1.2.2007 | Von:
Jessica Guth


The preceding points have highlighted the subtle and complex nature of the factors that shape and influence the mobility of early career scientists.

A better understanding of the issues faced by these scientists can be a useful tool in shaping policy decisions and gaining an advantage in the ongoing skills war. Here attention needs to be drawn to both legislative frameworks and mobility triggers such as the presence of networks, undergraduate studies abroad, fellowship schemes and family.

In terms of the legislative framework in place in Germany, the impact of Section 19 of the Residence Act in attracting highly-skilled workers has so far been relatively limited. Following a review of the law, it has been suggested that the salary level named in Section 19 – one of the criteria for defining who qualifies as a highly-skilled worker – be lowered for people below a certain age limit. Whether or not a lowering of this salary level would allow more young scientists to take advantage of this section of the Residence Act is hard to say and would probably depend on the new salary level. Nevertheless, such a change would not address another problematic aspect of the law, namely the vague definition of "special skills and knowledge." The law is currently phrased in such a way as to suggest a focus on established senior scientists rather than the up-and-coming research stars. Accordingly, any reform should examine whether only senior scientists are the ones who can make a valuable contribution to Germany's scientific field.

Research has shown that, beyond the legal framework, attention needs to be paid to mobility triggers, in other words, to the factors that induce mobility. Given the mobility triggers outlined in this policy brief, it seems clear that support for networks and the international collaborations they often emerge from as well as investment in mobility schemes from the undergraduate level upwards would strengthen the organisational channels through which scientists can move. Policies involving the introduction of courses taught in English and the ongoing reform of higher education resulting from the Bologna Process [1] are already increasing Germany's competitiveness in the undergraduate market. Further investment in fellowship schemes and increased marketing of mobility and funding schemes at the national and European levels should also be high on the policy agenda. Finally, personal triggers cannot be ignored, and the impact of dual-career partnerships on mobility must be considered in policy making. First steps have been taken by the DFG, which held a conference on dual career couples in 2003. The conference recognised that no university in Germany currently has an official policy dealing with dual-career couples and considered possible solutions based on international examples, such as spousal hiring policies at US institutions and the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, which has a Dual-Career Advice Centre [2]. While some of these issues are now being debated in Germany, concrete policy recommendations are still lacking. Initiatives such as dual-career advice centres at universities or research institutes and funding for both partners in dual-career fellowships should be explored further.

More research is needed to really understand how scientists and their families make and implement mobility decisions. Clearly the process is complex, and scientists will often be triggered to go somewhere rather than actively choose a destination. In order to move ahead in the skills war and attract early career scientists, Germany has to pursue a policy that manages those triggers, both the scientific and the personal ones, to its advantage.


The Bologna Process is an intergovernmental initiative which aims to create a European Higher Education Area (EHEA) by 2010. It has 45 signatory countries and is conducted outside the formal decision-making framework of the European Union. Decision-making within the Process rests on the consent of all the participating countries. More information and the specific actions lines can be found at http://www.dfes.gov.uk/bologna/.
See the Dual Career Advice page offered on the website of the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, Zurich: http://www.dca.ethz.ch/.



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