14 January 2016, No. 02/2016

“Self-made pressure is threatening the German science system”

Speaking at the New Year’s Reception of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation in Berlin, the Foundation’s President, Helmut Schwarz, called for better career prospects for young researchers and warned against overloading the review system.

“The dream job ‘researcher’ is in a crisis”, said the President of the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation, Helmut Schwarz, in the address he delivered at the Foundation’s New Year’s Reception in Berlin today. Schwarz cited young German researchers who participated in a survey conducted by the weekly newspaper DIE ZEIT. Eighty per cent stated that they were thinking about changing their profession due to job uncertainty or poor prospects for advancement. “And this in a country that can look back upon a long tradition of outstanding science and whose representatives in the political sector and industry at the same time continually stress how very much the future is determined by science-driven fields”, said Schwarz.

“Young talents are extremely mobile today. They are often exceptionally well trained, perhaps better than ever before. Also, presumably no generation before this one has had such opportunities or was at the same time subject to such high pressure – pressure that is building in the science system itself and is finding a release in unpleasant ways”, emphasised Schwarz, citing as examples the growing number of cases of scientific misconduct and the overloading of the review system.

Large numbers of reviews are needed in nearly all competitions conducted in science and academia, Schwarz noted, pointing to cases in which 1,000 requests for reviews are received from researchers in a year. “Does this leave sufficient time for the requisite care? Are reviews that are produced under such conditions at all sound? No doubt about it, it is high time that the pressure on the system as a whole be reduced!”, stated Schwarz. “Otherwise there is the danger that quality could be compromised and this could lead to collateral damage – because this affects not just individual funding decisions but also the governance of the science system as a whole”, he said.

Schwarz welcomed the amendment of the Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz (the law regulating the length of scientific employment contracts in Germany) and the study currently being conducted by the Wissenschaftsrat (German Council of Science and Humanities) regarding the overloading of the review system. “It is important that we take countermeasures”, said the President of the Humboldt Foundation.

Schwarz also spoke about the current discussion regarding refugees and asked for support for researchers who leave their native countries to escape violence and persecution. “Many of them have to deal with a situation and with challenges that are completely inconceivable for most people”, Schwarz emphasised. He expressed thanks for the support provided by the political sector and foundations for the recently launched Philipp Schwartz Initiative which the Humboldt Foundation is using to help threatened researchers who seek refuge in Germany.  The Foundation’s President also took the opportunity to call for tolerance and open-mindedness and warned against general xenophobia that could grow in the wake of the increasingly heated public discussion about refugees: “Foreigners in Germany - such as our Humboldtians - should continue to feel safe and welcome here.”

Schwarz spoke in the Leibniz Hall of the Berlin-Brandenburg Academy of Sciences and Humanities to more than 250 international guests from the sciences, academia, the political sector and industry plus Humboldtians who are currently conducting research in Germany.

The Alexander von Humboldt Foundation

Every year, the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation enables more than 2,000 researchers from all over the world to spend time researching in Germany. The Foundation maintains a network of well over 27,000 Humboldtians from all disciplines in more than 140 countries worldwide – including 52 Nobel Laureates.

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