Precarious by state

At local universities and research institutions, the majority of the academic staff is employed only for a limited period of time. The misery has been exacerbated by a law that has been in force for 13 years and which was “improved” in 2016 because of its distortions. A recent study puts the amendment to the test. Result: the situation has at best relaxed a little “bit”, but remains as usual dramatic. For a rapid Reform of the Reform it is, therefore, the highest railway. The federal government prefers snail’s pace.

Anyone who wants to know about insecure employment relationships, incomplete employment biographies, messed - up life and family planning, underpayment and unpaid overtime is in the right place at a German university. The precariat has its headquarters at the venerable Alma Mater. Here, aspiring professors teach for years for lau, student assistants earn a living and junior scientists shimmy from one short-term position to the next. Free entrepreneurship can only dream of such conditions. Needed turbo-capitalists still illustrative lessons in terms of personnel slaughter – at Germany’s highest educational institutions they learned their lesson.

First of all, the so-called academic middle school has long served the university rectors as milking cow number one. Most recently, 90 percent of the scientific staff were employed for a limited period of time in the Federal average, almost every second of them on a part-time job. Almost half of the doctoral students and Postdocs had an employment contract in the first qualification phase, which ran for less than twelve months. Of the approximately 146,000 full-time employees in 2009, 83 percent were in temporary employment. By way of comparison, in the private sector, seven percent of Jobs with a time limit were counted recently, while in the public service as a whole it was 9.5 percent.

Dam break 13 years ago

These figures are part of a government survey conducted in 2011. the study was intended to examine the effects of the wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz (WissZeitVG), which was passed in 2007 and has since formed the basis for special appointments for academic and artistic staff at universities and research institutions. At the time, the regulations replaced corresponding provisions of the Higher Education Framework Act (HRG) and in its wake, the – even before that already strongly pronounced – temporary practice in the field of science was completely out of control.

But the grievances were not without consequences. For several years, the topic has regularly entered the public consciousness. Initiatives such as the network for good work in science (NGAWiss) or the campaign Frist ist frustration, which is co-sponsored by trade unions, have steadily increased the pressure for change. At some point, the federal government did not want to close its eyes to the misery any longer and promised improvement. In the draft of the” first law amending the WissZeitV " of the end of 2015, the Union and the SPD stated that the proportion of fixed-term contracts had “reached a level ( … ) that was neither intended nor seems justifiable”. With its amendment, which finally came into force in March 2016, the grand coalition promised to counter “false developments” – but “without compromising the flexibility and dynamism required in science”.


Today, four years later, it becomes clear that practically everything remained the same with the new regulation. The principle of Hire and Fire is as dominant and the university heads operate as “flexibly” as ever. In any case, that is the Tenor of a study prepared on behalf of the trade union education and science (GEW), which was published last Wednesday. In it, Freya Gassmann from Saarland University (Saarbrücken) examined the consequences of the amendment on the basis of the analysis of data from the Federal Statistical Office, Interviews with staff representatives and job advertisements at eleven universities. The findings are compared with the aforementioned evaluation of 2011 and surveys in the run-up to the Reform.

Now it is not the case that the measures taken would have achieved nothing. Deputy GEW chairman Andreas Keller remarked the day before yesterday in front of press representatives in Berlin that the amendment was working, but only “a little bit”, and went on: “but a little bit is not enough.” Minimalism in numbers: taking all state universities into account, the fixed-term quota among academic staff was 80 percent in the 2018 study year, while at universities it was 89 percent. The reference values before the amendment of the law in 2015 amounted to 82 and 90 percent respectively. So makes a Minus of one, respectively two percent in three years – the progress is a snail on Valium.

Law with loopholes

The effect is not quite so pitiful with regard to the duration of employment relationships. Whereas the contracts used to have an average duration of 24 months, the most recent was 28 months. The volume of maturities of one year and below has also declined. Before the amendment, this still affected 25 percent of all cases across all qualification phases. In contrast, in 2018, the worst-performing quarter of those affected had a contract period of almost two years on average. However, according to the study, the determined increases could be partly attributable to the methodology. The underlying evaluation of job advertisements covers “only initial contracts and no contract extensions with possibly significantly shorter contract terms”. In addition, only the periods mentioned in the tenders and not the actual maturities were used.

Either way, the yield is pathetic. “It is avenging that four years ago, the Legislature took up some of the GEW’s proposals, but only implemented them inadequately, “commented Keller on the” sobering " balance sheet. Vague legal concepts opened up loopholes that universities and research institutions could use to continue their excessive fixed-term practice. In particular, there was a lack of a “precise Definition of the concept of qualification” and the anchoring of binding minimum contract terms, complained the GEW vice president. It would be necessary to limit temporary positions to the “doctorate and structured preparation for a professorship through a Habilitation or a comparable achievement”.

Carte blanche to limit

According to the law, fixed-term employment contracts are only permitted in connection with qualifications and must be based on the time frame required for this purpose. In fact, however, the specifications are cleverly circumnavigated. According to the analysis, the universities developed “enormous creativity” in declaring almost all activities in everyday scientific life to be a qualification measure – in order to have a carte blanche to set a time limit. For example, participation in research projects or their application would be subsumed under qualification as well as the assumption of teaching tasks, the management of a laboratory or research project.

At the same time, this arbitrariness is used to limit the contract terms, also favored by the fact that the law “lacks a binding lower limit of the term of limitation in the sense of a minimum term period required by the GEW”, writes Keller in a preface to Gassmann’s Expertise. For example, the contract terms, which are extended to an average of 28 months, are “still far” from the recommended stipulation of six years before and after a Promotion in the WissZeitVG. Furthermore, binding family policy regulations would be necessary, which guaranteed a compensation of disadvantages for scientists with children. In addition, temporary contracts may only be permitted after the doctorate if a predictable academic career is offered via a “Tenure Track” with the prospect of a job for life. And finally, the “tariff barrier” must finally be dropped and the trade unions must no longer be prohibited from “negotiating appropriate temporary regulations” with the universities, Keller added.

Government on foot

All this is well-meant advice. Under the conditions of the state higher education system, which has been cut short in decades and which only keeps itself afloat through excessive use of third-party funds, other standards of “quality” and “success"prevail. The genesis of the 2016 amendment was already marked by interventions by powerful lobby groups, which insisted on the continued existence of the fixed-term penalty system. In a letter from the alliance of science organisations to the political leaders in the government and the Bundestag, for example, there was a call for a reversal of plans to curb chain deadlines and to exclude non-scientific staff from the scope of the law. In addition, the alliance, which is backed by the German Research Foundation (DFG), the Fraunhofer and Max Planck societies, the German Council of Science and humanities and the German Rectors ' Conference (HRK) among others, demanded that no concrete agreement on qualification targets be reached.

No less revealing was a speech by the Federal Chancellor on the 20th anniversary of the Helmholtz Association, as evidenced by a wishy-washy quote she gave in July 2015 in Deutschlandfunk: “and that is why it will be the rule that fixed-term contracts are now based on the length of the qualification phase, i.e. the doctoral phase, for example, or the length of third-party funding projects, but it is also possible to also make semi-annual contracts to bridge or if a special reason arises.”

No less revealing was a speech by the Federal Chancellor on the 20th anniversary of the Helmholtz Association in Berlin in June 2015: she called it “one of the difficult tasks to find the Balance between dynamism and security”. On the one hand, a reform of the law could be a contribution to counteract “bad developments in fixed-term contracts”; on the other hand, it warned against overly rigid regulations. “Because what is once fixed is also not easy to disfix in our society.“More” both-and-well " is hardly possible, and in case of doubt Angela Merkel (CDU) has always kept to the employers in the past.

Target missed, purpose fulfilled

So also in this case. Nothing was really “fixed”, which makes” Defixing " unnecessary. More than an alibi law without substance and without real benefit for the sufferers, but with as usual far-reaching freedoms of their service Masters with the time limit and exploitation did not come out in the amendment. But the universities want even more. In their Bayreuth declaration of autumn 2019, the university chancellors, who are responsible for budgets and staff, urged a “further development” of temporary opportunities for Academic Staff. In doing so, they once again highlight the” role of universities as a qualification system”, in which practically nothing is not subject to the purpose of education – of students and all scientists except professors. This, warns GEW vice Keller,“opens the door to a broad Interpretation of the qualification concept”.

The mendacity behind such Advances reveals a view of the big picture. In her study, Gassmann states that the former goal of the WissZeitVG, “to create a secure legal framework for the limitation of employment contracts in scientific qualification, is being missed”. Although the number of research assistants more than doubled between 1994 and 2018, the number of doctorates did not even increase by a quarter and the number of habilitation degrees remained virtually unchanged. From which it concludes that “a significant proportion of temporary employees do not acquire formal qualifications during their employment at universities”. For the scientist, this also raises the question of the law’s right to exist, “if the benefit may lie only in the non-formal qualification of the scientific staff”.

This could be exacerbated: perhaps the benefit of the rules was and still is to squeeze as much as possible out of the employees in order to keep the heads of a higher education system on a flame of austerity (fiscal consolidation, debt brake, Black Zero) a residual financial capacity to act. The search for the culprits of the WissZeitVG as well as its “screwed up” amendment would then first have to begin in the Berlin government apparatus, where since 2005 a chancellor resides, who swathes during Sunday speeches of the “educational Republic of Germany” and “lighthouses of science”, while in real life day care centers, schools and universities bleed out financially and personally.

Delaying tactics

“Action must be taken now”, demands GEW University expert Keller and yet suspects that he will not be heard. The WissZeitVG States in black and white,“the effects of this law will be evaluated in 2020”. Accordingly, the Bundestag and the Bundesrat must make a correction “still in this election period”, demanded the trade unionist. Not with this government. According to their roadmap, the results of the initiated scientific review can only be expected in 2022 and a possible improvement “at the earliest in three years”, complained the trade unionist.

“We already know today, even without this Evaluation, that the Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz is abused, and we also know without Evaluation, how to put a stop to this abuse,” Nicole Gohlke, spokeswoman for science policy of the parliamentary group die Linke in the Bundestag, explained in mid-February in a parliamentary debate on the topic. “It needs improvements to the law.“The Associated proposal of the left” push back terminations – permanent positions for permanent tasks in science " was referred to the Education Committee, where it will fail in the foreseeable future. As usual in matters involving social explosives, the grand coalition is holding back. You can have children at 40 and later.