In an open letter, a group of lecturers at the University of Potsdam called for a different approach to employees in third-party funded projects. The authors object to the practice at Potsdam University of not employing temporary scientific staff for more than twelve years.
In their opinion, they advocate a “regular implementation of the fixed-term option at the University of Potsdam, which corresponds to the Science Time Contract Act and thus the will of the legislator”.
The President of the University of Potsdam, Oliver Günther, responded to the letter with understanding. “The positioning of the colleagues comes at exactly the right time,” he told the Tagesspiegel. He referred to the current discussion about the reform of the science contract law at federal and state level, in which many university members are also intensively involved.
“A central goal of the reform must be to restore legal certainty, especially with regard to employment relationships that are financed from third-party funds, which are naturally limited,” said Günther.
This is currently not the case: “Which leads to uncertainties, planning problems and, as a result, a lot of resentment both on the part of the scientists employed and on the part of the universities.”
Criticism of the university’s extremely restrictive approach
University President Günther points out that the problems were already seen by many in 2007, when the law was passed, but that the concerns were ultimately shelved. “The experiences since then show that improvements are urgently needed.”
However, the authors of the open letter, who are supported by the university’s staff council, see the reason for the problem primarily in the interpretation of the law by the management and the department heads for human resources and legal affairs at Potsdam University.
An improved law is desirable, according to the undersigned. The real problem is the “extremely restrictive approach” of the Potsdam University.
After all, there are many other universities, Helmholtz or Leibniz institutes that deal with the problem in such a way that employees there have better prospects. In Potsdam, however, “it’s over for many dedicated and experienced scientists after around twelve years of successful work: And that, although they want to continue their research, the third-party funds are available for their employment, their superiors and colleagues also want this and it is the statutory frame expressly permitted.”
Worry about losing expertise
“In addition to the demotivating effect for experienced scientists at the University of Potsdam, this also has considerable disadvantages for the university itself,” the letter says. With these people, the university loses valuable expertise in the respective research areas and for the support of the students, experienced and committed lecturers.
The signers of the letter also fear that the twelve-year rule could make the university less attractive as an employer. In addition, certain third-party funded projects could no longer be carried out because the employees lacked the expertise and time to submit the application.
“If these scientists have to go, the contribution that these experienced colleagues make to the success story of the UP is missing! And that, paradoxically, even though experienced scientists often raise the funds necessary for their work themselves,” the letter says.
In addition to the implementation of the time-limit option in accordance with the Science Time Contract Act, the authors are now also calling for the “ensuring of academic freedom in project working groups” and a university-wide exchange on the subject of working conditions in mid-level faculty with the participation of the Executive Committee, the Human Resources Department, the Staff Council and the university public.