Sebastian Raupach explains the problems of research in Germany (this interview was made by Carlo di Foggia for the issue of ll Fatto Quotidiano of September 8th – you may download here the PDF )
In Germany, according to the Federal Ministry of Education and Research, investments in R&D have increased over the past years and do now correspond to 3% of the GDP. This target should be pursued by all EU countries according to the Lisbon-strategy and the Europe 2020-strategy. This common strategy is important, as the European Union is not a collection of isolated states but a strong and interdependent political, social and scientific community following common aims, bearing common responsibilities and commonly shaping the lives and prospects of hundreds of millions of European citizens.
In Germany, however, the two main problems of the science system currently are underfunding of universities and the overall lack of permanent positions in science, a development triggered by the present employment laws.
In Germany, there are two kinds of research institutions: universities and non-universitarian research institutions (e.g. Max-Planck institutes or Helmholtz institutes). Within the so-called „pact for research and innovation“, the federal government has been increasing the funding for the non-universitarian researchers institutions over the last years. There has also been an initiative to temporarily allocate more federal funding also to universities („initiative of excellence“).
However, according to the German constitution only the federal states are responsible for the universities, also financially: The federal government is not allowed to continuously fund universities. Due to e.g. budgetary constraints of the federal states, universities tend to be „underfunded“ and rely strongly on third party funding, with all its problems and the overhead they induce. Furthermore, in some states s.a. Saxony the universities suffer from continuous and ongoing cuts of their state funding, which have reached of even crossed a critical level.
At present there are two main topics in German science policy: changing the constitution to allow continuous federal funding of universities, and changing the rather unfortunate law on fixed-term contracts in scientific institutions. Changing the law is also one of the main points of a current petition to the German minister of science and the German vice-chancellor, signed by more than 25.000 supporters.
Despite of the financial efforts, the law on fixed-term contracts in science has led to a dramatic deterioration of the scientific job market in Germany, including the non-universitarian institutions. The market is now totally dominated by fixed-term contracts which spread a feeling of personal insecurity. Sometimes the contracts run for a few months only, and to many scientist a permanent position rather seems like an unreachable Fata Morgana.
This situation affects not only the researchers’ lifes and that of their families, but also scientific quality and independence. It may also be one of the main factors making in particular women drop out of science after their PhD.
A further pecularity of the present law is a rule limiting the allowed time of fixed-term employment (including the PhD) at any German scientific institution to twelve years in total. Intended as a protection against ongoing fixed-term employment, it paradoxically has turned into a „fire and forget“-rule: Once the twelve years are „consumed“, no German university or research institution is allowed to employ the scientist, unless the employment is a permanent one, if he or she is funded from the regular budget. This means that they can only be employed within 3rd party projects limited in time, adding a further level of insecurity: Highly skilled and specialized scientists at the age of 40 and older may not be employed further at all “by law”, regardless of their experience and know-how.
This law and the dramatic lack of permanent positions in Germany, which has been pointed out as a problem also by the German research council, makes many excellent scientists leave science or leave the country to obtain a permanent position elsewhere, e.g. in the UK or outside of Europe.