Germans pass career reforms

November 23, 2001

Professors in Germany will be paid according to performance after the German parliament agreed a reform of their pay and conditions of service.

Between a quarter and a third of the salaries of the country's 30,000 professors will be determined by their performance in teaching, research or their work as dean or rector.

The reform also creates junior professorships of six years that will be open to academics upon completion of their PhDs. This will in effect abolish the Habilitation , the postdoctoral thesis required to become a professor that takes an average of six years and is considered a brake on careers.

The education minister, Social Democrat Edelgard Bulmahn, called it the biggest higher education reform since the 1960s and said it will usher in an era of reform. She told parliament: "This reform will free young scientists, but also professors, from a rigid bureaucratic corset that dates from the 19th century. The lengthy and non-transparent Habilitation process, years of personal dependence on professors or heads of research institutes, and a salary system that rewards age rather than performance are all passe."

She said junior professorships will allow young scientists to research independently in their most creative phases and will plug Germany's brain drain.

The reform was passed in the Bundestag with the support of the Greens, the Social Democrat Party's junior coalition partners, and the opposition Free Democrats. It still has to be approved by the other house of parliament, the Bundesrat, which represents Germany's state governments at national level. It is due to vote on the reform on November 30.

Hans Zehetmair, Christian Social Union education minister of Bavaria, promised opposition in the Bundesrat. He wants junior professorships and the Habilitation to work alongside each other. He said some in the humanities believe junior professorships will not work in those subjects.

But the education ministry is confident that the Bundesrat will approve the reform because the conservative-led states that oppose it lack a majority.

The Association of University Professors (DHV) is expected to put up a bigger fight. Ahead of the Bundestag vote, it published legal advice that called the new terms and conditions of service unconstitutional. DHV president Hartmut Schiedermair has not ruled out challenging the reform in the federal constitutional court.

But the reform has influential scientific support from the head of the Conference of University Rectors, the Science Council, the German Research Council and the Max Planck Society.

Many universities have already applied successfully for a slice of the €180 million (£111 million) the government will award until 2007 to establish junior professorships.

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