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GERMANY: Funding for women professors raises questions
Germany's Education and Science Ministry has begun implementing a government programme announced last December to create 200 additional positions for women professors. The Professorinnenprogramm was launched by the ministry on International Women's Day and was given a cautious welcome by the Teaching and Science Union, GEW. But the union warned the move could not act as a substitute for a staff policy systematically oriented towards gender equality in higher education and research.

The new programme relies on joint funding by the Federal Government and the Länder governments amounting to €150 million, with new women professors each receiving up to €150,000 a year. Half of the funding is allocated by the Land where institutions applying are located. Applications can only be submitted if an institution has been given a positive appraisal for its gender equality efforts, with reviews carried out by committees of independent experts comprising renowned representatives of higher education, research and higher education management.

At the senior academic level, just 14.3% of professors in Germany are women although women account for nearly 50% of all graduates. Even at Bremen University, which holds a leading position in gender equality policies with 20% of its professors being female, the proportion of women declines dramatically along the seniority path. This is most prominent in the engineering and natural sciences where women comprise a third of the students and 21% of non-professorial academics but a mere 12% make it as professors.

Federal Education Minister Annette Schavan said institutions would lose a considerable potential source of talented academics if they did not offer better prospects for highly qualified women. Schavan was confident the Professorinnenprogramm would be an efficient means of boosting gender equality while simultaneously providing lasting support for excellent women scholars and scientists.

The GEW, while welcoming the extra government funding in principle, called for a fixed quota of women at all levels of the academic career structure. "It is scandalous that just 10% of the top salary groups in higher education are staffed by women, while nowadays more women are studying than men," says GEW board member Anne Jenter, who is responsible for women's issues.

Jenter said statistics as well as the experiences of individual women academics showed that men preferred other men in appointments to executive positions. This was also backed up by Bremen University's equal opportunity unit, which pointed to the influence of ‘old-boys' networks’ on recruitment, with male bonuses being given to junior scientists and scholars in terms of insider information and the like.

Calling for a "demystification of the myth" about the academic who dedicated a whole life to research, Jenter said the reality of a woman's life had to be accepted in day-to-day academic practice. As things were, wrong standards were resulting in women, as 'potential mothers', being attributed poorer potential academic performance regardless of whether they actually had children or not.

Such appraisals also clashed with studies she referred to demonstrating that neither the publishing rate nor achievement standards of women academics with children were lower than among their male colleagues. Many women academics came to a dead end in their career after a succession of limited contracts, with the result that they lacked any career prospects in their mid-30s, Jenter said.

This coincided with a further observation made at Bremen of a 'cooling-out' phase among women academics. Faced with a lack of integration coupled with lower engagement on the part of their mentors, as well as a multitude of minor discriminations against them, they would frequently conclude they were simply unsuitable for an academic career. Even those who had successfully qualified as university lecturers were often forced to quit higher education because they were not appointed to higher positions.

"Germany's dreams of becoming a knowledge society could soon be over without further investment in career development among women academics," Jenter warned.
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