German U15 expressly welcomes the coalition's resolution, “Powering Innovation, Accelerating the Transfer of Technology.” In particular graduates of research-intensive universities contribute strongly to the innovative power of our country. This especially pertains to junior researchers (particularly during and after their doctoral studies), who foster the development of our society through their expert knowledge and their intellectual capacities. Because they contribute immensely to the innovative dynamics of Germany's research and technology centers, junior researchers necessitate special support through scientific institutions as well as through politics.
U15 assumes the following goals for sponsorship of junior researchers geared towards the future:
- To offer equal opportunities for starting a career in research
- To create stable future outlooks for top-qualified candidates
- To be based on transparent and compulsory criteria for success
- To open up a variety of career paths and possibilities
In order to reach these goals, a specialized federal-state combined program is needed, that would regulate the financial framework for a sustainable, long-term funding program, rather than one functioning only on a short-term basis. In this view, we welcome the negotiations that have already begun to take place between the federal government and the states. In order to reach these goals, the universities themselves must also adjust their staff development prospects appropriately and remain aware of their responsibility to goal-oriented career development. To this end, U15 is currently working on cooperative projects, trainings and conventions.
The coalition's plan to improve the opportunities and predictability of research careers by continuing the Excellence Initiative through “equal integration...of the promotion of junior researchers and the development of predictable career paths” as well as through a human resources initiative is, from the perspective of research-intensive universities, a fundamentally welcome step.
U15 believes that the following standards should be considered for future planning:
- A long-term improvement of the career prospectus must bring together the further development of staffing structures and employment models. The orientation towards achievement must remain a guideline in doing so.
- An appropriate relationship between employment duration and the goals of qualification programs is crucial for the successful continual development of staffing structures and employment models. Contracts must be designed such that the corresponding goals of the qualification program can be reached within the duration of the contract.
- The mid-level academic staffing structure should be characterized by a well-balanced relationship between permanent positions and positions aimed at attaining qualifications. Each generation should have an equal chance of gaining access to the university system based on achievement; this requires the creation of a sufficient amount of fixed-term positions aimed at attaining qualifications. At the same time, there must be enough permanent positions beyond professorships available, that take into consideration the consistent assignments in research and teaching. The number of these positions can be estimated according to the roles needing to be secured within the university establishment.
- In configuring tenure track processes, the coalition must bear in mind that the tenure track should not be nor become an automatic procedure after the appointment as a junior professor. Only a focus on transparent and high quality standards can be enable a fair balance between equal access to tenure tracks and achievement-oriented career planning. At the same time, it must be ensured that the best candidates gain access to a sufficient number of permanent professorships.
- Therefore, all universities must develop a strategy for the production of highly-talented young researchers and the securement of their career opportunities. The tenure track process could be a viable building block for such a strategy.
- A diverse academic staff development must rest on the targeted support of individual potential. For postdocs working towards joining a professorship, clear, objectively established, as well as transparent criteria must be in place. Opportunities for transitioning out of the academic realm and into other branches of work, into the industrial sector for example, should likewise be supported by making relevant counseling and advising services visible.
- Professors carry a particular responsibility as points of contact for career planning, inasmuch as they are able to elucidate different developmental varieties and decision-making possibilities to their doctoral students and postdocs. Advising and the provision of information does not, however, imply a guarantee for absolute career security. The research sector demands a high level of intrinsic motivation, which includes intellectual curiosity, openness and the willingness to take risks. Universities do not offer one hundred percent welfare, but rather equal chances for those who are best-qualified.
Unlike corporations, universities do not primarily educate and qualify their staff to stay in their own institutions. They are, moreover, significantly decentralized and organized part-autonomously. Such high degrees of flexibility can serve as a motor for innovation and new staffing structures, as well as new development concepts. Excellence initiatives and human resources initiatives should provide a framework that can stimulate these developments without over-regulating them.
The continued development of staffing structures and models, and a strengthened implementation of staff development plans requires time. In order for new concepts to enfold successfully, long-term investment of top-level research must be laid out. More basic funding for universities is imperative for a good balance between equal access and career planning, which in turn calls for a combined federal-state program with mutual political responsibility for Germany as a distinguished research site.
U15 is the strategic interest group for strong research universities with international acclaim. The U15 universities include almost one-third of all German and international students in Germany, and support half of all completed doctoral projects in the country. U15 universities attract two-fifths of public external funding, and in the medical field as much as 60 percent of these funds.