Resolute minister eyes performance

October 5, 2001

The THES reports on how academics around the world fight their corner on pay.

The German government wants to make academic salaries more dependent on performance, to make professorial pay more competitive with the private sector and to attract more high-flyers.

The Association of University Professors (DHV), which represents the country's 18,000 university professors, wholeheartedly agrees. Unfortunately, that is where the agreement stops. Education minister Edelgard Bulmahn is trying to push through a reform of professorial pay and conditions that would introduce performance-related pay.

The reform would also abolish the Habilitation , the postdoctoral thesis required to qualify as a professor, in favour of junior professorships limited to six years. These would be open to academics as soon as they completed their PhDs.

This system would make the profession more attractive to young academics by "offering them the chance to teach and research independently" from the age of about 30, rather than tying them to senior professors "like vassals" for years, Ms Bulmahn said.

At present, professorial salary scales are agreed between the government and the Bundesbeamtenverband, which represents the country's tenured public employees.

Professors' salary packages rise according to age. Ms Bulmahn's reform proposes a simplified salary structure tailored to the higher education sector, although professors would remain tenured civil servants ( Beamten ).

Under the reform, junior professors would be paid €3,250-€3,500 (£2,000-£2,200) a month gross for up to six years. If they proved themselves in this period, they would have the chance for promotion to full professor with a minimum monthly salary of €3,500 plus an average e1,000 to be negotiated according to performance. The top professorial grade would receive a basic minimum of €4,250 plus an average €1,550 based on performance. The criteria for awarding performance pay would be decided by the education ministries of each of the 16 states.

Ms Bulmahn has already pushed her reform through cabinet. But it is having a bumpy ride through the Bundesrat, which represents Germany's state governments at national level. She hopes the reform will be enacted in January.

Hartmut Schiedermair, president of the DHV, hopes she will not succeed. He said the reform would make the system "considerably less market competitive than it is now". This is because, within the Beamten pay structure, German professors climb the professional ladder and increase their salaries by being "called" to a chair at another university.

The interested university is allowed to tempt them with a pay increase of up to 30 per cent. This was a competitive system in which the best academics were rewarded by their peers, argued Professor Schiedermair. It also safeguarded academic freedom, he added.

His only complaint is that the government puts a 30 per cent ceiling on pay rises when a professor takes up a call and allows him or her to accept a call only every three years. It also bans anyone over the age of 50 from being called.

"We would like to make the system more competitive by abolishing these three obstacles," Mr Schiedermair said.

The DHV would like to see a reform that offered professors special terms of service similar to judges, he said. But the organisation walked out of Ms Bulmahn's commission on professorial pay and conditions, claiming its suggestions were falling on deaf ears.

The professors contended that Ms Bulmahn's performance-related pay system would be a "promotion system" that took the decisions out of the hands of peers. And since the government has said no extra funding will be available for the reform, it is unlikely to make an attractive extra amount of money available to lure top scientists from industry or abroad.

Junior professorships, far from speeding scientific careers, would slow them, said the DHV. At present, contracts for academic assistants striving for professorial titles stipulate they must carry out at least two hours' a week teaching as well as working towards their Habilitation . The new contracts would require six hours a week teaching. If they are not employed at the end of the contract, they would not even have earned the professorial title, said a DHV spokesman. "It is just a way of finding cheap teaching," he said.

The DHV has won support from unexpected quarters. Manfred Erhardt, general secretary of the Stifterverband, an industry-supported higher education sponsorship body, said the salaries for junior professorships were too low.

But Ms Bulmahn means business. She has established a pilot scheme offering universities €75,000 for every junior professorship position it creates. The prestigious Humboldt and Göttingen universities, among others, have already taken up the offer.

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