October 17, 2010
Update: The Availability of Permanent Positions in German Academia
A while ago, I posted a diatribe on the hierarchical closed structures of German academia. On a blog written by young German academics Bloggen in der Wissenschaft, I have now found some numbers that illustrate the situation. In this post, I will focus on the last part of the pyramid, the availability of permanent positions.
According to the post, roughly 1/3 of new PhDs who would like a permanent post in the German system will be able to get one. They base this on a comparison between the number of PhD students graduating each year who have academic ambitions and the number of open positions. Sounds good, doesn’t it? But let’s look at what these positions are like.
300 openings are for permanent positions at full universities with a high teaching load, e.g. Dozent, Akademischer Rat.
200 openings are for Junior Professorships. These are the equivalent of the American entry level assistant professor, with the possibility of tenure after six years. However, as discussed before, quite a few Juniorprofessor positions are not meant to lead to tenure, but are designed as temporary posts.
The biggest batch of positions, 2.500, are for full professorships at both full universities and universities of applied science. The German universities of applied science are similar to the former UK polytechnics in that there is a strong emphasis on teaching and a high teaching load. Many of these institutions are not allowed to grant PhD degrees, which makes it extremely difficult to build a research group of your own. If that sounds enticing to you, remember that universities of applied science typically require their professors to have at least three years’ industry experience and offer a salary that is substantially lower than what could be earned in industry.
In order to get a Professur at a full university, a Habilitation is usually required, which is a piece of work that is equivalent in size to a PhD thesis. (In the Humanities, you essentially write a second book, with the PhD as your first book.) A period as a Juniorprofessor may be viewed as equivalent to a Habilitation, but despite the introduction of this career path some ten years ago, around 2000 people still finish their Habilitation each year. One might interpret that as young academics not believing the hype.
Taken together, this means a long period in the wilderness of postdoc and temporary positions until job security is achieved or, in the case of Juniorprofessuren with a prospect of tenure, achievable.