Press release

Facilitate careers in science

The Alliance of Science Organisations in Germany welcomes the fact that the bill submitted by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research to revise the Academic Fixed-Term Contract Act has adjusted the key features formulated in March and that the insights gained during the stakeholder discussions held by the ministry since March have been incorporated into the bill.

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Alliance of Science Organisations

We support the proposed provisions for the academic training phase   up to completion of a doctoral degree. The planned minimum contract duration for initial contracts is an appropriate response to researchers’ need for predictable working conditions during the postgraduate phase. 

By providing for a postdoc phase that can last up to four years, the new bill, which is significantly more suitable for the research field, now takes better account of postdocs’ need for sufficient time to orient themselves and continue their development. Having said that, we once again stress that this timeframe should not be shortened. During this phase, the science organisations represented in the Alliance support in the best possible ways the decisions researchers take regarding different career paths. 

On the other hand, we find that the recently submitted bill does not sufficiently address the issue of the career path leading to a professorship via positions that are comparable with the R3 stage as defined by the European Research Profiles Descriptors. 

This career phase deserves special consideration since at this level we have the chance to support the future leaders of our science system as they advance. For this purpose, we want to offer internationally competitive development opportunities. 
As described by the ministry, the basic concept of a phase of intensive research productivity which, in accordance with the established procedures, leads either to the career goal of a professorship or to a tenured position below the professorship level is fundamentally correct. We also support the idea that a guarantee − coupled with a target agreement − to subsequently offer the individual a permanent employment contract is needed in this phase. 

However, the proposed two-year period following completion of the four-year postdoc phase is not long enough for completing the path to a professorship or comparable position. The R3 phase serves to increase researchers’ visibility in their first independent research position with leadership and management responsibilities, such as mentoring doctoral candidates, for which they provide evidence through independent publications. This is possible only after several years of intensive research work. 

We are concerned that a situation could arise in which individuals who can conduct research long enough to be eligible for a professorship are primarily those who have had periods during previous career stages or research stays abroad that were not covered by fixed-term employment which would permit employing them under fixed-term contracts for a sufficiently long timein effect extend the total amount of time they have available to conduct research. Those who for various reasons have not been able to complete any stage abroad would be disadvantaged due to this. This would particularly affect persons who have care responsibilities or little financial backing and consequently lead to less diversity. Furthermore, a rigid timeframe would provide the wrong incentives and make it more difficult to conduct high-risk research projects during early career stages. It must continue to be possible to conduct particularly innovative research that is not averse to risk    without being bound to save time. 

We take this opportunity to draw attention once again to the statement issued by the Alliance of Science Organisations in Germany on 30 March 2023. Many of our organisations have talked in recent weeks with their researchers in all careers stages about the positions set forth in this statement. For them, it is essential to be able to devote themselves to their own research work on an independent basis, free from extraneous tasks and within an adequate timeframe. For this reason, we continue to call for allowing fixed-term contracts for a period of up to six years during the R3 stage. During this stage, we will provide employees extensive freedom, management training courses and adequate resources so that they can advance their careers optimally. As previously stated, we also want to guarantee that individuals who have reached this career stage can continue working in science. 

We would also like to recall that science, being an international field of work, needs rules that are transparent and understandable even in an international context. We welcome the fact that the new bill does not envisage any further revocation of the collective agreement restriction. However, the proposed further opening of the pay scale clause poses the serious threat that an unwieldy patchwork of regulations and, at worst, disparity between organisations and Germany’s federal states could arise. 

We also consider it problematic that the priority given to fixed-term contracts for advanced academic training   is to be extended to include private third-party-funded projects; this would make collaboration between science and industry significantly more difficult. 

The Academic Fixed-Term Employment Act is only one of the guide rails in our science system. We have the declared intention of continually developing as organisations, including through other measures, in order to make our researchers’ career opportunities more transparent and reliable. Our aim is to achieve optimal conditions for the development of our talented individuals.

The Alliance of Science Organisations in Germany is a union of the most important science and research organisations in Germany. It regularly issues statements regarding important science policy issues. The German National Academy of Sciences Leopoldina is a member of the Alliance and is chair of the organisation for 2023. The Alliance’s other members are the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, the German Academic Exchange Service, the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), the Fraunhofer Gesellschaft, the Helmholtz Association, the German Rectors’ Conference, the Leibniz Association, the Max Planck Society, and the German Council of Science and Humanities.

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(Press release 16/2023)

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