As the Network for Good Labour in Academia, we have been fighting for the abolition of the WissZeitVG in its existing form since 2017. On the occasion of the reform, we see a great opportunity to finally achieve sustainable improvements for scientists and the quality of science at German universities and non-university research institutions. However, such reforms can only succeed if they are designed in a manner that leads to fundamental improvements, so that situations such as #IchbinHanna and other abuses of the WissZeitVG against employees can be prevented. Unfortunately, the HRK and DHV’s latest proposals indicate changes to the WissZeitVG that also have the potential to worsen the situation of academics and with it, the quality of scientific research in Germany. If we simply shorten the maximum duration of fixed-term contracts from 6+6 years to 10 years (HRK) or to 6+3 years (DHV) without reforming the science system in other areas as well, this will have disastrous consequences for scientists: Without the comprehensive implementation of a genuine tenure track system, it would only mean that academics would have two or three years less time to habilitate or become eligible for appointment.
Even if the HRK’s proposal were fully implemented, only another 6 years of tenure track would be added to up to 10 years of fixed-term contracts, which would mean 16 years of uncertainty. A look at the tendering practices in recent years shows that the fixed-term nature of W2 professorships have grown steadily more common, and that tenure track, particularly in cases of federally-funded positions, has repeatedly been used to fill existing professorships prematurely without creating new positions. Therefore our suspicion seems well-founded in that, the HRK proposal is only intended to safeguard existing practices without expanding the number of permanent positions and increasing the number of temporary positions.
In its current form, the science system already suffers from a massive attrition of staff and, consequently, the loss of knowledge from those who were trained for years in vain). In addition, pressures related to the passage of time and existential insecurities encourage hyper-productivity, which can be detrimental to thorough,high-quality research along with well-prepared, competent teaching. The proposals of the HRK and DHV would not solve these problems by ; indeed, they exacerbate them.
The consequence of expediting appointments would also do little to shift the internal social structure within a academia in a manner reflecting a more intersectionally diverse body of intellectuals. The more academia represents social elites and their interests, the less credible it becomes. Ifour goal is to create a system that enables the reconcilation of life and science, we must prevent such tone-deaf and insufficient reforms !
A substantial transformation of the current fixed-term system can be achieved in two ways:
1. Make it the norm for academics to be granted a fixed-term contract after they have completed their doctorate. The doctoral thesis is proof of a scientist’s ability to carry out independent scientific work, as is already stated in the state higher education laws.
2. Narrow the concept of qualification to the doctorate. There should only be one clearly defined goal as a justification for a time limit – the doctorate. The legislator must ensure that it is not possible for the WissZeitVG to be abused through the invention of arbitrary qualification objectives.
3. The length of the contract must correspond to a realistic doctoral period (including topic identification and defence). The duration of the initial contract must be at least 4 years, an extension to a total of 6 years must be be granted if the doctorate is expected to be completed successfully.
4. Remove the fixed-term contract for third-party funding (§2 para. 2) from the WissZeitVG. A special fixed term under the WissZeitVG is only justified by a qualification in the sense of the acquisition of the doctorate, not by funds available for a fixed term. This does not exclude doctorates based on third-party funding. However, employment on the basis of third-party funding that does not serve the qualification (doctorate) may no longer be counted as qualification time.
5. Make parental leave and compensation for disadvantages mandatory. The BMBF evaluation of the WissZeitVG has shown that parental leave and disadvantage compensation are used far too rarely. We demand that parental leave and disadvantage compensation be made mandatory for all employees. We demand that parental leave and disadvantage compensation be made compulsory for all employees – both those employed through budgetary funds and those with third-party funding.
6. Deletion of the pay scale lock. Regulations that go beyond the WissZeitVG must also be enforceable within the framework of collective labour law.
Alternatively, the WissZeitVG, as a special law on fixed-term contracts in science, could be abolished altogether. Section 14, paragraph 1 of the TzBfG lists the reasons for fixed-term two-year limit. The only legitimate fixed-term in science is for the period of qualification, i.e. during the doctorate alone. It would be possible to include this special reason, “doctorate”, as §14 para. 1 item 9 in the TzBfG and to and abolish any special fixed-term contracts that go beyond this particular case. In addition to the amendment or abolition of the WissZeitVG, real improvements in the German science system require sustainable reforms in higher education policy. These go far beyond the adjustment screw of the WissZeitVG, but can be initiated simultaenously with the reform of the WissZeitVG.
– In science, the qualification phase ends with the doctorate. University administrations must abandon the myth of permanent qualifications, which is only useful to them. Universities must be obliged to implement permanent positions before the professorship for post-docs and to create internationally comparable personnel categories. These must allow research and teaching to be combined. As the NGAWiss, we have made substantial and financially viable proposals in which both the entry into the (keyword “generational justice”), as well as new career paths to professorships (tenure track) or before and alongside professorships (lecturer).
– Fundamental changes in the allocation of third-party funding. In addition to the increase in funding, while at the same time reducing public competitive funding (especially DFG, BMBF), the rules on the allocation of third-party funding must be adapted in such a way that permanent employment via third-party funding becomes possible.
This could be achieved through pooling or through the permanent appointment of researchers with the DFG.
We expect the political decision-makers to familiarise themselves with the matter in a differentiated manner and to ask for the expertise of the scientists themselves, not only that of the university administrations.