For better working conditions in science: Hannah – what knowledge really helps

For better working conditions in science: Hannah - what knowledge really helps

Joule Specht is Professor of Personality Psychology, Tobias Rosfeld is Professor of Classical German Philosophy. Both teach and do research at Humboldt University in Berlin.

#I’mHanna is no longer a pure Twitter phenomenon. Initiatives for better employment conditions and career prospects in science have reached the wider public, were a theme in the Bundestag and have experienced the solidarity of many scientific specialist societies.

It has become clear that there is widespread agreement that #IchBinHanna is addressing a problem that needs to change. But so far hardly anyone feels responsible for actually solving this problem. Enough to do at all levels. We have tips for the three most important players.

This is what the federal government should do

The critique of #IchBinHanna has its origins in a federal law, namely the Science Time Contract Act. This overrides the general rules on fixed-term contracts in Germany and allows scientists to stipulate a fixed-term contract, usually for a period of twelve years.

This means that most scientists are employed on a fixed-term basis for many years even after obtaining their doctorate degrees. And after these twelve years, instead of an indefinite period, the end of the academic career and a restart outside the university usually occurs. Not only are scientists suffering from this hire-and-fire system, but science itself.

So the federal government is responsible for improving this law. Research Minister Anja Karliczek puts it on the back burner and refers to others: federal states, universities and “doctoral supervisors” (sic!). Applause comes only from the Sangh and AfD, all other groups seem to agree that fundamental changes are needed.

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Federal Minister Anja Karliczek (CDU) puts problems on the back burner, our writers critique.Photo: Imago Images / Jürgen Heinrich

Amendments to the law should still allow deadlines during the doctoral period and in limited third-party funded projects. After the doctorate, however, positions with prospects should become the norm, i.e. tenure-track professorships or permanent positions in mid-level faculty. The German special way of doing doctorates: to limit interns to qualification positions for many more years and to justify this with the fact that they are further trained, should be abolished.

The federal government also has a strong operational instrument through the distribution of research funding. In the past, through the restless logic of five-year plans within the framework of excellence initiatives, they have contributed to the creation of countless fixed-term jobs.

It gives rise to a special responsibility for the future. A clear commitment to creating a more sustainable personnel structure should be as much part of the conditions for financial support in future excellence strategies as is already the case with gender equality concepts.

countries should

Science is largely the responsibility of the federal states. Higher education laws and contracts should provide incentives to improve employment conditions in science.

she looks like this Planned amendment of the University of Berlin Act to introduce a department structure paragraph. This should enable “new forms of organisation” in universities, for example with a large proportion of independent and unlimited research and teaching scientists who share resources in the college. The structure of the department is distinguished from that of the chair structure, with individual professors at the top, assigned to a number of dependent and temporary scientists.

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Authors: Tobias Rosfeld and Joule Speech.Photos: Imago / Jens Gyarmati

In addition to the legal framework, federal states must also provide financial incentives to actually implement structural change in universities.

This is possible through, among other things, the future contract “Strengthening Study and Teaching”. In this, federal states commit themselves to using funds allocated by the federal government to create more jobs and develop contemporary personnel structures with potential for sustainable employment. Now it is time to fulfill this responsibility.

That’s what universities should do

Anyone who – like us – is committed to a sustainable personnel structure within a university, will typically have two experiences: on the one hand, basic concern is met with great empathy in position groups. On the other hand, every concrete step towards change runs the risk of failing with countless worries and anxieties.

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it is not surprising. A change in the job structure at a university leads to a change in the overall culture of distribution of wealth and filling positions. Positions with a long-term outlook should not be filled by individual professors on their own, as there are long-term institutional consequences for your institution.

Hence conflicts may emerge in the structure of the department, which can be hidden by the allocation of individual and limited funds in the current chairman system. Hence structural change requires courage, faith and perseverance from all those involved. These things cannot be ordered from above. But they can be fostered and supported where they are available. And university management and committees can contribute to it.

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Bottom-up initiative needed

University management should support the bottom-up initiative for a permanent personnel structure in an advisory capacity at their universities and, ideally, also provide incentives, for example in the form of additional staff in science management.

There is genuine interest in such initiatives from the universities of Berlin in particular, in terms of their placement strategy. Because Berlin is lucrative as a location for the best scientists from around the world and can house them permanently even without huge equipment – ​​provided there are sufficiently lucrative positions for them to choose Berlin at a critical career stage.

Permanent scientists must remember that they too were once Hannahs. You can discuss with all position groups how institutions can be redesigned so that more permanent and independent collaborators can work there.

Such discussions have already begun in various places in the universities of Berlin. In the best case scenario, they lead to the insight that peers of similar status represent added value that exceeds the abandonment of dependent employees.

Lastly, we want the current Hannah to register her protest to the university committees on Twitter. Because it is there that it will ultimately be decided how we want to research and teach together at the university in the future.

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