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I am interviewing for a part-time (50%) program-lead/lecturer position at a university in Germany. The position is to set up and lecture on a new master's degree program. I will be finding more out at the interview, but I suspect that very little groundwork has been laid yet and the job of this position for the next year will be to create the program basically from scratch and recruit a cohort of students and teach at least one class on it when it starts in 2020.

I like the idea of the position, but I think that it is probably not really a 50% time position (i.e. it will take more than 20 hours a week to do this job). I have already asked the professor that listed the position about the chances of it increasing to 100% time, which he said would only happen if there was external funding but he also noted that I would have to negotiate my step on the pay scale with HR directly. This implies to me that any negotiations about the position will be with HR.

Anyone familiar with German academic postings, what is the culture around negotiating positions? Obviously I've applied to the job, but I also know that I think this is a job that will need more than 20 hours a week to do. I would prefer to negotiate to at least 66% time, but alternatively I would accept the position so long as I was placed at step 3 or 4 on the scale (which I've read is quite hard to get done).

Does anyone have any thoughts on how HR will respond to asking to increase the part-time position from 50% to 66%?

  • Are you talking about an old school Universität or a Fachhochschule? Many of the latter style themselves "university of applied sciences" now, but those are usually not what one thinks about when talking about German universities. The thing is that there is quite a difference in culture between the two and I have never heard about anything like a lecturer-position at one of the former. Teaching there tends to be the privilege of the "proper" professors and they usually lobby quite hard to keep it that way. – mlk May 15 at 14:33
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    It is a top ranked Universität in southern Germany. In English, the position is officially titled: Program Lead/Fixed-term Lecturer (don't know what it was labeled in German). The job description clearly privileges the program lead portion, but there is some teaching on the course noted. The course is part of the new internationalization strategy for the university, and as far as I can tell it is to establish a master's program that will attract international students as they recently increased the fees they pay. – N Glynn May 15 at 15:38
  • Follow-up question: Is increasing the percentage of the post something that would be appropriate to ask about at the interview or should I wait to be offered the position to negotiate this? – N Glynn May 15 at 18:00
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Given that the position as you describe in the comments "offers the possibility to enroll in [their] PhD program or to complete a habilitation", this should be interpreted as a typical qualification position in the German academic system. The concept of these positions is that you are an employee of the university, with some tasks in teaching, administration, and/or research, but you get time to work on your next qualification in an academic career. There is a dedicated federal law (informal name "Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz", officially "Gesetz über befristete Arbeitsverträge in der Wissenschaft") that governs these positions.

In some fields (yes, usually the less well funded ones), it is quite common that only the "tasks" part is funded, but you have to do the "qualification" part unpaid, especially when working towards a PhD. Nowadays there is indeed a recommendation to fund all such positions for least at 65%, but given budget constraints etc. you can not always count on that. Nevertheless, with this type of position, the university needs to make sure that you have sufficient time to work on your qualification, so in principle the setup should be such that you need not more than the ~ 20 h / week to do the administrative / teaching part. Depending on the culture of the research team you're joining, you may still be expected to spend most or all of the "qualification time" there, so things may get a bit hard to keep apart.

The HR department will not negotiate with you about the part-time ratio nor about the salary group (such as E13 or E14) for this position. That is decided by the person that is filling the position, taking their budgetary constraints into account.

What the HR department will indeed do is determine the salary level (step 1, 2, 3, ...) that you are rated at. However, step 2 typically already requires at least some years of experience in a very similar position, and step 3 or 4 is indeed next to impossible, as you already figured out.

My recommendation would be to only take this type of position if you are more interested in the qualification part than in the teaching / administrative part. In the specific case you describe here it worries me a bit that the qualification part seems to be hardly described in the posting, which may indicate that the university "abuses" a qualification position to get some core teaching / administrative tasks done cheaply. At the interview, definitely ask about the research part, i.e., what topics you could work on, or come with some ideas of your own, and if they don't seem interested in that it's a big warning sign.

If this is for doing a PhD and you're in principle qualified to do that in Germany, then it should not be too difficult to find a position where the funded part is a small teaching support role or even working on a funded research project that can be connected to your PhD topic. Any of these would be much more preferable for doing a PhD than the type of position you describe here.

  • Thanks, I will have my PhD when I would be taking up this position, so I would be doing the habilitation qualification if I was to take it. Frankly, I'm not that interested in the qualification, though I wouldn't turn down the ability to become employed as a professor in the future if I'm already doing the work. For me, it's definitely that I'm more interested in the position, but like you mentioned, I suspect that they are 'abusing' the qualification function to get the administrative one. I have some ideas for a project and was planning to ask about it at the interview. Good to know! – N Glynn May 15 at 17:45
  • I agree that there's reason here to worry that the university "abuses" a qualification position. Very good advice! – henning -- reinstate Monica May 15 at 19:26
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From your description I suspect that the university received extra funding for just half a (probably E13) position. That means HR cannot increase that; the money just isn't there. Apparently one of the profs is willing to look for additional funding, which is your best bet for increasing the hours. However, additional funding also means additional tasks. With HR you can probably only negotiate minor steps in your pay scale. That is important, but is not your question.

  • Yes, that was the one thing I had gleaned from reading different forum comments. – N Glynn May 15 at 18:01
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First of all, you might want to remove and rewrite your comment a bit, when I google the phrasing I can find the exact job offer even though you removed the names. But you are right, it is indeed a good "proper" university, even one of the better known ones. (Which I guess in Germany counts much more than any specific ranking)

I am not sure if this is a satisfactory answer or just an overly long comment, but since nobody else gave an answer yet and I already asked for clarification, I'll write down my thoughts anyway. Some of my answer might not fit since I have only experience with German universities in the STEM field, where money might sit less tight than in your area. Personally I find their offer insultingly low. I have been paid more as a lowly PhD-Student with far less responsibilities and in a place with a lower cost of living (Have a look at the rent offers before you decide, the place you are going is a beautiful city, but definitely on the expensive side).

The short answer is, you can try, but I am not sure if you will achieve much. The problem is due to how the budget is generally handled in Germany, which is usually in multiples of positions. Basically whoever is hiring you (in this case the professor or his department) has a certain (not necessarily whole) number of positions and decides, how much of that they are giving you. Then they are sending the contract off to HR which then determine at what level you are set (which only depends on how many years you have worked in a similar position and they indeed sometimes have an extremely narrow definition of similar). Neither side can really influence what the other decides, nor mostly do they care.

So to increase the percentage you need to ask the professor, who apparently already said no, presumably since he/she is out of positions. If they really want to hire you, they might divert more from elsewhere, but be aware that that might come with added responsibilities. Apart from that you could try asking for money from less tight budgets such as increased travel money. And of course you can apply for grants and external funding, but that generally takes a while.

  • Thanks, I did delete the more detailed comment as it's not really necessary for a general answer. This is helpful as I at least now know that the professor is in charge of the percentage of the post and HR the step on the scale. I also found it insultingly low (especially because I know that they have also recently posted some PhD positions that are at 66%, though I know that those positions may be from an external grant or something like that which sets bars), but I was hoping that a negotiation might be possible. I'll do the interview, and see what happens. – N Glynn May 15 at 17:31
  • I have seen the cost of living in the area, so I have decided what I need to be offered to accept the position versus reject it. I am highly qualified, but I currently have only an elementary level of German and in my field language skills are pretty crucial, which means that my employability is currently low. Since I'm relocating with my German partner (not married), I have some visa issues in terms of remaining, which has me willing to accept part-time (especially for a job I think I'd really enjoy), but not unlivably low. – N Glynn May 15 at 17:35

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