Young scientists in Germany are still far from ideal working days: they have to not only do science, but also desperately fight for a place under the academic sun. Often, such highly qualified specialists after 12-15 years of hard work are left with nothing. The German government plans the reform and collects proposals. The German Rectors’ Conference (HRK) has released its ideas for changing the situation – but has caused a wave of indignation. What’s wrong?
A scientific career in Germany – a futile dream?
Those who decide to devote themselves to science will have a rocky foggy path, young scientists complain. They actively express their protest on Twitter, in particular, under the hashtags#IchBinHannahand #GegenWissZeitVG10. Part-time jobs, temporary contracts, overtime – work in German universities has no end, and the prospects are uncertain. If you’re lucky, you can work researcher (assistant) at the department for six whole years (no longer allowed!). “If during this time, along with teaching, administrative workload and organizational assignments, you manage to defend a dissertation, this is a great progress,” says PhD, linguist Anastasia Bauer from the University of Cologne.
Then you can take on the conquest of the next “peak” and start writing a second, more voluminous scientific work – a doctoral dissertation (Habilitation), mandatory for obtaining a position professors. This also takes six years. This is exactly what a native of Krasnodar did after graduating from a master’s program in Cologne. Having defended her Ph.D., she continues to work on her second dissertation. “The sad thing is that after graduating from a university, it is difficult for scientists not only to make a career, but in general to get a job in their specialty in the future, since there are very few permanent rates at universities. Often a contract is concluded for only one semester,” says Anastasia Bauer. This semester is often enough just to adapt to the next job, she explains.
(Anti)reforms in German universities?
A wave of indignation of scientists reached Berlin: the government plans to reform the Law on the Conclusion and Duration of Employment Contracts for Research Associates (Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz, WissZeitVG). It is thanks to this law that more than 80 percent of labor contracts for researchers in German universities are temporary, such survey resultsconducted by the German Ministry of Education and Research. Approximately one third of contracts at universities and higher schools of applied sciences are concluded for a period of less than a year.
The situation is unacceptable, says Education Minister Bettina Stark-Watzinger. She advocates a reduction in the percentage of temporary contracts, especially for those who have received a scientific degree. At the initiative of the Ministry, the Conference of Rectors of German Universities compiled a list of proposals for the upcoming reform. One of the items on the list is a reduction in the time allotted for writing dissertations, and hence the term of a temporary contract: instead of six, five years for researchers.
“Complete absurdity”, “cynicism” and “it’s just hostile” – this is how scientists responded to these proposals on Twitter. There are more than enough jobs in universities, but the number of positions is very limited, it is almost impossible to engage exclusively in science. And doctoral students, for whom there was not even a temporary place at the department, in any case, need to work somewhere, emphasizes Anastasia Bauer. Reducing the time for writing a dissertation will only exacerbate this situation, the linguist believes. But the president of the Conference of Rectors of Universities, Professor Peter André Alt (Peter André Alt), such a violent reaction is not at all surprising, they say, heated debates are inherent in the academic environment. According to him, the goal of the reform is to help those who graduate at the age of 25 master’s programs, at the latest in their 35s (having defended or not defended both dissertations!) to determine for themselves further way: in science, or perhaps in a completely different field.
Is the problem with German federalism?
The next point is the reform of the professorship. The existing positions of heads of departments in Germany are planned to be replaced by a well-established scheme following the American model – a model called Tenure Track, which improves the chances of postdocs getting a professorship. According to Peter-André Alt, this will be a real support for talented researchers who aspire to become professors, allowing postdocs to better plan their future. Will the number of fixed rates increase during the reform? The President of the Conference of Rectors of Higher Educational Institutions finds it difficult to answer this question. Fact: if a professor signed a permanent contract at the age of 40, he will head the department until he retires, up to 67 years.
The problem, oddly enough, is federalism: in Germany, the federal states are responsible for the basic funding of universities. The main problem of education (both school and higher) lies in the absence of uniform criteria, some kind of general structure, Anastasia Bauer believes. Each university in Germany has its own charter, its own rules that determine the number of permanent, temporary jobs, and those who teach on a fee basis. Thus, the work experience of a scientist in different universities (for example, in Cologne and Hamburg) is taken into account and evaluated in different ways, says Anastasia. Accordingly, wages are charged at different rates.
In addition, as in other fields, so in the academic environment, Women’s salaries are often significantly lowerthan in men. During maternity leave (Anastasia has three children), the talented scientist continued to check term papers and write scientific articles. But that doesn’t count as work experience, the HR department told her. Therefore, she will have to wait a long time for the same salary as her male colleagues. Without the creation of additional permanent positions (at each department!) for researchers, the planned reform will not give anything, the linguist is sure. It would be wiser for universities to allocate the available budget differently, focusing not only on those who write a dissertation, but also create conditions for work for those who have already defended it, emphasizes Anastasia Bauer.