German peculiarities: late autonomy and double dependencies
The experts from Germany and Great Britain agreed on both the advantages of the German system in international comparison (financial situation, research tradition) and the biggest problems: the long doctoral and postdoctoral phases and, accordingly, the late autonomy and resulting dependencies. Antonia Weberling described the consequences that such prospects can have on career trajectories. After studying in Germany, she specifically chose to do her doctorate in Great Britain, where doctoral studies are limited to 4 years and funding throughout is guaranteed. Uncertain career options in Germany affect both individual professional decisions and Germany’s international academic competitiveness. Furthermore, it is precisely the long-term dependency on superiors, supervisors, and reviewers—and it is a peculiarity of the German system that these roles are often assumed by a single person—that can lead to significant power imbalances that make abuse of power easier.
Tenure track: is a new career path the solution?
W1 / junior professorships, junior and early career research groups, and, above all, tenure track professorships were introduced to facilitate clear career paths and early independence on the road to a professorship. The German Federal and State Governments introduced the tenure track professorship in 2017, setting aside €1 billion for 1,000 additional tenure track professorships until 2035. Unlike the term-limited junior professorship, these professorships become converted to permanent professorships at the same university following a successful probationary period. Funding was designed to increase the number of professorships overall. Thanks to excellent applications from Germany and abroad, the new positions gave a noticeable short-term boost to the German academic system, according to Prof. Dr. Reinhard Jahn, who was also part of the selection committee for the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) tenure track application call. Even if the new professors profit from more transparent career paths, the goal of increasing professorships was not reached: because the federal government funded only the first 6 years and the universities themselves had to fund the subsequent tenure track positions, universities chose to move new appointments forward and invite applications for tenure track positions that would have become available anyway thanks to the retirement of current holders. From his international perspective, Prof. Dr. David Bogle underscored the basic idea of creating new, much more transparent and thus more attractive career paths. Now, however, we need to look for new ways to establish tenure track positions long-term.
A fundamental problem: two contradictory career systems
The academic fixed-term labor contract act (Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz, WissZeitVG) is currently in the spotlight thanks to the #ichbinhanna controversy. The problems were touched upon in the HRA Salon but the law was seen as more of a symptom than a cause. Dr. Henrike Hartmann and Prof. Dr. Reinhard Jahn agreed that the fundamental problem is rather the parallel funding of 2 diametrically opposed systems: at the same time that new career paths (W1 and/or tenure track professorships with early independence) are being introduced, post-doc positions within the framework of the Excellence Strategy are being funded, whereby standard academic search procedures and, accordingly, longer power imbalances, were being more firmly established. This, the guests agreed, requires reforms in time for the next round of Excellence Strategy applications. The new approach in the academic system should also be supplemented by a basic measure: obligatory and neutral career counseling that illuminates, honestly and in a timely manner, all career options within and outside academia.