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Press Release No. 35 | 22 July 2016
DFG funded Junior Researchers Sceptical of Recent Political Decisions

150 participants attend 2016 Emmy Noether Meeting in Potsdam / Evening of science policy debate with political involvement

“Will we ever have permanent posts as professors and how could that work?” This question, posed by a junior researcher at the science policy evening of the 15th Emmy Noether Meeting held by the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) on 15 July 2016 illustrates the concerns of individuals seeking a career in research. The question was directed at Green Party politician Katharina Fegebank, science senator and second mayor of Hamburg, Dr. Simone Raatz (SPD) and Michael Kretschmer (CDU), both members of the Bundestag and of the parliamentary Committee on Education, Research and Technology Assessment. Together with DFG President Professor Dr. Peter Strohschneider and moderator Anna Lehmann from the daily newspaper tageszeitung (taz), they discussed the DFG funded researchers’ questions in a fishbowl format.

The group discussed the amended Fixed-term Employment in Higher Education and Research Act or “Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz”, which funding recipients believe offers much less flexibility and fewer prospects than before. They are also sceptical about the Early Career Researcher Pact or “Nachwuchspakt”, adopted at the same time as the Excellence Strategy, and designed to create 1,000 new professorships with the option of a permanent post. DFG President Strohschneider encouraged the researchers to participate in the programme design process: “There must be equal opportunities between tenure track professorships and all other comparable programmes, in terms of both access to a tenure track and access to subsequent permanent posts. Only then can the Early Career Researcher Pact be successful.”

Another topic of discussion was the British “Brexit” vote and its consequences for the European research system. Concerns regarding bilateral projects between Germany and the UK were outweighed by concerns about Europe as a whole. Fegebank commented that the “foundations of the European house have been shaken, because other countries are now also considering the possibility of ‘privileged partnerships’”. Kretschmer cited science and culture as ‘door-openers’ in tough political discussions and called for openness. With regard to European academic exchange, Raatz quoted some figures from the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD): there are 20,000 Germans studying in the UK but only around 2,000 British citizens studying in Germany. She would particularly like to see more German students heading to Eastern Europe.

There was unanimity as to the Excellence Strategy, the competitive funding programme sponsored by the German federal and state governments based on clusters of excellence and universities of excellence, which will succeed the Excellence Initiative. All three political representatives agreed with Strohschneider that “the Excellence Strategy will enable productive competition in the research system”.

Participants continued to discuss these issues throughout the meeting between 15 and 17 July 2016. In Potsdam there was also an exchange of opinions about the technical and organisational issues surrounding the leadership of an independent junior research group. The Emmy Noether Programme supports outstanding postdoctoral researchers who spend five years leading an independent junior research group, thus obtaining the necessary qualifications for the appointment as a permanent professor. A recent DFG study, the first results of which were presented during the Emmy Noether Meeting, reveals that a very high number of the funding recipients achieve this within a comparatively short space of time.

One highlight of the event was the Emmy Noether Lecture “Biotechnology for Insect Pest and Vector Control – Which Methods Do You Prefer to Protect our Food Chain and Medical Health?” by Professor Dr. Marc F. Schetelig. He was appointed professor at the University of Giessen just two months ago. Before that he was a fellow of the Emmy Noether Programme. He explained how biotechnology can contribute to the control of mosquitoes and flies, which transmit diseases such as malaria, dengue fever and Zika fever and can destroy entire fruit harvests, causing serious economic damage.

Further Information

Detailed report on the Emmy Noether Meeting 2016 (in German):

More information about the Emmy Noether Programme: