This communicative shot by the Federal Ministry of Research backfired completely. Minister Anja Karliczek's team had put a short explanatory video about the Science Time Contract Act - in short: WissZeitVG - online. There it is defended that the academic staff at universities below the professorship generally only has fixed-term employment contracts. It should be a maximum of 6 years until the doctorate. Anyone who then continues their academic career as a post-doc or junior professor has another 6 years at their disposal. By then at the latest you have to have reached a lifetime professorship - or you have to leave. A further connection contract is excluded after 12 years. This ensures that there is always enough fluctuation. Or in the style of the video:that older employees do not “clog” the jobs for the younger generation.
What a horrible picture! The WissZeitVG as a laxative that washes people out of the university who did not make it through the narrow neck of the bottle in time. Because the coveted professorships do not exist like a dime a dozen and the appointment procedures often drag on for years. And so it happens that hundreds of those affected speak up and accuse the ministry of sheer cynicism. They gather on social media under the hashtag #IchbinHanna, a fictional young scientist who is currently running on the hamster wheel of the academic precariat. She keeps the business of research and teaching going at the university, somehow balances that with her own further qualification and always has the sword of Damocles called WissZeitVG hanging over her.
If there's one thing you can't blame Hanna for, it's an over-ambitious attitude.
The author of this text became a university professor for economics at the age of 31, so the WissZeitVG has never affected me personally.
But around me I saw rows and rows of careers failing or not even starting.
For many highly qualified scientists, especially women, a lack of planning security is the reason to ultimately decide against an academic career after completing their doctorate or to tackle it outside of Germany.
Politicians wanted to save
How could it possibly come this far? To understand the origins of the WissZeitVG, one has to look back to the 1990s. At that time, there were still many permanent positions assigned to the chairs in the mid-level faculty. Many had been created during the educational expansion of the 1970s and accordingly were often staffed with gradually moving towards retirement. Not all can be lumped together, but overall these academic (senior) councilors did not enjoy the very best reputation. Among the students, they were seen as less motivated wrens who had made themselves comfortable in the slipstream of their respective bosses. Many students, including myself, wanted more dynamism back then.
From the early 2000s, politics acted.
She gradually cut the permanent positions and replaced them with fixed-term contracts.
But of course she didn't, or only ostensibly to accommodate my request.
Their motive was more banal: Politicians wanted to save.
At that time, Germany was considered economically the sick man of Europe and it was in keeping with the spirit of the times to cut government spending everywhere.
The WissZeitVG came at just the right time, because young employees with temporary contracts cost less than civil servants with steadily increasing seniority.
As a result, the pendulum swung from one extreme to the other.
From now on there were only time limits and the precarious ground for #IchbinHanna was prepared.
Anyone who says A should say B occasionally
The way out cannot be to go back to the 1990s.
But if the German science system wants to play an international role, we need better and more predictable career paths for the next generation of doctorates.
It doesn't just have to be professorships with civil servants.
A first step would be long-term employment with a performance-based option for better pay.
There are many ideas for the specific design of how to reconcile safety and incentives.
The next federal government can help itself here.
But no matter how you do it: If more people decide to pursue an academic career again and are not disposed of after 12 years, this will inevitably lead to higher personnel costs in the university system.
Now every Sunday political speech invokes that Germany has only one resource, the heads of the people. "Education, training, education" - this slogan is always pulling. But good education costs money - and if you say A, you should say B every now and then.