Academic teaching for around three million students and research on relevant issues in society: this is what scientists from all disciplines do in Germany. It is furious that most of them suffer from unspeakable working conditions. Under the hashtag #IchBinHanna, thousands of people have vented their anger about German science policy since June. Unfortunately, little has changed since then; the employment relationships at universities and technical colleges are still exploitative and hostile to research.

This is also due to the fact that the likely outgoing Federal Education Minister Anja Karliczek (CDU) did not recognize the problem. Instead of dealing with the conditions of good research and teaching, she wrote in a guest article that scientists are “links” in a “value chain”. However, she regards their performance with concern, because our educational system only delivers mediocrity internationally.

We are convinced that the weaknesses of the German higher education system do not show up in international competition.

Rather, the entrepreneurial university misses its real purpose by racing in global rankings and in the fight for publications and project funds: education and research.

Scientists working on a temporary basis are currently investing their energy in project applications.

From a purely statistical point of view, these are usually rejected; in fact, they consume a lot of time for research.

Teaching also suffers, because those who look after students well do so at the expense of their own careers.

The new management of the Ministry of Education and Research must find a way out of the misery.

It must first clarify: How does it 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 in all its breadth and depth. Researchers need time for open-ended questions and detours in the research process.

Together with the “Network for Good Work in Science” (NGAWiss), we have made specific suggestions for personnel structures with permanent positions starting with the doctorate. We advocate employing PhD graduates as research assistants on a permanent basis at the institute - no longer at the professorship. The opportunity for promotion to a professorship would remain for everyone who would like to take on management positions. Alternatively, doctoral candidates can receive a tenure-track professorship (often also called junior professorship), during which they must pass a probationary period of up to six years before the decision to extend their position is made. In our publication we have shown that this does not cost more money and that the required teaching is still guaranteed. Our model calculations also provethat subsequent generations also have a chance of a scientific career.

Lecturers could then also look after students over the longer term and support them on their individual educational path.

We would also strengthen equal opportunities in this way, because the current system excludes those from a scientific career who cannot afford long-term mobility or insecurity into mid-life.

The future contract fails to serve its purpose

Such a change of course at universities requires political control: Firstly, the law on temporary employment contracts must be reformed so that permanent employment after completing a doctorate is the norm. Second, the current project funding must be reduced in order to strengthen the basic funding of universities - a demand that the German Rectors' Conference has long been advocating. The federal government can implement this by investing less in the German Research Foundation (DFG). Instead, more funds should flow directly to universities and research institutions.

And thirdly, the new minister must hold the federal states responsible. In the "Strengthening the future contract for studying and teaching" negotiated in 2019, these had prevented a binding commitment to more permanent positions. However, the federal states must be obliged to create permanent mid-level positions. However, this must not mean that they are introducing so-called “high credits”, as they did recently, in which the teaching load is more than eight to 24 hours per week. Such high teaching loads prevent scientists from doing their own research and from contributing their findings to teaching. The future contract fails to achieve its purpose if teaching is bought at a cheap price with high creditors and thus weakened.

We need a fundamental structural change so that researchers and students can once again fulfill the purpose of their academic work.

Because education and research are essential values ​​for a democratic society - regardless of their economic usability.

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