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German profs underpaid, court says

Thousands of professors in Germany can hope to get a pay rise following a ruling by Germany’s highest court that basic academic salaries are too low compared with those of civil servants of similar rank and responsibility in other sectors.

The federal constitutional court in Karlsruhe ruled yesterday (14 February) in favour of a chemistry professor at the University of Marburg in Hesse who had filed a lawsuit complaining that his basic salary agreed in 2005 — around €3,900 (US$5,100) a month — was inadequate.

Germany’s constitutional law requires public employers to adequately pay and support civil servants throughout their lives. However, the law doesn’t specify exactly what civil servants should earn.  

In Germany’s federal system, the 16 individual states are responsible for their education and university affairs. Nationwide academic salary regulations introduced in 2005 allow them to pay newly hired professors up to 25% less than colleagues hired earlier. The new rules replace a system that had linked the pay of professors to their age by a bonus system aimed at increasing competition and rewarding excellence in research and teaching. The new system also grants universities freedom to pay top scientists internationally competitive salaries.

More than 90% of the almost 20,000 professors now being paid under the new scheme get performance bonuses — but often they are meagre. The Marburg chemist, for example, got only €23 on top of his monthly salary. His salary, less than that of teachers of similar age at German secondary schools, is “evidently insufficient”, the judges said.

The state government of Hesse has until January next year to adjust the salaries of professors hired after 2005. Professors employed at universities in a number of other states paying below-average salaries can hope to benefit from the ruling as well.  Monthly basic salaries of newly hired professors now range from around €4,000 in Berlin to around €4,600 in Baden-Württemberg. A 45-year-old teacher at a secondary school earns around  €4,200 a month.

The German Association of University Professors and Lecturers ( DHV) welcomed the ruling as a milestone success.

“This court ruling confirms our view that the salary regulations [introduced in 2005] are in large parts unconstitutional,” said Bernhard Kempen, the president of the DHV, in a statement.  “But most of all it is an important signal for young scientists whose terms of employment have worsened as a result of the substantial decrease in basic salaries.”


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