Indicator D8. What is the profile of academic staff and what is the student-academic staff ratio?

The age distribution of the academic workforce varies considerably across countries and levels of tertiary education. It can be affected by a variety of factors, such as the level of development of tertiary institutions in the country, the size and age distribution of the population, the duration of tertiary education, and staff salaries and working conditions. Declining birth rates, for example, may drive down demand for new academic staff members, while more time spent in tertiary education can delay the entry of academic staff into the labour market. Competitive salaries, good working conditions for permanent staff, and career development opportunities may have attracted young people towards academic professions in some countries or helped to retain effective academic staff in others.

Young staff members (below the age of 30) only account for a small proportion of academic staff on average across OECD countries: 7% in short-cycle tertiary education and 9% at bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral level combined. At short-cycle tertiary level, young staff make up less than 10% of the academic workforce in all countries except for Costa Rica and New Zealand (Table D8.2). Young academic staff usually enter academia during their doctoral programme, or directly after. However, the inclusion of doctoral candidates within the category of academic staff is the subject of discussions across countries (Box D8.2).

On average across OECD countries, 40% of academic staff are aged 50 or over. However, there is a large degree of variation across countries, with the share ranging from 13% in Luxembourg (where the younger academic workforce is largely due to a quite recently established higher education system) to 56% in Italy (Table D8.2). A relatively large share of academic staff nearing retirement age indicates that tertiary systems are managing to retain prestigious senior scholars but may raise some concerns about the need to attract a large number of staff over the next decade. Having a relatively large share of older staff may raise some budgetary challenges due to salary structures for more senior staff and the lack of job opportunities for junior scholars (Kaskie, 2017[2]). Increasing competition in many fields for posts on the traditional academic career path combined with the trend towards project-based research funding has led to an increase in fixed-term contracts for researchers and deteriorating working conditions for early-career researchers.

The large adoption of digital technologies in higher education in recent years has highlighted the need to adjust the in-service training of teachers on digitalisation. In particular, greater support may be needed to equip tertiary teaching staff aged 50 and above with the necessary techno-pedagogical competencies they would need (Box D8.1).

Academics tend to have different retirement trajectories than other occupational groups. It takes them many years to develop their careers, they tend to have a lifelong commitment to their work, and they enter full-time positions later than many other professional groups (Sugar et al., 2005[3]). Among the factors that may affect the age profile of academic staff is legislation regulating the age of retirement (Eurydice, 2022[4]). However, many academics continue working even upon reaching retirement age, making it hard to predict actual retirement rates (Baldwin, Belin and Say, 2018[5]). In Italy, the country with the largest share of academic staff aged 50 or over (56%), retirement ages vary for different categories of academic staff. Full professors usually retire at the age of 70, and those who entered service before November 2005 are able to keep working for an additional two years. Associate professors retire at either 66 or 70 years old, depending on their starting date. In Greece, the other OECD country where more than half of the academic workforce are at least 50 years old (52%), the retirement age is set at 67 years (Eurydice, 2022[4]).

On average across OECD countries with available data, the share of academic staff aged 50 and older has remained constant at 40% over the past five years for all levels of tertiary education combined. Austria, Canada, Germany, Korea and Portugal saw increases of at least 4 percentage points over this period, although in Germany the share of academic staff aged 50 and older remains lower than the OECD average. In contrast, in Greece and Italy the share of older academic staff is already more than ten percentage points higher than on average across OECD countries (Table D8.2).

Less than one-third of countries with available data – Estonia, Finland, Hungary, Latvia, Luxembourg, Norway, the Slovak Republic, Slovenia and the United Kingdom – have experienced the opposite trend, and seen their academic workforce grow younger (Table D8.2). This may be explained, in part, by efforts to implement recruitment policies aimed at both national and international staff. Programmes such as the Dora Plus programme (focused on learning) and the Mobilitas programme (focused on R&D), largely funded by the EU, aim to raise awareness about employment opportunities among international researchers (and post-doctoral researchers) and support mobility through grants (OECD, 2019[8]). Similarly, the Research Council of Norway (RCN) has launched initiatives to increase an interest in research, such as the Science Knowledge Project for children (Nysgjerrigper), the Proscientia project (promoting interest in research and science among young people aged 12-21 years) and an Annual Science Week. The RCN also funds awards such as the Young Excellent Researchers award; applicants need to prove scientific quality, leadership skills, and international experience (OECD, 2019[8]).

Men make up the majority of academic staff across OECD countries. On average, women represent 45% of academic staff. The share of women among academic staff at all levels of tertiary education combined ranges from 30% in Japan to more than 50% in Belgium (51%), Finland (53%), Latvia (55%), Lithuania (59%), New Zealand (52%) and the United States (51%) (Figure D8.4).

The gender profile of academic staff also varies across programmes within tertiary education. Women are more strongly represented in short-cycle tertiary programmes than in bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programmes. Specifically, women make up less than 50 percent of the academic workforce at the bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral levels in over four-fifths of countries with available data, but more than 50 percent at the short-cycle tertiary level in about half of these countries. Women represent less than 50% of academic staff teaching at bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral level in all OECD countries with available data except Finland and Latvia (53%), Lithuania (59%) and New Zealand (52%) (Table D8.3).

Women are better represented among younger staff (those under 30), accounting for about 50% of academic staff on average across OECD countries. At country level, the same pattern is found in all countries except for Denmark, Finland, Latvia, Norway and Portugal. Among 30-49 year-olds, women represent 48% of academic staff across OECD countries on average but only 40% of academic staff aged 50 or older (Table D8.3 and Education at a Glance Database). This suggests that the oldest age group is driving the overall gender imbalance and that the future representation of women among academic staff in the OECD could increase if young female academic staff are retained. However, early-career female academics face the same challenges as ther male counterparts: precarious contracts and growing demand to produce articles to stay on the right career path, which may result in additional pressure if combined with family and household commitments.

Despite the current gender imbalance, the representation of women in tertiary education has been growing since 2005 in most OECD countries with available data (see Education at a Glance Database). Between 2015 and 2020, the average share of women among academic staff across OECD countries increased by 2 percentage points (from 43% to 45%). Among countries with available data, Japan and the Netherlands had the largest increase over this period: in Japan the share of women increased from 18% in 2005 to 30% in 2020, and in the Netherlands it increased from 35% to 47% (Figure D8.4 and Table D8.3).

Despite recent improvements, the gender imbalance in the academic profession is still a challenge in most OECD countries, starting among doctoral candidates and continuing through all academic career levels (European Commission, 2021[13]). Specifically, women remain under-represented in research and innovation careers. Across European countries, they account for only one-third of researchers (33%) and one-quarter of top academic staff (European Commission, 2021[13]), compared to nearly half of entrants at doctoral level (see Indicator B4). Female researchers are more likely than men to work under contract arrangements that are considered “precarious employment” and considerable pay gaps remain in scientific research and development occupations (European Commission, 2021[13]).

Women’s careers and progress in academia are more likely to be constrained by family obligations and the lack of formal policies or programmes to reduce the gender gap (Winslow and Davis, 2016[14]). Recent policy efforts across OECD countries have aimed to bring about structural change to increase women’s representation in academia. For example, the European Union has heavily invested in the Institutional Transformation for Effecting Gender Equality in Research (INTEGER) Project in order to improve the career paths of female researchers in European higher education and research institutions (European Commission, 2016[15]). In the United States, the National Science Foundation has funded research and interventions aiming at increasing the representation of women in academic science and engineering, including the ADVANCE Institutional Transformation grant programme (Winslow and Davis, 2016[14]). In Australia, the Universities Australia Strategy for Women (2011-14) aimed at encouraging universities to include equity targets in their strategic planning and promote women in academia (Winchester and Browning, 2015[16]). Most recently, Australian universities have implemented gender quotas, with some opening academic positions in the faculty of engineering, computer and mathematical sciences only to women (Pyke and White, 2018[17]). Despite these efforts, the continuing gender imbalance among academic staff in participation, working conditions and pay warrants further investments and research to close the gap in the future.

At the tertiary level, there is little difference in student-staff ratios between public and private institutions on average across OECD countries, with 15 students per academic staff member in public institutions and 17 in private institutions (Table D8.1). The OECD average should be interpreted with caution, however, given the heterogeneity of institutional characteristics both within and across countries. Factors such as the structure, governance, mission and profile of higher education systems as well as the financial resources devoted to tertiary institutions may affect human resource levels of institutions.

In a few OECD countries, such as Norway and Poland, there are over twice as many students per academic staff members in private institutions as in public institutions. However, no more than 30% of tertiary students are enrolled in private institutions in either of these countries (see Indicator B1). The largest difference in student-academic staff ratios between public and private institutions is in Brazil where it is 50 to 1 in private institutions, compared to 10 to 1 in public institutions. In Brazil, about 75% of tertiary students are enrolled in private institutions, which are considered less selective than public institutions, and rely largely on distance learning, which may allow larger student-academic staff ratios. (OECD, 2018[18]). Brazilian students thus face either a performance barrier to accessing free but highly selective public institutions, or a financial barrier to accessing private institutions, which could limit their opportunities and raises significant equity concerns (McCowan, 2007[19]). The difference between public and private institutions is also significant in some other partner countries: in India and Indonesia, there are over twice as many students for each academic staff member in public institutions (40 to 1) as in private institutions (19 to 1) (Figure D8.5).

Differences in student-academic staff ratios between short-cycle tertiary and bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral or equivalent levels also vary across countries with available data (Table D8.1), but should be interpreted with caution, as the ratio remains a limited measure of the level of academic resources at tertiary level. Moreover, the relatively low levels of enrolment in short-cycle tertiary in some countries limits comparability with other levels (see Indicator B1).

At short-cycle tertiary level, the largest difference in the ratio of students to academic staff between public and private institutions is found in Colombia, where there are seven times more students per academic staff in public institutions than in private institutions. Short-cycle tertiary programmes which offer initial occupational preparation to students are a quite demanded tertiary qualification in Colombia and the public sector plays an important role in delivering education at that level of education, where 83% of short-cycle tertiary students are enrolled on average (see Indicator B1). At bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral programmes combined, the student-academic staff ratio is larger in public institutions than in private institutions in 6 countries, smaller in public institutions in 14 countries, and similar for both types of institution in 3 countries.

As short-cycle tertiary education usually provides a short-term vocational-oriented training in higher education, a lower ratio of students to academic staff might be expected than at bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral level. Even though this is not reflected in the average ratios across OECD countries in public and private institutions, in Belgium, there are over four times more students per academic staff member in public institutions at bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral level than in short-cycle tertiary. However, the pattern is reversed in other countries such as Colombia, Luxembourg, Norway and Türkiye where there are nearly twice as many students to academic staff in public institutions at short-cycle tertiary level than at bachelor’s, master’s and doctoral level (Table D8.1).

There are two categories of instructional personnel:

  • Teachers’ aides and teaching/research assistants include personnel or students who support teachers in providing instruction to students.

  • Teaching staff refers to personnel directly involved in teaching to students. The classification includes classroom teachers, special-education teachers and other teachers who work with a whole class of students in a classroom, in small groups in a resource room, or in one-to-one teaching situations inside or outside a regular class. At the tertiary level, academic staff include personnel whose primary assignment is instruction or research, or both. Teaching staff also include departmental chairs whose duties include some teaching, but exclude non-professional personnel who support teachers in providing instruction to students, such as teachers’ aides and other paraprofessional personnel.

The ratio of students to academic staff is obtained by dividing the number of full-time equivalent students at a given level of education by the number of full-time equivalent academic staff at that level and in similar types of institutions.

For the ratio of students to academic staff to be meaningful, consistent coverage of personnel and enrolment data are needed. For instance, if academic staff in religious institutions are not reported in the personnel data, then students in those institutions must also be excluded.

For more information, please see the OECD Handbook for Internationally Comparative Education Statistics 2018 (OECD, 2018[20]) and Annex 3 for country-specific notes (

Data refer to the academic year 2019/20 and are based on the UNESCO-UIS/OECD/Eurostat data collection on education statistics administered by the OECD in 2021 (for details, see Annex 3 at


[11] Aarrevaara, T., I. Dobson and J. Wikstrom (2015), “Changing employment and working conditions”, in Academic Work and Careers in Europe: Trends, Challenges, Perspectives, Springer,

[5] Baldwin, R., A. Belin and B. Say (2018), “Why reivent academic retirement?”, New Directions for Higher Education, Vol. 2018/182, pp. 9-16,

[6] Casey, A., I. Mandel and P. Ray (2021), “The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on academic productivity”, COVID-19 e-print, arXiv,

[7] Dwivedi, Y. et al. (2020), “Impact of COVID-19 pandemic on information management research and practice: Transforming education, work and life”, International Journal of Information Management, Vol. 55,

[13] European Commission (2021), She Figures 2021: Gender in Research and Innovation: Statistics and Indicators, European Commission Publications Office,

[15] European Commission (2016), Final Report Summary: INTEGER, CORDIS EU Research Results website,

[4] Eurydice (2022), National Education Systems, Eurydice website,

[10] Eurydice (2017), Modernisation of Higher Education in Europe: Academic Staff, European Education and Culture Executive Agency,

[2] Kaskie, B. (2017), “The academy is aging in place: Assessing alternatives for modifying institutions of higher education”, The Gerontologist, Vol. 57/5, pp. 816-823,

[19] McCowan, T. (2007), “Expansion without equity: An analysis of current policy on access to higher education in Brazil”, Higher Education, Vol. 53, pp. 579-598,

[12] OECD (2021), “Reducing the precarity of academic research careers”, OECD Science, Technology and Industry Policy Papers, No. 113, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[8] OECD (2019), Benchmarking Higher Education System Performance, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[1] OECD (2019), Education at a Glance 2019: OECD Indicators, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[20] OECD (2018), OECD Handbook for Internationally Comparative Education Statistics 2018: Concepts, Standards, Definitions and Classifications, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[18] OECD (2018), Rethinking Quality Assurance for Higher Education in Brazil, Reviews of National Policies for Education, OECD Publishing, Paris,

[9] OECD/INES (2021), Ad hoc survey on the classification of instructional and research academic staff.

[17] Pyke, J. and K. White (2018), Are gender quotas in academia a good idea?, World Economic Forum website,

[3] Sugar, J. et al. (2005), “Academic administrators and faculty retirement in a new era”, Educational Gerontology, Vol. 31/5, pp. 405-418,

[16] Winchester, H. and L. Browning (2015), “Gender equality in academia: A critical reflection”, Journal of Higher Education Policy and Management, Vol. 37/3, pp. 269-281,

[14] Winslow, S. and S. Davis (2016), “Gender inequality across the academic life course”, Sociology Compass, Vol. 10/5, pp. 404-416,

Metadata, Legal and Rights

This document, as well as any data and map included herein, are without prejudice to the status of or sovereignty over any territory, to the delimitation of international frontiers and boundaries and to the name of any territory, city or area. Extracts from publications may be subject to additional disclaimers, which are set out in the complete version of the publication, available at the link provided.

© OECD 2022

The use of this work, whether digital or print, is governed by the Terms and Conditions to be found at