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Recruitment and recruitment strategies

The Excellence Initiative had a significant impact on the recruitment of professors and the universities’ overall recruitment strategies. The universities have used the Excellence Initiative funding in all three funding lines to establish new full professorships in strategically important areas of research. The new professorships are part of an overall university development plan to strengthen research capabilities in identified priority research areas. In many cases the universities looked at strong international candidates to complete and expand existing competences at the university. Some universities paid particular attention to recruit candidates that specialise in research at the interfaces of traditional disciplines.

Some universities created central pools for vacant (professorial) posts that were then reallocated to the strategic priority research areas. Strategic reallocation of research posts is a prominent feature of many institutional strategies. At least one university advertised a number of full professorships without a thematic orientation or specific limitations. The rationale was to encourage applications from top international researchers who could make a substantial contribution to the university’s strategy regardless of their field of research. Some universities introduced similar concepts for the recruitment of junior professors and established “free floater” groups that were not bound by any thematic or departmental restrictions.

However, not all universities took such an approach. In some cases new professors were mainly recruited to replace professors that would retire in the coming years. Funding from the Excellence Initiative made it possible to bring replacements forward and ease the transition from one generation to the next.

The funding flexibility also made it possible to offer candidates for professorships very attractive packages in terms of research facilities and support staff. In addition, many universities stretched the limits of Germany’s statutory salary framework for professors to attract leading researchers. For some candidates the prospect of being part of a German excellence establishment was an incentive to accept a professorship. In most cases the universities were able to hire highly qualified candidates. According to the interviewees, the share of candidates recruited outside Germany has grown significantly since the start of the Excellence Initiative.

Along with the more strategically orientated allocation of professorships, many universities also experimented with new recruitment processes. Traditionally, the university or the department advertises an open post and sets up a selection panel. From the applications received, the selection panel identifies suitable candidates, invites them for hearings and draws up a ranked list of the most qualified. After securing approval of the list from the department and the university management, negotiations can start with the first-ranked candidate (e.g. discussing the professional and personal terms of the appointment). This process can be quite time-consuming and may fail if an agreement cannot be reached with any of the candidates on the list.

To speed up the recruitment process for key professorships in excellence establishments, some universities used headhunting approaches and targeted specific candidates for open professorships. Other universities introduced procedures to allow for discussions with suitable candidates before the formal list of candidates had been agreed upon in order to check the candidates’ availability and assess the prospects for successful negotiations. These steps led to significantly faster appointment procedures than before the Excellence Initiative.

Excellence Initiative funding was also used to recruit significant numbers of associate professors and (usually temporary) junior professors. The universities introduced competitive recruitment procedures to identify the best candidates for strengthening the overall research potential of the graduate schools, the clusters of excellence or other priority research areas identified in the institutional strategies. Most of the junior professors are only expected to contribute for a limited period of time - perhaps three to six years - to the research programme and training framework of the excellence establishments. The co-ordinators regard it as an important indicator of the quality of their graduate school or their cluster of excellence if junior and associate professors receive offers for full professorships at other universities. Many of the interviewees confirmed that a significant number - in some cases the large majority - of junior and associate professors with term-limited contracts had already received offers for more senior academic positions at other research establishments in Germany and abroad. This is considered a positive contribution to “brain circulation” among leading research universities rather than “brain drain”. Scientific contacts with former colleagues would remain at least to some extent and strengthen the institutional research network in the long run.

Universities have started to introduce, often as one element of their institutional strategies, tenure track systems for their junior professors as part of their Excellence Initiative activities. These universities will offer tenure-track candidates lifelong positions that lead to a full professorship, subject to performance evaluation after a certain period of time. Also part of the tenure-track system is a set of support measures to provide mentoring, supervision and other forms of career development for tenure-track candidates.

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