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In the German city-state of Berlin, a new law titled Gesetz zur Stärkung der Berliner Wissenschaft (law to strengthen Berlin science) was passed. One of the changes has been described as tenure track for all and giving postdocs the right to a permanent position. For example, see this article in the Tagesspiegel. But in another interpretation, such as indicated by this article in Forschung und Lehre, it is not quite as far-reaching:

Laut Novelle kann mit wissenschaftlichen Mitarbeiterinnen und Mitarbeitern, die promovieren, vereinbart werden, "dass im Anschluss an das befristete Beschäftigungsverhältnis der Abschluss eines unbefristeten Beschäftigungsverhältnisses erfolgen wird". Bei bereits promovierten Mitarbeiterinnen und Mitarbeitern, die sich auf einer befristeten Stelle weitequalifizieren [sic] – zum Beispiel mit einer Habilitation oder auf einer Juniorprofessur – muss dagegen eine Anschlusszusage vereinbart werden.

My translation:

As a novelty, it is possible to agree with research scientists, who are graduating (getting a PhD), "that a permanent employment will occur as a follow-up to the fixed-term employment". For already graduated employees, who acquire additional qualifications with a fixed-term employment — such as a Habilitation or a junior professorship — a commitment to a permanent follow-up employment must be agreed.

That rather sounds that it does not apply to the majority of regular postdocs, but that only junior scientists who qualify for a Habilitation or junior professorship must be offered a permanent position. For PhD students, it merely says kann (can), which means there is no right at all. For postdocs who aren't acquiring formal new qualifications (the large majority?), it doesn't say anything at all. However, the Tagesspiegel article also quotes the actual law:

„Sofern die wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiterin oder der wissenschaftliche Mitarbeiter bereits promoviert ist und es sich bei dem Arbeitsvertrag genannten Qualifikationsziel um eine Habilitation, ein Habilitationsäquivalent, den Erwerb von Lehrerfahrung und Lehrbefähigung oder um sonstige Leistungen zum Erwerb der Berufungsfähigkeit (…) handelt, ist eine Anschlusszusage zu vereinbaren.

My translation:

„When the research scientist has already graduated and if the qualification aim, as mentioned in the work contract, is a Habilitation, a Habilitation equivalent, the acquisition of teaching experience or other performances to improve the professional skills (...) then a permanent follow-up contract must be offered.

Which sounds broader: it would appear that not only a Habilitation or equivalent, but any teaching experience or even other performances that strengthen the CV (maybe proposal writing or publication writing?), would entitle the junior researcher to a permanent position.

Who exactly are entitled to a permanent position as a follow-up to a temporary position, under the new law in Berlin? Would it apply to a large majority of postdocs, or would just a small, relatively senior subset benefit?

(Of course, a different question is if this will actually make a big difference in practice, but that is beyond the scope of this post.)

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    @lighthousekeeper: May I ask whether your position was funded by a grant or whether it was a regular position funded by a federal state ("Landesstelle")? I'm asking because one of the issues here apparently is a follows: By federal law in Germany (the so called "Wissenschaftszeitvertraggesetz", which can roughly be translated as "Law about non-permanent positions in academia" - kudos to Mark Twain!), regular positions ("Landesstellen") which are not permanent must necessarily include qualification targets. [...] Nov 3, 2021 at 11:04
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    @gerrit: Just in order to provide a reference for the requirement of qualification targets by federal law: It's the second sentence in §2 (1) of WissZeitVG. Nov 3, 2021 at 12:44
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    If so, I foresee the number of postdocs in Berlin decreasing…
    – Jon Custer
    Nov 3, 2021 at 14:01
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    The first quote simply says that a permanent position can be negotiated, but not that it must. In practice, few universities will want to do that for more than a handful of people because it greatly constrains their future ability to hire someone else for that position. Nov 3, 2021 at 19:45
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    @WolfgangBangerth: From what I've read in the media, the law is definitely meant to force the universities in Berlin to provide permanent contracts for postdocs if their position is not funded by a grant. (But obviously, the law will fail miserably - for the reasons you have already mentioned, and also since Berlin apparently found it a good idea to pass this law, but not such a good idea to provide more money to the universities for additional permanent positions. One of the universities in Berlin has already frozen all hiring processes for now.) Nov 4, 2021 at 12:03

1 Answer 1

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Short answer: When a post-doc is hired by a university in Berlin (i.e., not with third-party funding), their contract must contain the conditions which, if met, will lead to them being offered a permanent contract. These conditions should be tied to successfully acquiring the skills that are the goal of the post-doc. This applies to about 2/3 of post-docs in science and art, but not to medical doctors receiving specialized training.

Longer answer...

This law was finally adopted in July 2022. The relevant part of the law states:

(6) Mit einem wissenschaftlichen Mitarbeiter oder einer wissenschaftlichen Mitarbeiterin auf einer Qualifikationsstelle kann vereinbart werden, dass im Anschluss an das befristete Beschäftigungsverhältnis der Abschluss eines unbefristeten Beschäftigungsverhältnisses erfolgen wird (Anschlusszusage), wenn die bei der Anschlusszusage festgelegten wissenschaftlichen Leistungen erbracht wurden und die sonstigen Einstellungsvoraussetzungen vorliegen. Mit promovierten wissenschaftlichen Mitarbeitern und Mitarbeiterinnen ist unter der Bedingung, dass das im Arbeitsvertrag benannte Qualifikationsziel erreicht wird, eine dieses Qualifikationsziel angemessen berücksichtigende Anschlusszusage zu vereinbaren.

My translation:

For a scientific employee in a qualification stage, it can be agreed, that upon the completion of the limited-time employment relationship, a permanent employment relationship (consecutive commitment) will be offered if the specified academic achievements and other employment requirements are met. With PhD-holding scientific employees, such a follow-up commitment is to be offered, subject to the condition that the contractually-named qualification goals are reached.

In other words: offering a follow-on contract to PhD students is optional, but it is required for positions such as post-docs where the primary goal of the position is for the employee to acquire certain skills, and those skills are indeed acquired satisfactorily.

The (potential) problem with this is obvious, and is indeed specified in the article from Forschung und Lehre that you already linked:

Die Landesrektorenkonferenz der Rektoren und Präsidenten der Berliner Hochschulen hatte deshalb...vor einem "massiven Ausbau unbefristeter Beschäftigungsverhältnisse in Forschung und Lehre" gewarnt..."Würden die jetzt vorhandenen Stellen in kurzer Zeit sämtlich besetzt, so bliebe auf Jahre und Jahrzehnte kein Spielraum, künftigen wissenschaftlichen Talenten eine vergleichbare Qualifizierungs- und Beschäftigungsperspektive zu bieten."

which, roughly translated, means:

The state conference of university rectors and presidents of higher education institutes in Berlin had therefore warned...of a "massive increase in the number of permanent employees in research and teaching...if the currently-open positions were all filled [with permanent employees], there would be no space for years or decades to offer equivalent training or employment opportunities to future scientific talent.

Now you specifically asked about who this applies to. The law itself defines this: some of the sections (not reproduced here) define "scientific employees" and make a major distinction between those employees required for the normal functioning of the school versus those whose primary goal is to further qualify themselves for academic jobs. But of course the law does not estimate how many employees that might apply to. For that, we turn to this article:

So rechnete es auch Hochschulexperte Tobias Schulze von der Linken vor: Von den 12.245 wissenschaftlichen Mitarbeiter:innen an Berliner Hochschulen seien 5000 Postdocs und von ihnen wiederum ein Drittel Drittmittelbeschäftigte. Die verbleibenden 3354 haushaltsfinanzierten Postdoktorand:innen, um die es in §110 geht, machten jedoch nur fünf bis zehn Prozent aller Beschäftigten im Mittelbau aus.

translation:

Hochschule expert Tobias Schutze from der Linken [a political party] estimates it as follows: of the 12,245 scientific employees in Berlin's Hochschulen, 5000 are postdocs, and of these, a third have external funding. The remaining 3,354 university-funded positions, to which Paragraph 110 [this law] applies, therefore make up only five to ten percent of all mid-career employees.

So, it applies to about 2/3 of all post-docs in Berlin. It also applies to similar positions for artists, but not to similar positions for medical doctors.

Now there is still some ambiguity. For example, can universities simply make the conditions equivalent to: "become the type of world-class researcher we would want to hire anyway"? Or must the conditions indeed be so achievable that the current generation of researchers will almost all get permanent positions, to the exclusion of future generations? Time will tell.

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  • It'll be very interesting to see what universities will write down. "The university shall hire the post-doctoral research associate on a permanent contact if the research leads to at least two nobel prizes."
    – gerrit
    Dec 5, 2022 at 7:22

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