The McDonaldization of German Universities

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Yves here. I know some Americans who were keen about sending their children to uni, as Commonwealth types are wont to call it, out of the belief that they are still engaged in education, as opposed to providing credentialing and networking opportunities. Sadly in German schools, like their American counterparts, more and more actual teaching work is done by overworked casual staff, as  cookie-cutter approaches also result in scholarship has falling by the wayside. The authors explain why the McDonaldizataion charge sticks.

By Thomas Klikauer , who teaches MBAs and supervises PhDs at the Sydney Graduate School of Management, Western Sydney University, and writes for a variety of publications His next book is on Media Capitalism (Palgrave). Meg Young is a Sydney Financial Accountant. 

Germany’s universities employ about 760,000 people. Among them are 49,000 professors and other academics. For Germany’s peak trade union body, the DGB, the university, TU Berlin undertook a study on working conditions of German academics and general staff. They asked staff working at Germany’s 201 universities of Applied Science (Fachhochschule), 108 universities, 52 art colleges, 30 colleges for government, administration, and bureaucracy, 16 religious colleges, and six colleges dedicated to education. In short, Germany’s higher education sector encompasses 413 institutions.

For their study, TU Berlin used a whopping 11,000 online questionnaires in which, 5,700 were returned from academics and 4,800 from general staff. 31 universities and 24 Fachhochschulen  were included. Survey returns were split 50/50 among men and women.

Virtually, the same can be said for full-time and part time employment – roughly 50% of each group returned their survey. Yet, the most disturbing figure out of the entire survey is the fact that, a staggering 78% of all employees at Germany’s higher education sector are casual staff – which means, only 22% are in full-time employment.

In other words, the McDonaldization  of German higher education is in a very advanced stage. Next to McDonaldization’s four core elements – efficiency, calculability, predictability/standardization, and control– the casualization of a workforce, is yet another clear indicator of the advancement of McDonaldization. Academics are no longer excluded from this, even when 62% of German academics employed in higher education hold a Master’s Degree and 34% hold a PhD. High levels of educational achievement is no longer a protection for McDonaldization, casualization, and the infamous precariat.

Yet, compared to academics, the casualization of work is at a much lower level when it comes to general staff. Compared to the overall number of employees at Germany’s higher education sector, the situation is actually reversed. Just 16% of all admin workers are casuals. In other words, 84% of workers in IT, administration, the library, etc. are employed on a permanent contract-basis.  In short, many academics are casuals while most admin staff is permanent. Unlike them, academics have experienced a significant level of casualization – a global phenomenon. This impacts on the quality of work that the academics do.

To measure the quality of work, TU Berlin’s survey relies on a scale that roughly follows the marking guide of many universities: below 50 = fail; 51-to-65 = pass; 66-to-80 = good; and 81-to-100 = outstanding. Measured on this scale, academics see their working conditions as 65 (pass/good). Meanwhile, work stress receives only 59 (pass) indicating that work at universities is stressful.

Worse, German academics have noticed an increase in work intensification only giving it 39 (fail) which is way below the pass mark of 50. What ranks consistently high is the intrinsic value of work  at a university (83 points). German academics think that their work still adds value to society. Overall, they also note an unsatisfactory level of rewards, for which it only receives a pass (61).

Things are worse for general staff. When asked, is your work emotionally demanding?University workers only gave the mark 47 – a straight fail. Worse, work intensification receiving only 34. In other words, working conditions for general staff are getting poorer. Further, not much better marks are given to wages, which also received a straight fail mark (41).

Again, workers rankedintrinsic values to receive the high mark of 84. The idea of work having an “intrinsic value” describes that work is valuable on its own. Work has value for its own sake. Work has value “in-itself”, as German philosopherKantwould call it. Ranking theintrinsic valueof work so high, most academics and general staff find working in higher education positive and contribute to society. Unlike Graeber’s Bullshit Jobs, most German academics believed that their work contributes to the common good.

Workers in general administration see work intensification at even worse levels, giving the amount of work they have to cover, a mark of 32 which, again, is way below the pass mark of 50. Similarly, workers in IT, etc. and in libraries, see the amount of work that they are forced to cover as not much better (36 and 27 respectively). In other words, most university workers experience an intensification of work. Work, in general, is intensified at German universities.

Things are worse particularly for young academics, 78% of those are employed on short-term contracts. By comparison, the overall number of German workers on short-term contracts was 8% in 2018. Working on a short-term contract can add stress to the daily job. The stress and negative outcomes of this have been expressed by a worker saying,

I find it a burden that so many contracts at my university, and in particular in my department, are for a limited period of time. It is not conducive to collegial cooperation and the mood in the team and at the university. Knowledge and resources are lost again and again when employees leave the university – sometimes after a very short time. The quality of work suffers and the motivation in the team decreases.

Hard numbers support this view. Among the project-based academics, a massive 97% are employed on a short-term contract. Even young professors (Juniorprofessoren) suffer this fate (89%). Yet, general staff is largely excluded from the project-based McDonaldization of Germany’s higher education sector. Only 16% of administration staff works on short-term contracts, 11% of IT, etc., and just 9% of librarians are employed on short-term contracts.

Yet, employment on short-term contracts declines with age. While 98% of project-based workers below the age of thirty are on short-term contracts, between 31 and 40 years of age, it declines slightly to 85%. Aged between 41 and 50, still half of all employees work on short-term contracts. Between 51 and 60, it declines to 21% and it declines further (18%) for those older than 60. In other words, although employment on short-term contracts declines with age, it still remains a significant form of employment for academic workers at German universities.

There are two reasons for this. Firstly, there is a substantial amount of employment that is based on a specific research project. These run for a specific time. Secondly, short-term employment is prevalent in positions created for the purpose of achieving the next level of a qualification, such as, for example, jobs for a PhD, Post-doctoral positions, and those employed as young professors (Juniorprofessoren).

Interestingly, more than half (55.5%) of all short-term contracts are actually very short. These contracts give employment of less than one year. 21.2% of workers said, they are employed only for one to two years. Whilst 12.6% said, two to three years, and 10.7% said, more than three years. As one worker explains,

even if you are doing a job that they need and you work in a lot of projects, you only get a chain of project-based contracts. Since project-based work is on the rise and these are only financed for the duration of the project, employment contracts are getting ever shorter.

Almost self-evidently, this impacts on the job future of those employed on short-term contracts. 40% of those employed on such contracts are “constantly worried” about their job prospects, while 29% say, they are “quite often worried”. Whereas 21% are not that much worried, and 9% are never worried about their professional or academic future. In other words, almost 70% of young German academics employed on short-term contracts are anxious about their future.

This means that the McDonaldization of academic work leads to an increase of stress with regard to future job prospects. As Mark Fisher convincingly argues, there is also a close connection between rising rates of mental stress and the neo-liberal mode of capitalism. This mode has truly arrived at Germany’s higher education sector.

As one might have suspected, McDonaldization  and casualization also impact on working time. As a university worker stated, it is simply expected to work beyond normal working hours and there is no control mechanism that can stop it. While most employees in the area of general administration work between 35 and 40 hours per week, many academics on short-term contracts work more than 40 hours per week (46.2%) even though, their contract states less than the actual working time.

For example, workers employed on a 20-hour contract tend to work 31.3 hours per week. One worker testified to this, working time is recorded via a timesheet. But what a “lying log”. This hides the considerable additional work we do. This work is not recorded. Worse, it largely depends on the goodwill of your line supervisor to be compensated for the additional work you do.

The aforementioned junior-professors tend to work significantly longer hours than their contracts specify. The same applies to young academics on short-term contracts, to those employed in a PhD programme, and to those working in a job linked to a post-doctoral programme.

Yet, when it comes to general staff, there is no recognisable difference in the amount of weekly overtime that is worked between those employed in IT, in general administration, and in the library. There is also no difference between those on long-term and those on short-term contracts.

Most academics say they work long hours because of demands by senior management, 67% work long hours to engage with their research. And, 51% say they work long hours because it is “fun to work”. Interestingly, nobody (0%) said they work long hours because of the money. Wages are usually fixed in a contract, meaning – salaries do not increase with working longer hours. Virtually, the same applies to general staff. Yet, 74% say they are expected to work longer hours to cover the work load. Similar to academics, only 1% said they do it for the money. In short, people who work at a university are not motivated by money.

Yet, another area that does not contribute to motivating people to work at German universities is the lack of what is called a work-life balance. One fifth of workers in Germany’s higher education sector experience problems to “balance” work and life almost all the time (19%). Meanwhile, roughly 1/3 or 36% say they experience problems “balancing” work and life on a regular basis. Most already know that women suffer from this more than men. The German survey supports this. The lack of a work-life balance is made worse by an ever increasing intensification of work. A worker noted,

I am a long-time employee of the university. Over the past few years, the volume of work has become more and more. This is neither honoured in our remuneration, nor by my superiors. Being overloaded with work has already made me sick. I’m glad if I somehow manage to get my retirement. I will be even more glad on the day when I no longer have to enter this joint.

This statement is supported by the fact that, the report found five issuesthat increased work stress and the amount of work that employees in Germany’s higher education sector are forced to do:

  1. Time pressure: How often does one feel so stressed at work and is put under time pressure;
  2. Quality of Work: How often does it happen that you are forced to compromise the quality of your work in order to get the work done;
  3. Interruptions: How often does it happen that you are disturbed or interrupted at your work (e.g. technical issues, telephone calls, colleagues, etc.);
  4. Missing information: How often does it happen that you are not given the information you need to do your job; and finally,
  5. Irreconcilable requirements: How often do you have competing requirements that are difficult or impossible to reconcile with each other.

On the aforementioned scale that starts with 50 (a pass mark), the average mark given by workers at German university was 33. This is substantially below the pass mark. This negative assessment is distributed rather evenly between academics and general staff. Work intensification is recognisably independent whether one is an academic, or one works in administration, IT, the library or elsewhere. Surprisingly, the issue of work intensification fared slightly better among young academics on short-term contracts (mark: 39) compared to junior professors which only gave the mark 28.

Worse, a stratospheric 76% said that they experience time pressure almost all the time. Meanwhile, 17% said they do so quite often. This leads to a lowering of quality aiding the infamous dumbing down of universities.This further aids the McDonaldization of academic work at universities. All too often, this is also signified by the casualization of academics. Many young academics are forced to move from one project to the next, and from the one short-term contract to the next short-term contract.

Of course, this impacts rather negatively on the future prospect of young academics. As one academic said, “I am a young academic. The uncertainty due to temporary contracts that alternate with periods of unemployment creates a serious psychological burden on me. I know that insecurity will ultimately lead to a very low retirement income.” Indeed, 22% of university workers are “to a high degree” – convinced that their retirement fund will be insufficient. Only 35% believe that their retirement fund will enable them to retire comfortably.

Overall, there are two serious issues that German workers in the higher education sector face. The first is the rampant job insecurity which comes as a result of the high prevalence of short-term contracts aligned to project-based employment. And, the second issue is an ever increasing level of work intensification. On the latter, a worker noted,

Like many of my colleagues, I have two part-time jobs. The stress, pressure, and workload corresponds to two full-time positions. Since my employment is short-term, the fear of losing one of the two jobs or even both, is immensely high. If I were to lose even one job, I would no longer be able to cover my living expenses. Sometimes, I get an extension for half a year, sometimes for a whole year. It never lets me rest. I can never plan a vacation or be sure that I will still be able to pay my rent.

And another worker said often, I see that in academia, we suffer greatly from a high staff turnover. There is no continuity in teaching and research. Many of my colleagues would like to carry on working in the academic field, but they do not even get a chance. In my opinion, this gross maladministration leads to the fact that many talented workers (have to) move to jobs in industry since the prospects for permanent employment are extremely low.

Finally, Germany is widely known for its high quality research leading to two Nobel Prizes just in the year of 2021. Yet, behind the shiny façade of Germany’s research and science institutions lurks a rather different picture.

Germany’s higher education sector is plagued by almost pathological levels of deteriorating working conditions. There is an increase in work intensification. Worse, many young academics are beset by short-term contracts leading to work stress, job insecurity and what is known as the McDonaldization  of work.

This has become so bad that working at a German university today might best be described by the term Academentia. The term “Academentia” combines “academia” (post-secondary education) with “dementia” (progressive impairments to memory, thinking and behaviour which negatively impacts on a person’s ability to function). In short, Academentia describes a state of organisational insanity in which, academics can no longer function as scholars. This has progressed to serious levels.

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  1. skippy

    Wellie eldest son is 25 and just got promoted again, which puts him the top 5% of this international business, which has 100K employees. Deferred Uni because his passion was History and did not see a path for it, studies still the same, but not tertiary. Worked his way through the business from customer calls on up to his currant position which is just under operations mgr e.g. business are finding the credentialed resume flexians provided by expert private hire mobs a bit of a flop.

    Down side is now having secured my non C-corp work is I still get to hear the politics at home, how was your day son …. curse you Universe ….

  2. Psheek

    As an academic (in a Scandinavian country) I agree with this description: more and more of us are starting to ask what this kind of work is for, which is a a paradox, as we are also constantly told that research and innovation are more important than ever. As someone with a steady position I still have precarity fresh in mind. For instance, as non-permanent staff you have to write applications (so that you get the next project). Much of the time however you will have to submit the application in the name of someone in a steady position. IF the application succeeds (which is a big if, as less than 10% gets funded), you may end up having to apply for a position in your own project. This is a feudal and exploitative system, and the need to fund your own position is starting to eat into the steady positions as well. Yet the problem does not get the attention it deserves, especially as many researchers are devoted to their work and do not think of themselves as ordinary workers. And yes, people suffer burn-outs, working too long hours and near incompatibility with family life and off-time. Add to this the pressure to publish (or perish), and you have a pressure cooker boiling underneath an alleged main pillar of western societies: how are we supposed to produce dis-interested and well-balanced knowledge under such conditions?

  3. JustSomeone

    First a small addition:
    “In other words, although employment on short-term contracts declines with age, it still remains a significant form of employment for academic workers at German universities.”
    This can be misleading. A lot of older people in academia have contracts from a time before all this started.
    But more importantly the piece doesn’t mention the special rules for temporary contracts in scientific institutions. Germany has laws limiting temporary contracts. In Germany generally you cannot be employed by the same employer on a temporary basis for more than 2 years. That’s the general rule. There are some exceptions but I don’t wanna dwell on them. However there is a special law for scientific institutions called “Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz” (I think introduced in the ninties) which allows anyone to work at one or more scientific institutions on a temporary basis generally for up to 6 years before you finish your studies (I think BA+MA), for another 6 years as a PhD student and another 6 years as postdoc. Those contracts can and often are chained. The limits apply to a person (e. g. you can work on a temporary basis for 4 years at one university and 2 years at another). Once you reached the limit you can only be employed on a permanent basis (which means you cannot apply for temporary positions anymore). It applied to administrative staff too though I think this was changed some years ago. And there are ways to expand the limit even further. Sadly I haven’t found any sources for this in english language.

    1. Martin

      This isn’t completely true. You can work on short-term contracts at the university beyond the 12 years, if you are working on project contracts.
      I got my diploma/master in January 2006, doctor in July 2009 and I’m still employed by the university, currently on a 2 years and 7 months contract. The one before was 6 months. The only requirement by the administration was, that my position is linked to a specific project financing / 3rd party financing (which can as well be projects financed by the state, this is just gimmickery).
      In theory you can get 1 month contracts until your retirement, if there is a stream of 1-month projects.
      Still, there is pressure on the profs to get rid of their people after some time. And I can confirm, that this regularly leads to a loss in experience especially with teaching, as there some experience is very helpful and it isn’t part of what is taught before.

      For Americans it is relevant to mention, if you ever are made permanent, you actually are permanent short of you stealing stuff or similar. So there is kind of cliff between the short term contract employment and permanent contracts with a huge circus around the “Entfristung” (process to move from short term to permanent contract).

      1. Mike Elwin

        The US labor movement and its legislators are trying to take a different approach. They’re promoting legislation that bans temporary workers from doing the core tasks of a business. So, if the business is installing furnaces, no temp worker can install furnaces. This assumes the furnace company will hire more employees to do the installations and will hire temp workers only to fix leaky sinks in the restrooms and paint stripes on the parking spaces. But wait. If the plumbing company can’t hire temp plumbers and the paint company can’t hire temp painters, they, too, are expected to hire more employees.

        Sounds wonderful to some, but it also creates an ever-larger “army of the unemployed independents” alienated from the unions who’ve upended their careers and flies in the face of increasing automation requiring ever more specialized labor, just-in-time and globalized production, and the obvious desire, made evident by the pandemic, of so many workers to escape wage and salary slavery. Fully half the workforce either works independently at least part-time or is hired by independent workers.

        There is little foresight in the country’s policymaking on the relationship between employees and independent workers and their rights and protections. By far, the majority of the legislation is devoted to defining and controlling the independents. In some bright future, after the coming fascist century, the focus will be on simply the many ways people support themselves and how governments can help them, but not now, not here.

  4. PlutoniumKun

    I think this reveals a deep problem within even those countries which have a firm tradition of protecting workers. Very often the inbuilt flexibility within the system is maintained through a small (i.e. a minority) of floating army of disposable workers (sometimes, not always, immigrants) who for one reason or another are allowed to stay outside the system. You see this phenomenon in different ways in Japan or ROK or some Scandanavian countries. The price of rejecting this system is that your local delivery service, or cleaning service or cafe, or bar, can be very expensive indeed. Often regular workers quite like this system – as long as they are part of the majority who have one of the protected, union jobs.

    1. Uwe Ohse

      One problem was that germany never had a tradition of protecting all workers in the educational system.
      The ver.di (union) and the ÖTV before her protected teachers (schools, kindergarten) and even workers at the universities, but never had any real penetration at the scientist and professoral levels.

      There were a number of reasons for that:

      – the fact that the scientists (no union penetration) and the administrators (union organized) in the universities most of the time worked against each other

      – the fissure (of the size of the grand canyon) between university teachers and school teachers (when one of my professors spoke about schools rain would have fallen in his nose, and it’s not likely he was the only one).

      – the professors back then (in the 80es and possibly the early 90es) didn’t much care for the unions, because they themselves took unfair advantage of the junior scientists (yes, this still happens, it only got worse).

      – getting scientist to work with each other is hard enough with scientist in similar fields, but it is next to impossible, if not impossible, with natural scientists, social scientist, and engineers. When faculties are working against each other (and that was a given), how could a union bring the people in the faculties together?

      When the crapification of the universities started in earnest, the unions couldn’t have cared less.

  5. Meddle

    Hmm, the original study does not appear to be identified. The one linked under “DGB” is not a survey study. The discussion about contract insecurity for junior academics is real here in Germany, but the article seems overegged to me.

    1. Martin

      German employed at German university speaking here:
      Before I switched institute, I worked in a group with 1 (one) permanent professor, 7 temporary post docs (while temporary meant in my case 9 years at the time after promotion), and 6 temporary (in this case well justified, but nervertheless) doctorate students. So one permanent and 13 temporary employed people.
      And I’m a physicist. There seem to be more absurd goings in parts of the humanities.
      The discussion is ridiculous. The current situation is very bad for society as a whole and it is discussed often as this is just about academics whining. There is nothing “overegged” there.

        1. juno mas

          Yes, it is. Here’s a link to an article about University of California lecturers strike:

          At my local community college this “adjunct” craze is in high style; 70% of the teaching staff is temporary, including the library. There have been 3 Presidents, 3 vice president of Education, and 4 Dean of Students in the past two and a half years.

          Credentials aren’t what they used to be.

  6. Dave in Austin

    Ditto on “Meddle” comment. An on-line survey commisssioned by an interested party with a 50% response rate, with questions that don’t seem to be available for review and a sample selected in an unknown way, is not worth the electrons used to transmit it- except as an attention-grabbing PR stunt.

  7. Questa Nota

    In pre-McNugget days, McDonalds interviewing stressed QSC, for Quality, Service and Cleanliness. That kept the mission on a comprehensible, human level. Compare and contrast with the McListed Four Elements (efficiency, calculability, predictability/standardization and control; so ECPC, or Easy Peasy?) of the Apocalypse Dehumanization.

    The old Mickey D treated employees relatively more like subjects than as objects. The Easy Peasy trend is pervasive whether with burgers or teaching. People get reduced to their appropriate role in the great value chain of Neo-Liberalism. Hamburgers of all types, in Germany or elsewhere, now echo a digestive tract reference with the new subjects ingested and the objects excreted.

  8. The Rev Kev

    German higher education has had a great reputation going back yonks. So what happened? Did they hold a meeting and say ‘Hey, let’s throw all that away and adopt the American way of running universities. What could possibly go wrong?’ I can’t believe that Germany has drunk the neoliberal kool-aid so deeply as to trash their own education system. is this really going to help the country going forward?

    1. JBird4049

      The American way of running universities?

      In the United States it seems that wanting cheap, obedient, and easily disposable adjuncts (temps) are wanted for teaching. Quality education is not a goal, nor even a desire. Don’t get me wrong as I think that the teachers want to give a good education as do at least some of the staff; from what I can see, it is the higher administration, particular at the statewide or system level, who are really the pushers of this evil.

      This (paywalled article) in the LA Times on former University of California President Janet Napolitano and her secret or hidden 175 million “reserve” fund from several years might give some details.

      These paragraphs about the State Auditor’s report might help, if you can’t get past the paywall.

      “In effect,” the report states, “the Office of the President received more funds than it needed each year, and it amassed millions of dollars in reserves that it spent with little or no oversight from the regents or the public.” A “significant portion” of the reserves, it adds, “consists of funds the campuses could have retained and spent for other purposes.”

      While UCOP drained individual campus coffers and maintained what Howle suggests was a slush fund, the regents — evidently convinced that the system was fiscally on its knees — raised tuition 2.5% in January, the first tuition increase since 2011. Howle’s report intensifies pressure on the regents to roll back the increase, which is expected to bring in $88 million a year.

      I know nothing about Germany’s universities, but just as California’s higher education was either free or cheap, and excellent for my parents’ generation (and California’s housing was affordable then as well), but not for the subsequent ones, partly due to corruption, might it be true there?

    2. Martin

      There were bad things going on before. I know of people, who worked as phyicians (medical doctors) for a year for free in the 70s so they would be considere for a temporary position. Some things changed for the worse, though:
      – more students and not proportionally more money
      – while temporary position were ordinary before for younger people, nowadays it takes much longer for the “permanent or out” decision
      – this is driven by something particularly German! Funding from the federal government isn’t supposed to be used for permanent positions at universities. But funding from the Länder (states) has been relatively more scarce, while the federal government has increased its funding a lot.

    3. Susan the other

      I thought that too. It’s like Germany is promoting innovation on the cheap. There are no jobs in the outside economy to pick up these specialists, so they hang on. With diminished earnings. And the uni benefits like a feudal state by having plenty of would-be professors. Not unlike how the US abuses its adjunct professors. You never hear about “start-ups” in Germany.

      1. CBBB

        This is a reason. From my experience PhDs in Germany are a dime a dozen – so many people go to do a PhD, probably because the opportunity cost is low — jobs don’t pay that well in Germany (this is really a root cause IMO) and PhD stipends are almost as good as getting a “real” job. Also (no offense) but my feeling was that getting into a PhD program in Germany isn’t that tough (RELATIVELY speaking) – seems like there are lots of open slots because of course the universities want lots of cheap academic workers.

        You can go into all kinds of random businesses in Germany and find PhDs doing regular white collar jobs (maybe blue collar too!). So it always seemed like a massive overproduction of PhDs in Germany caused in large part by, I think, the bad salaries paid by German businesses.

        1. TheMog

          (Note – I’m German, but lived in the Anglosphere for 20+ years)

          One of the reasons for PhDs being a dime a dozen in Germany is that the country has a proud tradition of credentialism dating back centuries, probably only beaten by Austria in the overall German language area in Europe.

          Depending on your desired job/career path, not having a PhD can be an impediment to advancing past a certain level in a company. And not having a degree when you’re doing white collar work can be a pretty serious impediment, especially in more traditional companies.

          A friend of mine studied Chemistry in the 90s and told me that he had to get a PhD as a prerequisite to getting any job in the industry at all. That’s on top of spending 6-8 years at University just to get his Diplom. Germany hadn’t introduced the bachelor/master split back then, which they have done now for certain subjects, so you ended up usually spending about 6-7 years minimum at university just to get your first degree.

          1. CBBB

            At least the switch to Bachelor/Master was a smart move – even though I gather many complain about it. I don’t see the point of these long, drawn out Diploms. This appears to be a general feature of European high education – just make it take forever to graduate. So inefficient.
            I’ve worked with several Diplom Engineers who got their degrees in the 1990s. They’re good and competent but no more so than competent engineers from elsewhere. I wasn’t blown away by their brilliance or anything — they were competent engineers that’s all.
            Such a long process seems like a waste of time to me so at least some progress was made in that respect.

    4. Rolf

      Yes, I believe they have drunk the Kool aid, and deeply. I was a research scientist in Germany from 2012 to 2018, hired from the US with a special negotiated permanent contract (largely unheard of, I was later informed by my German colleagues) — part of the Exzellenzinitiative to strengthen German research universities. However, it seems these initiatives brought with them additional changes to produce a system more similar to the US.

      Virtually all PhDs in Germany (at least in the sciences — I know little of trends in other disciplines) seem to be in even worse shape than their colleagues in the US: their chances of permanent employment in the German academic system is extremely low (essentially, someone has to die for a position to open). The prevalence of short term, temporary contracts for early career scientists led to the #IchbinHanna outcry this summer.

      I don’t know what the solution is. Part of the problem is that the academy itself is not a sustainable system — see David Goodstein’s ‘Scientific Elites and Scientific Illiterates’:

      1. juno mas

        That was an enjoyable read for me. And it was written 27 years ago!

        Science is a process of intermediate discovery and proof, not finding Truth. To the article, being clear about the process of scientific discovery to students and allowing them to apply it to their interests (be it Botany, Biology, Physics, or the environment in general) is the way forward.

      2. CBBB

        Solution in my opinion lies outside academia itself — Germany needs to fix its overall low demand problem via much more spending from the Government and redistribution from the small number of wealthy elites and businesses.
        I think there is a big over supply of PhDs in Germany with nowhere else to go but academia or some institute.

  9. Eris377

    I know nothing of German higher education, but do have a lot of experience with organizations and change. Change can rarely be sustained if it is not of benefit to the most critical part of the organization. Critics frequently look at such situations and think to themselves “well those people can’t really be the most important part of the system” or “those changes really are not beneficial” and often both at the same time. But they are usually wrong if the changes are sustained. In being in these kinds of situations and having many friends with similar experiences, the Pareto of what someone’s personal response should be is really dominated by “leave quickly”. There can be other responses, but without a healthy dose of people leaving, it is hard to decide that things need to change. It would be intriguing to repeat these surveys in 24 months and find out if most of the respondents are still right where they were the first time.

  10. Tindrum

    German education is going to the dogs with the whole of german infrastructure, a victim of the great “balanced budget” attack on govt. spending invoked by the social democrats (Schröder) back in the late 90’s and continued since then by all of Angie’s administrations. The govt. decided that the US-UK BSc/MSc system was more effective than the german Dipl.Ing degree and got the Unis to change their courses accordingly.This was the back door for many other Neoliberal reforms. Several Unis are going back to the DiplIng as the employees like it far more and the degree is actually much more rounded than the BSc.
    Anyway, Germany has been drinking the cool-aid for about 25 years now. Hairs are appearing on the palms of the hands but it may not be too late to reverse the process.

  11. Thomas Klikauer - Author

    We – Thomas Klikauer and Meg Young – are the authors of The McDonaldization of German Universities which created such a lively debate. Many thanks for your most constructive and interesting comments.

    We might take, at this occasion, the time to address a few concerns:

    Firstly, we would like to say that these are not our numbers. This is not our study. We only report from a study conducted by Germany’s trade union peak body called DGB. The full report – in German – can be accessed here (PDF).

    Secondly, the report says that the older German academics become the less likely they are to be on short-term contracts. This is not to say – as we did – that there are no older German academics on short-term contracts. There are, of course. Sadly.

    Thirdly, thanks for alluding to the Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz. Fourthly, Martin is correct when saying “this is not completely true” – no survey ever is. Fifthly, thanks PlutoniumKun. Indeed the survey reveals “a deeper problem”. Sixthly, you are correct, the link does not take you directly to the survey, as the DGB demands one more click to download the report. Click on this: blickpunkt DGB: Ohne Maske gegen Impfungen und Infektionsschutz (PDF, 1 MB) and you can access the full report. Finally, here are four more links to some of our articles on this issue (enjoy and don’t forget: “academentia” is on its way):


    and, for those working in a business school:


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