The recent reform of the Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz (German law on fixed-term contracts in academia) as well as initiatives shedding light on precarious working conditions in this context (e.g. #IchbinHanna) make clear: The structural framework for academic careers in Germany needs improvement. The University of Konstanz has now established a model for implementing the required changes. The concept "Attractive and reliable career paths for excellent researchers" was adopted by the university's Senate on 5 July 2023.
"There is consensus at the University of Konstanz that we need to reform the structural framework for careers in academia. Our long-term goal is a change in academic culture, and we have now initiated this transformation process. We aim to increase the reliability of academic careers while simultaneously providing postdoctoral researchers with career options earlier on", explains Malte Drescher, Vice Rector for Research, Academic Staff Development and Research Infrastructure at the University of Konstanz. "This makes us an attractive location for excellent researchers, increasing the competitiveness of our university."
The Konstanz model seeks to address crucial points of academic careers in Germany. Short fixed-term contracts give early career researchers little planning security – at a time in their lives when they often start families. Another challenge: Academics not hired for professorships often have to transition to other professions later in their careers and experience difficulty doing so. The University of Konstanz's model for attractive and reliable career paths addresses these challenges and more.
Shorter qualification phases with more planning reliability
A central part of the model is shortening the qualification phases while increasing planning reliability and providing targeted support for career decisions at an early stage. The concept focuses on three phases of academic careers: (1) the doctoral period, (2) the postdoctoral phase and (3) the path to a professorship or a long-term academic position. For each of these phases, the Konstanz model provides innovative, realistic solutions within the current legal and financial frameworks.
- There is greater planning security for doctoral researchers. The usual minimum contract period will be three years for positions paid for with general budget funds. Doctoral researchers with either an externally funded position or a scholarship are supported through targeted measures: "Loans" from central budget funds can be used to temporarily fill gaps in funding for externally funded positions.
- In the postdoc phase, too, the Konstanz model focuses on providing greater reliability and shortening this time period in a reasonable manner. The University of Konstanz guides early career researchers on their way, whether in academia or outside of the university. "It is key for our researchers to get intensive support during this phase – to get career-relevant information, advice and coaching for alternatives outside academia. In order for researchers to make well-informed career decisions, there must be transparency on academic career opportunities", says Malte Drescher.
- For the period after the postdoc phase, Konstanz provides career paths with greater planning reliability by expanding the amount of competitive tenure track professorships and permanent academic positions for specific tasks in research, teaching and knowledge transfer. To this end, each department is revising and redesigning its job structures. The departments will also be closely involved in restructuring the habilitation (postdoctoral qualification).
"These measures, created in a university-wide process, provide fair chances and clearly-defined career perspectives for doctoral and postdoctoral researchers", Drescher emphasizes.
A model for necessary reforms
"I am proud that, at the University of Konstanz, we are charting a course for realistic solutions to make academic careers more attractive and reliable. Since we are a young reform university with adaptable structures, we have both the will and the capacity to test new concepts and thus initiate improvements that also have an impact beyond our university. Our concept strengthens our position in the international competition for the best minds", says Katharina Holzinger, rector of the University of Konstanz. With its Zukunftskolleg, Young Scholar Fund as well as early introduction of junior and tenure track professorships, the university in the Lake Constance region has a long tradition of success in implementing innovative concepts for the promotion of early career researchers.
- The University of Konstanz's concept "Attractive and reliable career paths for excellent researchers" (in German):
- Adopted by the University of Konstanz Senate on 5 July 2023
- The concept focuses on three phases of academic careers: (1) the doctoral period, (2) the postdoctoral phase, (3) the path to a professorship or a long-term academic position
- Key principles: greater reliability of academic career paths, career guidance for postdoctoral researchers right from the start and targeted support for career decisions early on
- Innovative and realistic solutions developed within existing legal and financial frameworks