Publish or perish: research productivity (publishing papers) is a key aspect in academia, since it allows evaluating the quality of the research carried out. This publication of high-quality papers in reputable journals is also essential for professional advancement, as well as to obtain research fundings. This pressure to consistently produce impactful research can be demanding and frustrating, especially for professors who are just beginning their careers or doing research in very niche topics.
- Tenure process: it can be a rigorous and challenging process, involving years of hard work, high research productivity, and a lot of effort, which can create pressure and stress for early-career faculty.
- Research fundings: obtaining your own funding for research is key, since it allows you to have funds for doctoral students, attendance at conferences and meet new colleagues, purchases of scientific equipment, etc. The process for securing research funding is often competitive and time consuming. Often this process requires the active search for external grants and funding sources (from public bodies or private companies) to support your research efforts.
- Work-life balance: balancing all the tasks of a professor’s job with personal life can be a significant challenge. Deadlines, conference travel and long working hours can affect your work-life balance and personal well-being. As I have said before, if you want to be a professor it is extremely important that you learn to manage your work time well (in this regard, a very interesting book recommended by my student Daniel Uroz is Deep Work). Remember that the important thing is to work to live, and not live to work.
I hope this post has been illustrative of how the Spanish university system works. As I said at the beginning, my personal experience should not be taken as a rule. If you finally decide that you are going to pursue the academic profession, I wish you good luck and many (high-impact) publications :).