Research institutions criticised for employment practice

Germany’s federal and state governments have called on the country’s major research institutions to review their employment conditions and career structures. They are particularly critical of the underrepresentation of women in these institutions.

The Gemeinsame Wissenschaftskonferenz or GWK – the joint higher education and research conference – claims that current regulations on fixed-term jobs at the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, the Helmholtz Association, the Max Planck Society and the Leibniz-Gemeinschaft are “partly dysfunctional”.

The GWK, comprising the federal and state ministers of higher education and research and of finance, argues that there are too many fixed-term jobs and that their duration is sometimes very short.

On an international scale, career tracks in the German system only lead into “self-responsible posts and permanent contracts at a late stage”, the GWK argues in a Monitoring Report on the Pact for Research and Innovation, a federal and state government programme introduced in 2005 to boost non-university research institutions and the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft or DFG, Germany’s chief research funding organisation, with an annual total of around €10 billion (US$10.9 billion).

The federal and state governments call on the research institutions to observe legal provisions for families enabling an extension of fixed-term contracts to accommodate childcare. In contracts coupled to qualifying for an academic degree, the duration of the contract should take time needed for qualifying into account. And in the case of third party-funded posts, contracts ought to match the funding period, they say.

Furthermore, doctoral candidates should be entitled to posts subject to social insurance contributions and clearly formulated supervision arrangements. The GWK demands that these challenges be “the object of a systematic overall approach to staff development”.

The big research institutions are faced with particularly harsh criticism regarding their “unsatisfactory gender equality politics” record.

The GWK calls the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft and the Helmholtz Association’s exclusive appointment of men to their institutes in 2014 “incomprehensible”, especially since this has resulted in a decline in the percentage of women at the institutions’ executive level.

A significantly stronger representation of women in research is one of the Pact for Research and Innovation’s key objectives.

The percentage of women in the top salary groups for professors is at 4.7% in the Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, 14.5% in the Helmholtz Association, 11% in the Max Planck Society and 14.2% in the Leibniz-Gemeinschaft. This compares with a corresponding percentage of women in these salary groups at universities of 17.3%.

According to Jutta Dalhoff, who heads the Center of Excellence Women and Science at Bonn University, given the billions of euros they have received, non-university research institutions have achieved “pathetically little” in terms of gender equality.

Michael Gardner Email: