The Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz Reform: A Crisis for Postdocs and a Blow to German Universities’ Academic Employees

As a postdoc myself, I am deeply concerned by the proposed reform of the Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz (WissZeitVG), which threatens the livelihood and career prospects of my peers and jeopardizes the middle tier (“Mittelbau”) of German universities. While the coalition’s agreement claims to improve working conditions and job security for scientists like me, it could actually do more harm than good.

The reform’s main objective of focusing on scientific qualification and promoting individual career paths feels like a sham. The WissZeitVG’s basic system of fixed-term employment remains, leaving researchers like me in precarious situations and making career planning a constant struggle.

Andreas Keller, Deputy Chairman of the Education and Science Union, does acknowledge some “steps” towards the coalition’s slogan “permanent positions for permanent tasks” in the reform’s key points. However, he also emphasizes that the plans fall short of their promises, urging the coalition to “step up its game in the drafting of the bill.”

As a postdoc in Germany, the prospect of having the maximum fixed-term contract period reduced from six to three years is alarming. With only a two-year minimum contract period for initial contracts, I feel like I’m being forced into a race against time. This shortening could lead researchers like me to prioritize short-term projects for financial security over long-term research and skill development, ultimately stifling our scientific potential.

Many key figures in the academic community share my concerns about the reform. Peter-André Alt, President of the German Rectors’ Conference, highlights the “too short fixed-term option in the postdoc phase” as an issue. The initiators of the “#IchbinHanna” debate criticize the reform for making science as a profession less attractive and increasing pressure on employees. The Network for Good Work in Science (NGA Wiss) argues that the reform’s impact on reducing fixed-term contracts in science is unclear and that it invites continued abuse of the law.

In conclusion, the Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz reform shows an alarming disregard for the challenges faced by middle-tier faculty and postdocs at German universities. Instead of initiating much-needed systemic change and providing lasting prospects for employees, the reform worsens our already precarious working conditions and disappoints everyone affected. It’s time for policymakers to take the demands of scientists like me seriously and undertake a fundamental revision of the WissZeitVG to make the German university and science system sustainable and attractive.

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