14 June 2007, No. 18/2007

More opportunities, more performance incentives, more risk and less regimentation

Humboldt Foundation's 10 Point Plan recommends measures for making Germany more attractive for international cutting-edge researchers

Germany has to be more competitive, and get better at competing, in the international contest for the best researchers. This is the conclusion drawn by the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation which manages approx 1,800 research visits by international top-flight and junior researchers every year. On the basis of its practical experience as an organisation promoting the internationalisation of research, and the feedback from its German and international network, the Humboldt Foundation has drawn up a 10 Point Plan of recommendations.

"The Foundation's objective in this paper is to achieve concrete improvements and give impetus to a location strategy for research policy", Dr. Georg Schütte, Secretary General of the Humboldt Foundation, commented. More rewards for performance, more competition, more risk-taking and less bureaucracy and regimentation are the quintessence of the paper. "Whether it's rigid staff appointment schemes, unattractive remuneration, bureaucratic recruiting and appointment procedures, or a lack of perspectives for young researchers - international comparison shows where we need to improve and what we can learn from abroad", Schütte stated. 

The Pact for Higher Education, the Excellence Initiative, and the Pact for Research and Innovation all indicate that something is happening in German research policy. This kind of approach has to be strengthened and extended. "It is time for an awakening at universities, research establishments and in research policy", Schütte claimed. With initiatives like the 10 Point Plan, the Humboldt Foundation wanted to contribute to this awakening and make greater use of the expertise of its network. The 10 Point Plan can be found at the end of this text or downloaded (pdf) on the right. 
 

How Germany can become more attractive in the competition for international cutting-edge researchers

Alexander von Humboldt Foundation 10 Point Plan

German universities and research establishments are facing ever stiffer competition in the international contest for academic talent and cutting-edge researchers. Clever people are sought after and courted all over the world. The following ten points summarise the demands the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation has received from its network inside and outside of Germany: 

1. More jobs for scientists and scholars
On average, German professors supervise 63 students. This is more than twice as many as the average at top-rank international universities. In order to realise the European Union's Lisbon Targets Germany would have to create 70,000 new research positions. The Pact for Higher Education and the Pact for Research and Innovation provide a financial basis for recruiting young academics. However, the measures are not sufficient and must be augmented in the mid-term. 

2. Academic careers need planning certainty: establishing tenure track as an option for junior researchers
German universities must take measures to plan the career stage between a doctorate and a secure professorship and make it compatible internationally. On the pattern of the Anglo-Saxon tenure track, clear, qualifying steps should be defined at which decisions are made about remaining at an institution. A stage model of this kind must on all accounts include the option of being appointed to a secure professorship, albeit in the knowledge that this option is only open to a certain percentage of those who choose to set out on this path.

3. Career support as an advisory and supervisory task of academic managers
Senior academics as well as university and/or institute directors must play an active role in human resources development for their junior researchers. Young scientists and scholars need careers advice. Planning certainty assumes that planning assistance is available, too, in order to find the right path, not only within the science system but also in employment outside the science system. 

4. Promoting early independence by taking risks in financing research
By international comparison, young academics in Germany have less scope for decision-making and action. Funding programmes for early, independent research must be strengthened. Especially for researchers at an early stage in their careers, procedures should be profiled for research work involving an unknown risk factor. 

5. Making recruitment and appointments more professional
Professional appointment procedures are essential. The Science Council's recommendations of 2005 present the minimum standards. If international mobility leads to success, it must be duly recognised. Appointment procedures must have an open outcome and be transparent. To this end, commissions charged with appointments must include external or independent expert reviewers. In the interests of the entire organisation, not just the faculty or department but university management, too, must be allowed to take part in the proceedings and influence the results. Good academics should be appointed quickly. Internationally respected universities can no longer afford to take years over appointments, particularly as universities and research establishments now actively have to recruit junior researchers internationally to a much greater extent than they did in the past. 

6. Dissolve staff appointment schemes and adapt management structures
The most important resource of a university or research institute - its staff - is always a matter for the boss. Hence, university management should take full advantage of current university deregulation and the concomitant gain in autonomy. The way a university or academic field develops may offer an opportunity to reassess the particular emphasis of the respective chair. In each individual case, the relationship between continuity and change must be redetermined in collaboration with those involved within the university but also - if necessary - with colleagues from outside. Rigid staff appointment schemes must make way for flexible appointment options, or be dissolved. Independent junior research group leaders must be put on a par with junior professors within the universities and in collaborations between universities and non-university research establishments. The increased demands being placed on university and institute management must be reflected in their remuneration which should bear some relation to emoluments for comparable managerial responsibilities in the non-academic sector. 

7. Creating special regulations for collective wage agreements in the academic sector
According to many of those involved, the new wage agreement for the public service sector (TVöD/TVL) is not commensurate with appropriate remuneration for academic and non-academic staff at non-university and university research establishments. By comparison with other pay-scales, it is not competitive, either nationally or internationally, it restricts mobility, and its rigid conditions do not take account of the special features of academic life. This applies both to academic and non-academic personnel. Appropriate remuneration for people who have gained experience in other fields, particularly in industry, is an essential precondition for ensuring that technology transfer via people remains lively and productive. 

8. Internationally competitive remuneration
In the contest for the best researchers the "W pay-scale" should be examined to determine whether it is really commensurate with the demands placed on internationally competitive science today. It must be ensured that cutting-edge researchers can be offered internationally competitive remuneration. The framework for allocating remuneration to professors currently valid at universities leaves too little scope for this. A national special programme for appointing eminent academics from abroad might be one way of creating the conditions for attracting internationally renowned cutting-edge researchers. 

9. Internationalising social security benefits
Internationally mobile researchers often have to accept major disadvantages or financial losses with regard to pension rights. On European level at the very least, basic conditions for transferring social security benefits must be put in place. An equalisation fund could temporarily allow science organisations or individual universities to compensate for the disadvantages. 

10. Increasing transparency and creating an attractive working environment
As well as job-related conditions, in the global competition for cutting-edge researchers at all stages of their careers the support provided for people and families is decisive:

  • In order to provide internationally mobile junior researchers with a fast means of orienting themselves in the German science system an information and advice portal should be set up where they can find out how to get further information and take advantage of personal counselling.
  • There is an urgent need for suitable accommodation for internationally mobile researchers who come to Germany for a restricted period of time. A new investment programme for "International Meeting Centres for Scientists and Scholars" should be introduced on the pattern of previous programmes.
  • Academic employers in Germany must be put in a position to offer organisational and financial support for removal and relocation which is already the norm in other countries, especially when top-rank academic personnel are appointed.
  • Child-care facilities for internationally mobile researchers at universities and non-university research establishments must be expanded quickly and extensively. International appointments in Germany still often fail because there is a lack of child-care facilities.
  • Careers advice and support for (marital) partners seeking employment as well as so-called dual career advice or support for academic couples are required to attract internationally mobile researchers. Examples from abroad indicate that this does not necessarily mean concrete job offers ( which are often difficult to find), rather, intelligent counselling can satisfy many people's needs.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation 

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation annually enables more than 1800 researchers from all over the world to spend time researching in Germany. The Foundation maintains a network of some 23,000 Humboldtians from all disciplines in 130 countries worldwide - including 40 Nobel Prize winners.

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