At the end of April, the Berlin Senate presented a draft for a “Law for the Update of Berlin Higher Education Law”, which is expected to be passed in the House of Representatives in June.
The deliberately meaningless wording of the law hides a highly explosive content, as it is mainly about the new regulation of § 110 of the Berlin Higher Education Act of September 2021, which was much criticized by the Berlin university management and some of the professors.
According to this, temporary postdocs in household positions should in future receive a follow-up commitment for permanent employment that is linked to the achievement of qualification goals.
However, this new regulation could not be implemented even eight months after the law came into force – due to the massive resistance of the Berlin university management. Sabine Kunst, the President of the Humboldt University, had summarily declared the new § 110 to be a “botch” that would “endanger Berlin as a place of science” and had resigned from her office with this reason at the end of the year.
Immediately before she left office, on her 67th birthday, Kunst also filed a constitutional complaint against the Berlin Higher Education Act with the Federal Constitutional Court on behalf of the Humboldt University. This happened without consulting the academic bodies and without a corresponding decision by the Executive Committee.
On April 1, 2022, the HU Vice President for Budget, Human Resources and Technology, Ludwig Kronthaler, announced his resignation at the end of the summer semester for the same reasons and declared that the new Berlin Higher Education Act as a whole is “harmful to science” and Expression of a Berlin “ideology” in which “work and social policy goals have priority”, which would endanger the “scientific excellence and future viability of the science system”.
However, it is not the amendment to the Berlin Higher Education Act that endangers Berlin as a science location, but the blockade with which the Berlin university management reacted to the new version of § 110. The water management engineer Sabine Kunst sees the university as a kind of “continuous flow heater” for young scientists, as she put it in June 2021 at a hearing in the Science Committee.
You and others believe that the Berlin Senate’s aim of creating more permanent positions in the mid-level faculty is clogging a system geared towards permanent fluctuation.
As a result of the current blockade, almost no postdocs have been hired for budget-financed positions at the Berlin universities since October 2021. This was initially justified with the unforeseeable financial risks for the universities associated with such follow-up commitments for postdocs.
In the meantime, it is said that the Berlin Senate administration has so far refused to implement the necessary conversion of a temporary to a permanent position in the structural plan before a postdoc position is advertised.
As a result, this has meant a standstill at the Berlin universities for postdocs for eight months now and the migration of young scientists with doctorates to other federal states.
In this muddled situation, the Berlin Senate has now submitted a draft with which the legal provisions of Section 110, which were passed in September last year, are to be readjusted again. On the one hand, it was made clear that the follow-up commitments should not apply to staff who are financed from third-party funds or temporary federal and state programs.
On the other hand, a transitional period up to October 1, 2023 was set for the first-time application of the follow-up commitment regulation for postdocs. The draft law stipulates that the new permanent tenure regulation should only apply to “first-time hires” after October 1, 2023. This would exclude all those employees who, after completing their doctorate, were initially employed in a third-party funded or excellence project or at another university.
Such discrimination against scientists who already have a certain amount of professional experience would be downright absurd. For this reason, the word “initial recruitment” must be replaced by “recruitment” in the present draft law.
Another, even more serious problem of the draft law submitted by the Senate is the omission of a legal definition of a separate job category for scientific staff who are to be given permanent contracts. The Senate draft supplements the wording of the law of September 2021 in such a way that the confirmation of a permanent position should “appropriately” take into account the qualification goal agreed in the employment contract.
But this is still so vague that it could mean anything from a senior position to a professorship. According to HU Vice President Kronthaler, the senate administration even expressly described the latter as the appropriate job category for permanent employment in the event of a successful habilitation in a conversation with representatives of the Berlin universities in November 2021.
Such an interpretation would be incompatible with the ban on home appointments and other administrative regulations. It could be used by university management as an opportunity to continue refraining from hiring new postdocs with the qualification goal of employability.
It can also be heard from other universities that they would like to offer as few attractive employment conditions as possible for the later permanent position, for example only part-time positions or positions with a high teaching load.
By not defining a separate target position category, the draft law is unclear – and is thus again to the detriment of postdocs. Ulrike Gote should therefore reconsider the present draft
As originally intended by the Berlin coalition parties, a new staff category for mid-level staff to carry out research and teaching tasks independently must be added to the law. As in Bremen, for example, this could be called “lecturer” or “university lecturer”.
An update of the Berlin Higher Education Act without such a new staff category would only be an update of the old problems. In this case, the current standstill in the further qualification of doctoral staff would hardly change in Berlin.
In order to avert further damage to higher education policy, the state legislature should update the draft of an “update of Berlin higher education law” submitted by the Berlin Senate and add this important point.