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Science Careers Blog

February 14, 2012

German Professors' Salaries Ruled Unconstitutional

As reported today in several German newspapers (see sources below), many German professors should be getting raises next year, thanks to the complaints of a chemist. 

In 2005, in order to introduce more competition into the German academic system, new federal rules allowed states to set base salaries low and then give bonuses for performance. Before that, pay was linked to the professor's age.

But many states set a base salary that was unconstitutionally low, the Federal Constitutional Court in Karlsruhe ruled today. The case was brought before the court by a chemistry professor at the Philipp University of Marburg in the state of Hesse. When he was hired in 2005, his starting base salary was 3,890 Euros; it was topped up with a "performance bonus" of 24 Euros per month. In Berlin, where pay rates are the lowest in the country, a junior professor's starting salary is 3,525 Euros per month.

While not exactly starvation wages, these paychecks are similar to those of secondary school teachers, noted the court, meaning that the state is not paying its professors commensurate with their experience, rank, and responsibilities. The German Association of University Professors and Lecturers, which supported the professor's suit, reckons that about 15% of German professors find themselves at this bottom level of pay. The association argued that the rate is particularly low compared to scientific jobs in the private sector.

Ruling 6 to 1, the court required changes in Hesse -- and effectively in other low-paying states -- no later than the beginning of 2013. The state can keep a performance-based system, but only if the bonuses' conditions are both clearer than at present and enforceable in court. 

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