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Science Time Contract Act

On the current occasion of the COVID-19 pandemic

Due to the current exceptional situation, the Science and Student Support Act (WissStudUG) supplemented the Science and Student Support Act (WissStudUG) with a temporary transitional regulation in May 2020: Due to the pandemic-related restrictions on university and science operations, the maximum fixed-term limit for scientific and artistic staff was added is in its qualification phase. Employment relationships for qualification that exist between March 1, 2020 and September 30, 2020 can be extended by an additional six months.

In the event that the COVID-19 pandemic should continue, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research was also authorized to extend the maximum time limit by a further six months, depending on the duration of the crisis, by ordinance with the consent of the Federal Council.

Read more about this here.

The BMBF has now made use of this authorization to issue ordinances, as the pandemic continues to impose significant restrictions on university and scientific operations. Against this background, the maximum time limit for scientists in their qualification phase will be extended by a further six months. This extension of six months also applies to employment relationships that are only established between October 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021. The Federal Council approved the ordinance on September 18, 2020. The ordinance came into force on October 1, 2020.

Since 2007, the Science Contracts Act has regulated how the employment contracts for scientific and artistic staff at state universities and research institutions can be limited in time, what requirements must be met and where the limits of the time limit are. In doing so, it takes into account the particularities of the academic world of work by providing special regulations for time limits compared to general labor law.

In the phase of qualification for young scientists in particular, fixed-term employment contracts are useful and necessary. In particular, access to scientific activities would be considerably more difficult for future generations without a rotation favored by time limits.

In order to be able to develop the desired effects, the Science Term Contract Act must be filled in by good practice. As employers, universities and research institutions are required to deal responsibly with the freedom they have been given. This concerns both the duration and number of fixed-term employment relationships as well as the appropriate ratio of fixed-term and permanent positions, which must be determined individually for each institution. The Federal Government keeps an eye on the practice of fixed-term contracts in the German science system in order to identify the need for reform as early as possible and to be able to react appropriately in the event of undesirable developments without impairing the flexibility and dynamism required in science.

In March 2016, the Science Contracts Act was changed in order to improve the handling of fixed-term regulations and, in particular, to prevent improper short-term fixed-term contracts. The proportion of short-term employment had previously reached a level that was no longer justifiable, so that the federal government pushed ahead with a reform of the Academic Contract Act, which flanked the activities of universities and research institutions to improve the conditions for young academics.

In § 8 of the Science Time Contract Act, the obligation to “evaluate the effects of this law in 2020” was anchored in the course of the amendment to the law. In order to implement this obligation, a Europe-wide call for tenders was published on the federal procurement platform on April 17, 2019. On August 20, 2019, the bidding consortium InterVal GmbH and HIS-Institut für Hochschulentwicklung e.V. was awarded the contract. The evaluation will run for two years from January 1, 2020. In coordination with the evaluation advisory board and at the request of universities and research institutions, the evaluation was extended by three months in order to take into account the effects of the corona pandemic. The results of the evaluation are therefore expected to be presented to the public in spring 2022.

Questions and answers about the Science Contract Act

What are the options for a time limit?

Since the change in the law on March 17, 2016, the duration of the time limit for qualification must be such that it is appropriate to the qualification sought. In the case of the time limit due to third-party funding, it should correspond to the approved project period. Specifically, this means that if you write a doctoral thesis for three years, for example, you should also be employed at the university for this period. The situation is similar with third-party funded projects: Scientists who research in such projects should be able to conclude an employment contract for the entire duration of the grant.

What is meant by academic qualification?

Scientific qualification is not limited to the acquisition of a formal qualification such as a “doctorate” or “habilitation”. Rather, it is about acquiring scientific skills. This is not limited to the preparation for scientific activities in research and teaching.

Why are there so many fixed-term contracts in science anyway?

Time limits in the qualification phase for young academics are sensible and necessary because this is the only way to preserve the opportunities for young academics of every generation to work in the university or research area for a limited period of time (rotation principle).

Who does the law apply to?

The law applies to scientific and artistic staff at state and state-recognized universities and research institutions. Private service contracts with members of a university are also subject to the Science Time Contract Act.

Who is part of the scientific staff?

Anyone who provides a scientific service is part of the scientific staff. Whether anthropology or medicine, doctoral candidate or post-doc - anyone who deals with issues that aim to generate new knowledge works scientifically and is therefore part of the scientific staff.

Does the law also affect university lecturers?

University lecturers, including junior professors, at state universities are exempt from this law (Section 1 (1) sentence 1 WissZeitVG). The regulations made in the higher education law of the federal states apply to them. On the other hand, university lecturers at state-recognized universities (§ 4) fall within the scope of the WissZeitVG according to the case law of the Federal Labor Court.

Which research institutions does the law apply to?

The law initially applies to state research institutions, i.e. those of the federal or state governments. It also applies to research institutions that receive their financial resources either exclusively or to a large extent from the federal and state governments. Furthermore, the law also applies to research institutions that are primarily financed by third-party funds, but whose basic institutional funding is predominantly governmental.

Does the law also affect non-academic staff?

No. Since the change in the law on March 17th, 2016, non-academic staff working in a third-party funded project can no longer be employed on a temporary basis on the basis of the Academic Contracts Act. If a time limit is wanted here, this has since been based on general labor law.

What applies to families

Scientific work must be compatible with family responsibilities. In order for the young scientists to be more successful, the law provided, even before the 2016 amendment, that the total permitted time limit for caring for one or more children under the age of 18 would be extended by two years per child (family policy component). With the amendment to the law on March 17, 2016, it was made clear that this also applies to the care of stepchildren and foster children. In addition, it was regulated more clearly that periods of interruption, for example due to parental leave, are not counted towards the time limit for qualification.

If another child is added during the extension period, can the contract be extended again?

Yes, because here, too, the following applies: Taking care of children means that the time available cannot be fully used for scientific work. This disadvantage is to be countered by extending the time limit.

Will my employment contract be automatically extended as part of the family policy component?

No. The family policy component extends the legally permissible time limit and thus opens up an option for employers and the employed academic staff to extend the contract beyond the maximum period. An automatic contract extension does not take place; this requires the consent of both contracting parties.

Both parents are employed at a university or research institution. Is the time limit extended for both of them?

Yes, if both parents are in a qualification phase, the permitted time limit for both parents is extended by two years per child.

A parent would like to take parental leave to care for a child. Can the childcare contract also be extended?

Yes, because the extension of the contract because of parental leave is independent of the extension that is granted because of childcare. Both rules can be used. An example: a parent takes parental leave during the qualification phase in order to concentrate fully on the child for a year. This gives the employer the right to extend the contract by one year - parental leave is virtually deducted. Since he or she continues to look after the child after returning from parental leave, you can then also benefit from the family policy component of the Science Time Contract Act, which extends the permitted fixed-term period. In this case, the specific extension of the employment contract - unlike the contract extension due to parental leave - requires the consent of the employer.

What applies to people with disabilities?

For scientists with a disability or a serious chronic illness, the permitted time limit has been extended by two years since the change in the law on March 17, 2016.

What applies to students

The law change on March 17, 2016 created a clear basis for study-related employment relationships for the provision of scientific or artistic auxiliary activities. Fixed-term employment contracts can be concluded for up to six years. A credit towards the time limit for the qualification time limit does not take place, regardless of whether the employment takes place in a bachelor's or master's degree.

How does the evaluation of the Science Term Contract Act work?

In § 8 of the Science Time Contract Act, the obligation to “evaluate the effects of this law in 2020” was anchored in the course of the amendment to the law. In order to implement this obligation, a Europe-wide call for tenders was published on the federal procurement platform on April 17, 2019. On August 20, 2019, the bidding consortium Interval GmbH and HIS-Institut für Hochschulentwicklung e.V. was awarded the contract. The evaluation will run for two years from January 1st, 2020. The results of the evaluation will therefore probably be presented to the public in spring 2022.

Questions and answers about the corona-related changes

What changes in the WissZeitVG due to the COVID-19 pandemic?

As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, there are considerable restrictions on the work and research projects of scientific and artistic staff in Germany. Scientists in their qualification phase according to Section 2 (1) of the Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz (WissZeitVG) are particularly affected by this, as they exceed the maximum fixed-term limits according to Section 2 (1) sentences 1 and 2 of the WissZeitVG (six years before and six years - nine years in the field of medicine - after doctorate).

These are to be compensated for pandemic-related restrictions. They should be able to pursue their scientific qualifications, for example a doctorate or habilitation, and their professional development despite the pandemic-related impairment.

Against this background, § 7 paragraph 3 was inserted into the WissZeitVG in May 2020 by the Science and Student Support Act (WissStudUG). Thereafter, the total permissible fixed term according to § 2 Paragraph 1 WissZeitVG for employment relationships that exist between March 1, 2020 and September 30, 2020 is extended by 6 months. This means that the statutory maximum fixed term limit for those who were employed at a point in time between March and September 2020 according to Section 2 (1) WissZeitVG is automatically extended by six months.

In September 2020, the BMBF also made use of the authorization in Section 7, Paragraph 3, Clause 2 of the WissZeitVG and, with the consent of the Federal Council, extended the permitted time limit by a further 6 months (WissZeitVG-Limitation Period Extension Ordinance - in short: WissBdVV) . This extension by a further six months applies both to employment relationships that exist between March 1, 2020 and September 30, 2020, as well as to employment relationships that are only newly established between October 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021.

When do the regulations apply?

The (first) extension of the maximum fixed term by the WissStudUG came into effect retrospectively on March 1, 2020.

The (second) extension of the maximum fixed term by the WissBdVV follows on from the regulations in the WissStudUG and comes into force on October 1, 2020.

How long do I have to be employed in order to benefit from the extension of the maximum employment limit?

The original extension of the total permitted time limit by 6 months by the WissStudUG assumes that there is an employment relationship for qualification (§ 2 Paragraph 1 WissZeitVG) between March 1, 2020 and September 30, 2020; see § 7 paragraph 3 sentence 1 WissZeitVG. The further extension of the maximum fixed term by an additional 6 months by the WissBdVV builds on this period and also includes employment relationships that are only newly established between October 1, 2020 and March 31, 2021.

It is not necessary that the employment relationship exists for the entire respective period, but it is sufficient if the contract exists or has existed at any point in time within the relevant period. This extends the total permissible fixed term for the employment relationships covered by Section 7 Paragraph 3 Clause 1 WissZeitVG, which already existed between March 1 and September 30, 2020, by a total of 12 months. For employment relationships that are only established after September 30, 2020 and before March 31, 2021, the extension of the total permissible fixed term is a flat rate of 6 months.

Will the fixed-term employment contract now be extended “automatically”?

No. The contracting parties can extend the contracts for up to six additional months, depending on the conditions of the individual case. Section 7 (3) of the WissZeitVG and the WissBdVV extend the statutory maximum time limit. This gives universities and research institutions as well as scientists flexibility in order to be able to adequately meet the challenges in each individual case.

Why is there no involvement of third-party funders?

The WissZeitVG only provides upper limits for time limits for so-called qualification time limits. The upper limit of 12 or 15 years (6 before and 6 - in the field of medicine 9 - after doctorate) does not apply to so-called third-party funding limits according to § 2 Paragraph 2 WissZeitVG. There are no maximum time limits there; the time limit is usually based on the duration of the third-party funded project.

Are measures also being taken in favor of those with limited third-party funding?

Yes. The various funding agencies have taken numerous measures to make things easier for third-party funds as quickly and unbureaucratically as possible.With this in mind, the BMBF has already made the framework conditions for project funding more flexible. Delays in project implementation can be taken into account by extending the duration. In addition, a number of formal requirements and deadlines in the administration of funding have been made more flexible. Other funding organizations, such as the German Research Foundation (DFG), have also taken a variety of measures that demonstrate goodwill and flexibility.

Why does the regulation not also apply to student employees according to § 6 WissZeitVG?

As part of their paid work, student employees do not work on their own qualifications, but provide supporting scientific or artistic ancillary activities.If they also perform their work under the current conditions (and receive remuneration for it), there is no reason not to apply this accordingly to existing ones Credit deadlines or extend the existing deadlines. If the contractual relationship is "dormant" due to the current situation, it will not be offset against the existing deadlines.