Anger at working conditions in science

ANDacademic teaching for around three million students and research into significant social problems: this is what researchers from all disciplines in Germany are doing. It makes me angry that most of them suffer from unimaginable working conditions. Thousands of people have vented their anger at German science policy since June using the hashtag #IchBinHanna. Unfortunately, not much has changed since then, working conditions at universities and polytechnics are still exploitative and anti-scientific.

This is also due to the fact that the Federal Minister of Education, Anja Karliczek (CDU), who was awaiting departure, did not see the problem. Rather than addressing the conditions of good research and teaching, she wrote in a guest article that scientists are “links” in the “value chain”. However, he is concerned about their results, as our education system only provides mediocrity in the international arena.

We are convinced that the weaknesses of the German higher education system are not reflected in international competition. Rather, an entrepreneurial university is losing its real purpose, competing in world rankings and in the fight for publications and project funding: education and research. Scientists with fixed-term contracts are now using energy in design applications. Statistically they are usually rejected, in fact they are time-consuming research. Teaching also suffers because those who take good care of their students do so at the expense of their own careers.

The new leadership of the Ministry of Education and Science must find a way out of poverty. First, he needs to explain: How does he understand research and teaching beyond the logic of exploitation?

Equal opportunities must be strengthened

We believe that universities should be educational institutions with the aim of enabling students to study fully and in depth. Researchers need time for open-ended questions and detours in the research process.

Together with the “Good Work in Science Network” (NGAWiss), we presented concrete proposals for human resources structures with permanent positions, starting with a doctorate. We are in favor of employing doctors as permanent researchers at the institute – not as professors anymore. The possibility of being promoted to professorship would be open to anyone wishing to assume managerial positions. Alternatively, PhD graduates may obtain a permanent professorship (often also referred to as junior professorship), in which they must complete a probationary period of up to six years before deciding on a permanent position. We have shown in our publication that it does not cost any more money and that the necessary education is still secured. Our model calculations also prove that future generations also have a chance for a scientific career.

Lecturers could then also look after students in the long term and support them on their individual educational path. In this way, we would also strengthen equal opportunities, as the current system excludes from the academic career of those who cannot afford permanent mobility or insecurity up to mid-life.

The future agreement does not serve its purpose

Political scrutiny is required for such a change of course in universities: first, contract law in science must be reformed so that open-ended contracts after doctorate become the norm. Second, current project funding must be reduced in order to strengthen the primary funding of universities – a postulate that has long been postulated by the German Rectors’ Conference. The federal government can do this by investing less in the German Research Foundation (DFG). Instead, more resources should go directly to universities and research institutions.

Third, the new minister must hold the Länder accountable. In the ‘Study and Teaching for Future Contract Strengthening’ negotiated in 2019, they prevented a binding commitment to adopting more permanent positions. The Länder must, however, be obliged to create permanent intermediate posts. However, this cannot mean that they have recently introduced the so-called “High Members of Parliament”, in which the number of classes exceeds 8-24 semester hours per week. Such a high teaching load prevents scientists from carrying out their own research and incorporating their results into teaching. A future contract fails if teaching is bought cheaply by high-ranking workers and is thus undermined.

We need a fundamental structural change so that researchers and students can re-fulfill the purpose of their research work. Because education and research are core values ​​of a democratic society – regardless of their economic utility.

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