Johanna Wanka, federal minister for higher education and research in Germany, made news recently by supporting vocally demands of unions to finally improve the situation of academic staff at universities. A study from 2011 showed that more than half of academics in German higher education with a fixed term contract have less than a year of contract duration. This can be seen as a direct result of a law which allowed for specific grounds for fixed contracts specifically for organisations in research and science, which normally is limited when the contract is for positions concerned with “Daueraufgaben” (permanent tasks).
Unions demanded for years to take more care with academic staff, also in order to be able to win and keep highly qualified researchers and teachers.
With new proposals to limit the use of extremely short-term contracts, however, Wanka provoked resistance: with national research and science organisations like the DAAD – German academic exchange service, the HRK – presidents’ council and the Wissenschaftsrat – research and science council. These organisations now argue that if the law would be changed at all, it should include all staff, even non-academics like assistants, because flexibility would be what could attract highly qualified researchers – namely, tenured professors – to consider a position in German HE.
Another proposal of the organisations is to get rid of the “Qualifizierungsvereinbarungen”: For PhD students, the contracts specifically state that they are will be able to work on their PhD during their working hours. According to the law, that is the grounds for being able to limit the duration of the contract. If the students are at all able to work on the PhD during working hours is even today very much depending on the professor and how demanding they are – or, to put it more bluntly, how responsible and careful they consider their role as superior and, at the same time, mentor and teacher. I heard a lot about PhD students who do their own research in the evenings, weekends and in their vacation time, and never heard of a student who sued the professor for breaking the contract by not making enough time for the PhD.
And now the research and science organisations apparently propose to get rid of it completely by disallowing for a “Qualifizierungsvereinbarung”.
For me it seems that the whole discussion about social responsibility of HE is an issue which these organisations eluded completely so far…
Source: Spiegel Online (German)