Working conditions at universities “Human and anti-science ”
Status: 06/24/2021 5:03 a.m.
Chain contracts, extra work and a lack of prospects: under the hashtag #IchBinHanna, scientists mobilize against difficult working conditions. At their pressure, the Bundestag is also dealing with the subject today. tagesschau.de: With #IchBinHanna, working conditions in science make it into parliament. How did the hashtag come about? Sebastian Kubon: Until recently, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research had a video on its website in which an animated figure named Hanna explains the legal basis of employment, the Science Contract Act. This is a special right of fixed-term employment that regulates that scientists in Germany can be employed for a maximum of six years before and six years after completing their doctorate. Thereafter, the time limit must be extended. But that doesn’t happen due to a lack of jobs, so most of them are thrown out of the system by then at the latest – with all their qualifications and knowledge that are then lost to science. And in addition to this immense loss for Germany as a research location, there is always a personal fate. If there is such an explanatory video to explain this absurd situation, then in my opinion it is anti-human and anti-science. Therefore, Dr. Amrei Bahr, Dr. Kristin Eichhorn and I give the scientists a face – with the hashtag #IchbBinHanna.
To person Dr. Sebastian Kubon is a research associate at the History Department at the University of Hamburg, currently on parental leave. He is mainly concerned with public history and food history. At the moment, criticism of the German science system is at the center of his commitment. To do this, he and Dr. Amrei Bahr and Dr. Kristin Eichhorn created the hashtag #IchBinHanna.
tagesschau.de: What are your main points of criticism and what are your specific suggestions? Kubon: I hardly know where to start. The short-term contracts are particularly bad. Instead of doing research in peace, you have to keep writing new applications and proposals. We need realistic contract terms, i.e. as long as you actually need for a doctorate, for example. And those who then have a doctorate should be employed on a permanent basis – or at least receive a clear and transparent perspective. In addition, there is a lot of unpaid overtime at universities. Many colleagues only have half jobs – and still work as much as if they had full jobs to keep the business running. We need reliable and sufficient basic funding. This does not always mean more third-party funding, i.e. project-related funds that have to be applied for and raised at great expense.
“Then you shouldn’t get any professors out of time”
tagesschau.de: The Ministry of Education justified the temporary positions by stating that research always needed new impulses. Kubon: This argument that only constant fluctuation creates innovation has been around for decades without ever being scientifically verified. According to this logic, professors should not be deferred. I think that is more of an exaggerated argument. Because it is – at least in the short term – easier and cheaper for young scientists to work unpaid overtime. But this literally burns them up, which is expensive in the long term and not sustainable at all. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not about pity. But this system means that important research projects are put to rest, teaching suffers in terms of content and students keep losing contact. Many highly talented people, when asked if they could see themselves in science, wave their thanks. tagesschau.de: Another argument from the Ministry of Education is that if all posts were to be expelled, a single generation would “clog” the system … Kubon: But nobody is asking that all positions be permanent – as far as I know, not even the union. It is about transparent criteria and a concrete perspective: in other words, expiry under the and the circumstances. Surely it cannot be that every new generation has to struggle again and again with precarious working conditions and cannot conduct research properly.
“No wonder that many seek their happiness elsewhere”
tagesschau.de: Is that actually a purely German problem, is it better to deal with young scientists abroad? Kubon: “Offspring” is a terrible term. Some people in their mid-40s are not newcomers, but highly qualified experts who have long had highly paid management positions elsewhere. No wonder that many seek their happiness elsewhere. Foreign universities have already tried to poach German scientists as part of #IchBinHanna. But to come back to the question: Overall, science is a precarious system worldwide. But I cannot judge that in detail. But it would perhaps also be more the job of the ministry to set up a commission to deal with working conditions elsewhere in order to see what one can learn from there. But that would presuppose that deficits are recognized at all in their own country.
Mobilize via Twitter – in response to pressure from academics, the Bundestag is currently dealing with working conditions in research and teaching (archive). Image: picture alliance / Geisler-Fotop
tagesschau.de: Now there is a current hour in the Bundestag today. What do you expect from it? Kubon: I hope that this will bring science back on the political agenda. If it is to provide urgently needed orientation, then we can no longer work under such conditions. But I have the impression that many politicians simply do not know anything about it. Therefore we say: stop – it cannot go on like this. And maybe a few parties will see it as an opportunity to position themselves on questions of science policy.
Workers’ rights, as for everyone else
tagesschau.de: It is the last week of the session, then there will be general elections in September, so there will be no quick solutions. How do you intend to carry the topic forward? Kubon: The Science Contract Act is currently being evaluated. However, the corresponding forms are designed in such a way that I cannot imagine that valid data will come out of them. Nevertheless: The law is on the agenda for the next legislative period. Therefore, the deficits must now be described as precisely as possible in order to propose possible solutions. This is done in the traditional way, i.e. via local programs, party work or unions. But thanks to social media, initiatives can also arise quickly and spontaneously – the success of #IchBinHanna has shown us that. You made the Ministry of Research have to deal with our criticism. And on this point we will not let up: Scientists must have the same employee rights as everyone else. The interview was conducted by Stefan Keilmann, tagesschau.de