Landmark ruling will force increase in professors’ basic pay nationally

A landmark ruling by Germany’s Constitutional Court will improve basic salaries for professors across the country, according to representatives of higher education lecturers.

The court ruled that salaries for professors in the federal state of Hesse are unconstitutional, and that Hesse’s government has to introduce new legislation by the beginning of next year.

The ruling, which is going to affect other federal states too, has been called a “milestone for German higher education” by Bernhard Kempen, president of the ]i]Deutscher Hocschulverband, or DHV, representing higher education lecturers.

According to the court, current salaries for professors in Hesse are “evidently insufficient”. Basic salaries are “not enough” to ensure a professor “an appropriate living in accordance with his rank, the responsibilities his office entails and the significance of civil service with tenure for the public at large”.

The judges of the Constitutional Court upheld the complaint lodged by a Marburg University chemistry professor with Giessen administrative court in 2005.

The professor had been taken on with the new ‘W’ salary, a monthly EUR3,890 (US$5,233) in his case, which was introduced for all newly appointed higher education lecturers in that year. The plaintiff can now reckon on back payments, the level of which, however, is not clear.

Like teachers or judges, professors are, as a rule, tenured civil servants in Germany. But the new ‘W’ professorship does not provide for increases in salary according to years of service. Instead, there is a performance-related component in salaries depending on aspects such as the successful acquisition of third-party funding for research projects.

Hesse’s Higher Education Minister Eva Kühne-Hörmann said that salary levels in Hesse are now at EUR4,451, adding that this puts it in the top third of German federal states.

According to DHV’s Kempen, professors in Berlin are earning up to EUR600 less than their colleagues in the federal state of Baden-Württemberg. In some cases, newly appointed professors may not even earn as much as a deputy principal at a higher secondary school.

“The DHV regards the ruling of the Constitutional Court as a confirmation of its view that a reform of salaries for tenured professors initiated in 2002 by the then Higher Education Minister Edelgard Bulmahn is largely unconstitutional,” said Kempen after the ruling. The DHV had supported the plaintiff at the Constitutional Court.

He added that the court’s decision was above all good news for junior scientists and scholars who were having to make do with far poorer conditions than before 2005.

“Salaries for higher education lecturers have to be attractive in the global competition for the best brains, and they also need to be fair in comparison to those for other professional groups in the public service, such as judges and teachers,” Kempen said.

He added that the DHV would assist the federal state governments in developing new regulations for professors’ salaries to meet the January deadline.