Joint Statement of the German Postdoctoral Networks on the Draft Bill for the WissZeitVG
The following is an official English translation of the comments sent to the BMBF regarding the Draft Bill for the WissZeitVG dated 06.06.2023.
The German postdoctoral networks offer our sincere appreciation for the time and consideration spent in constructing the current Referentenentwurf Gesetz zur Änderung des Befristungsrechts für die Wissenschaft. We especially thank the BMBF for your openness to discussion and for including the postdoctoral networks in this conversation. The German postdoctoral networks signed below have decided to offer a joint response to your request for feedback. During the past two weeks, we have reached out to postdoctoral researchers within our networks to understand their viewpoints on the current proposed draft to represent them best. These are postdoctoral researchers from a diverse range of scientific disciplines and backgrounds. Our joint response is reflective of a survey that we conducted with hundreds of individual responses across the German academic landscape. We will also use statistics from recent surveys conducted by the Leibniz PostDoc Network and the Max Planck PostdocNet. We highly encourage the BMBF and other stakeholders to review these in-depth and insightful surveys.
Overall, we are concerned with the distribution and access to information regarding the proposed changes to the WissZeitVG and the discussions surrounding it. Postdoctoral researchers are directly affected by any changes to the current law, and we must ensure that all postdocs are well-informed about career paths within the German academic system. According to the 2022 Leibniz Postdoc Survey, about half of the international postdoctoral researchers do not know about the WissZeitVG. In the 2022 survey conducted by the PostdocNet of the MPG, 75% of postdocs at the MPG and 35% of postdocs at Leibniz Institutes come from outside of Germany. We strongly suggest that information about this law and any proposed changes are available in an English translation alongside the official German version to provide fair and equal access for those whom the law directly affects.
Concerning the content of the proposed draft, we would like to make the following comments and suggestions:
We find that the initial three-year minimum contract during the Ph.D. phase, and the two-year minimum contract with some flexibility in the postdoc phase are very positive changes. Minimum contract lengths help to offer some stability.
We would also like to specifically comment on the suggestion of a 4+2 model for the postdoctoral phase. Postdocs conduct research in diverse research areas and disciplines. The qualifications and research requirements vary greatly. Humanities and social sciences postdocs often require over five years to complete a habilitation. Experimental collaborative projects in STEM can take even longer. We find a 4-year limitation to be harmful to science in Germany. It promotes less risky research, stymying breakthroughs and innovation. Further, we find the current proposed draft of the Anschlusszusage to be problematic. As it stands now, without clearly defined qualification policies, the Anschlusszusage would give an immense amount of power to directors and institutions to decide whom to let through to tenure. An accountability process that is clear and transparent needs to be set in place. Such a process should include the postdoc’s professional development, the steps and qualifications needed to obtain tenure, and the fallback option should the postdoc not obtain tenure. There should be clear definitions of tenure and permanent positions.
If the WissZeitVG is kept in some form, we ask for concrete specifications of the R1, R2, and R3 phase developments, and this is especially the case for the independent group leader (R3) phase. If the +2 phase is to be considered the R3 phase, we find this to be too short of a time period to gain experience and acquire funding as an independent group leader. This is especially problematic when one takes the evaluation times for grants in Germany into account (e.g. the DFG claims 8 months after the process starts). A clarification of the qualification criteria would be needed to decide on an upper limit for the R3 phase.
We understand that the WissZeitVG itself cannot inherently increase tenure tracks and permanent positions within Germany. However, if this law goes into effect without concurrent laws governing an increase in tenure and permanent positions, there would be even more of a backlog of Ph.D. graduates and postdoctoral researchers in the German academic system with extremely few positions available. This will cause Germany to lose its early career researchers with an inevitable adverse effect on the country’s future higher education and academic system.
Hence, a reform of the WissZeitVG alone cannot address the current lack of career perspectives for the majority of scientists in Germany. We urge the BMBF to consider additional measures to increase the number of permanent positions.
In conclusion, we suggest accessible distribution of information in English translation, clear career development strategies, clear and transparent evaluations for qualifications, incentives for academic institutions to add more permanent positions, and a strategic increase in inter-sectoral mobility to make Germany a center of high-quality and innovative science.
We are happy to further discuss our suggestions or answer any questions and comments regarding our joint response.
The Max Planck PostdocNet
Munich Postdoc Network (MPN)
Leibniz PostDoc Network
Postdoc Representatives & Networks of the Helmholtz Association of German Research Centres: Helmholtz Munich Postdoc Association, AWI Postdoc Team, Max Delbrück Center Postdoc Association (MDC PDA), GFZ Potsdam Postdoc Reps, GEOMAR PostDoc+ Team, HZDR Postdoc Reps, Helmholtz Zentrum Berlin Postdoc Council, DFKZ Postdoc Representatives, Dr. Lucas Secchim Ribeiro (Postdoc Representative, DZNE-Bonn)
Representatives of Rede Apoena (Network of Brazilian Researchers in Germany)