Underfunding of the University – Part II

Underfunding of the University – Part II

The non-professoral teaching staff of the Center for Conflict Studies answers to the Blogpost of ReVerBi from 17.07.2021



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Revolte gegen die Vermarktlichung des Bildungswesens

ReVerBi is an alliance of student councils, university groups, committed students and the AStA of Philipps-Universität Marburg with a common goal: revolt against the marketisation of education. In their post on our blog, they describe the basis of the capitalist-thinking university and show how this has a negative impact on students.
Their activism was prompted by the cost-cutting measures at FB03, which not only affect us students, as we will read in this post.

Homepage: https://linktr.ee/reverbi2021]

The conditions complained about by the students and the imposition of the budget freeze for Department 03 are symptoms of structures caused by politics: the underfunding of universities, a rampant practice of temporary contracts, and the undemocratic distortion of university committees to the benefit of a professorial majority.
The conditions that have existed for too long at the expense of students, administrative staff and the academic mid-level staff ultimately also threaten Germany as a site of research and scholarship.

At the end of 2020, the Chancellor of the University imposed a temporary budget freeze on the Department 03 due to a projected deficit of over 1 million euros in personnel expenses in 2020. This predicament became the starting point for many protests by the academic mid-level staff and students. While strict consolidation measures are currently in place, the financial situation of the university and the department remains difficult, and a structural deficit is expected to continue in the future. The financial plans and situation at the department are not easy to understand or grasp. Although figures and data are repeatedly made available in committees, many details and processes remain a black box, especially for students and mid-level staff. These two status groups can hardly have a lasting say in decision-making because of the professorial majorities in committees and the influence of the university administration.

Although we, the mid-level staff of the Centre for Conflict Studies, are not directly affected by the budget freeze of Department 03, the logic of structural underfunding and the practice of temporary contracts has led to a normalisation of unacceptable working conditions for us as well in recent years.


If additional teaching offered by mid-level faculty is remunerated at all, the remuneration of teaching assignments by mid-level faculty hardly corresponds to the legal minimum wage when measured against the amount of work involved.

At the University of Marburg, those who qualify for a teaching position after long years of study with a completed Master’s degree generally receive €25 or €40 per hour of teaching. At the Department 03, lecturers currently receive a maximum of 1050€ for holding a seminar over one semester.

BUT: This remuneration is based on pure teaching hours and does not consider the time spent developing new seminar content, preparing, and following up on teaching, supervising students, correcting exams and term papers. If one includes this time, teaching assignments are miserably remunerated, especially considering the level of education. The high amount of work involved in developing new seminars, combined with poor remuneration, leads precisely to increased recourse to seminars that have already been held and labour-saving methods such as multiple-choice examinations, which students complain about.

Since the funding of the department is linked to the number of students, unrealistic proposals are currently circulating to reduce the deficit of the department. To receive more state funding, the number of students is to be increased to approximately 130% capacity with a simultaneous lack of staff. Due to the undemocratic professorial majority in most university bodies, a will to fundamentally reform the structures seems unlikely. There is a widespread expectation among the status group of professors and the university management to make the teaching portfolio more „attractive“ and thus increase student numbers by having externally financed mid-level staff offer additional teaching without pay. At the beginning of August 2021, this had to be rejected as unfeasible by a decision of principle by the university board.

Such ill-considered proposals, in which the mid-level staff is supposed to pay for what the structural underfunding is not providing, are an indication of the progressive normalisation of unacceptable working conditions for the mid-level staff:  Many qualified junior researchers, who in many cases already take on structural tasks at the institutes and centres to „keep things running“, have repeatedly offered teaching for free – out of idealism, career planning, a sense of duty or simply under pressure from the professors.

At the Center for Conflict Studies, too, it was expected until recently that mid-level staff without teaching obligations would provide unpaid teaching, even if not so desired by third-party funding providers. Yet, the conditions the temporary contractual employment render teaching deeply unattractive.

Perpetual temporary employment

Inequitable employment contracts have become common among academic staff at the department: Regarding the distribution of tasks, positions funded by professorships and the state are unfairly remunerated in comparison to positions financed by third-party funds. The latter are fully funded for research and have no teaching obligations, whereas state funded positions are often tied to teaching obligations or other structural tasks, offer no funding for field research, and often involve a chronic overload in terms of the amount of work and the hours to be worked. Thus, the actual research often must take place in the free time. Scholarship holders, who often sustain the current system, are not offered social benefits since they don’t have an employment contract. Between colleagues, this leads to inequities in terms of socio-economic and working time burdens, which generally determine whether one enters, succeeds, or remains in the academic system. When funding for positions or fellowships ends, even though research and qualification work could not be completed within the planned timeframe, private financial means usually become the criterion for the continuation of one‘ s academic qualification. While a doctorate in the humanities in Germany takes an average of 5 years, doctoral students usually only receive temporary contracts far shorter than that, if at all.

Instead of developing alternatives, such as the British departmental system, the so-called Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz (WissZeitVG, Federal Act on Temporary Contracts for Academics) is still being adhered to. The law, which came into force in 2007, allows universities to employ their academic staff (i.e., us junior academics who do not hold a professorship) on a temporary basis – and for longer than would otherwise be legally permissible in Germany.  Under these conditions, junior academics can usually be employed on a temporary basis for twelve years. The headlines around #ichbinhanna and #ichbinReyhan illustrated how junior academics struggle from temporary contract to temporary contract for years under these precarious conditions.

The law also perpetuates the bottleneck principle: anyone who does not make it to a permanent position or a professorship within these twelve years, has no choice but to leave the higher education system and abandon that career path. According to the DGB Higher Education Report, four out of five junior academics (78%) at universities are employed on a temporary basis, with contracts lasting on average two and a half years. But according to the Federal Report on Junior Academics 2021, in Germany, only 3059 out of 71,193 applicants were appointed to tenured professorships in 2018.1 In the same year, there were around 174,000 doctoral students2  and around 207,000 full-time academic and artistic staff in the mid-level faculty.3 Thus, after years of sacrifice, leaving academia is a statistical certainty for the majority of mid-level staff. Under these often-unpromising circumstances, many excellent junior scholars leave academia in search of greener pastures, be it abroad or in the private sector. This is a loss for teaching and research that Germany as a site of research and scholarship cannot afford in the long run.

No more „business as usual“

Those who stay in academia are forced to make many sacrifices. The structures for an academic career and Germany as a site of research remain unattractive overall. Meanwhile, the structural underfunding relies on the sacrifice of the mid-level faculty: in the worst case, structural tasks and teaching obligations mean that there is hardly any time left for research and academic qualification – or this takes place in the actual free time (evenings or weekends). But even under good circumstances, there is often not enough time, especially when additional mid-level tasks are taken on in solidarity. Moreover, junior researchers are aware of the fact that refusing to take on additional tasks would effectively mean an additional workload for colleagues or be seen as unhelpful or dissenting by senior faculty.

The mid-level staff sustains and reproduces the system through their sacrifice. The current system does not make it easy for junior researchers to voice complaints about the working conditions and the associated demands on several levels. On the one hand, this is due to the chronic overload previously described, as well as to contractual and employment practices based on fragmentation, isolation, and uncertainty, which make it difficult to forge overarching and long-term alliances between (mid-level) staff. In addition, there are often relationships of dependency between mid-level staff and professors, who, as supervisors or examiners of qualification work, make it difficult to express criticism freely. On the other hand, this can be traced back to persistent, deeply problematic ideas about science and academic work, according to which complaints and demands are sometimes dismissed as an indication for a lack of passion for science, an inability to compete in the academic system, or a lack of awareness regarding the privileges associated with academic work. We, the mid-level staff of the Centre for Conflict Studies, therefore demand:

  • Budget freezes at the Department 03 must not be allowed at the expense of students and mid-level staff. The quality of teaching and the university as a workplace cannot be ensured simply by increasing the proportion of third-party funding if basic resources remain insufficient. The state and federal governments should not distribute funds according to the standards of competition between universities but should create sufficient basic funding for research and teaching. We need permanent, secure, fair funding based on actual expenditure and needs – we need to leave behind a system that is based on a logic of underfunding and self-sacrifice.
  • More effective cooperation between the status group of professors, the university management, and policymakers to work out long-term solutions, instead of short-sighted cost-cutting measures that exacerbate structural problems instead of overcoming them.
  • A reform of the WissZeitVG, which institutionalises temporary contracts, so that more permanent positions are created below the professorial level, for example by creating a legal basis for a departmental system.

Statement by the non-professoral teaching staff of the Marburg Center for Conflict Studies


  1. Konsortium Bundesbericht wissenschaftlicher Nachwuchs (2021): Bundesbericht wissenschaftlicher Nachwuchs 2021, accessible: https://web.archive.org/web/20210605150508/https:/www.buwin.de/. Last accessed on 11.12.2021.

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