actionuni der Schweizer Mittelbau strives for clear improvements for the non-professorial academic staff at Swiss higher education institutions!

Today, actionuni der Schweizer Mittelbau publishes its position paper (pdf German / pdf French / pdf English) on the promotion of young researchers at Swiss higher education institutions. The position paper was drawn up jointly with all members and unanimously adopted at the last delegates’ meeting.

Florian Lippke, former Co-President of actionuni and member of the Swiss Accreditation Council, commented: “We are aware that every university faces different challenges and that some are already considering approaches to improve the conditions for young scientists in their institutions. However, we know that there are fundamental problems in the Swiss higher education area for non-professorial academic staff, which we must tackle together.”

Our positions in a nutshell:

  1. Career diversification at all types of universities and alternative careers are needed to give young researchers multiple perspectives for their future.
  2. Professional human resources management will support the separation of administrative from scientific responsibilities.
  3. Double profile research/practice is seen to be of value for all types of universities, not only Universities of Applied Sciences.
  4. Transparency and career advice are needed to guide young researchers early on through the jungle of academic and non-academic careers.
  5. Strengthening of flat hierarchies and inclusive work models will enable us to share scientific responsibilities among all members of the team, from graduate students to professors and chair-holders.
  6. Minimal research time and fair employment conditions reflect that research is work and must be paid.
  7. Compatibility of scientific careers with family and other obligations should be self-evident as universities are role models for other employers and society as a whole.
  8. Participation rights are guaranteed by law and must be supported adequately

Media contacts:
–  Florian Lippke, Tel: +41 76 720 17 70, Mail: (D, FR, E)
–  Salome Adam, Tel: +41 79 249 54 33, Mail: (D, E)

Full Press Release in English, German and French (pdf).

Problems at Swiss higher education institutions are, among others, the lack of clear career prospects for the mid-level faculty due to short contract terms as well as a lack of permanent positions. This inevitably leads to an overloading of the mid-level faculty with teaching tasks or to a strong dependence on handful of professors.

For this reason, actionuni calls, among other things, for career paths to be diversified in order to offer young researchers diversified perspectives for their future. There must be more options than just obtaining a professorship as the only form of permanent employment for scientific positions. In addition, flatter hierarchies and more integrative working models must be created to distribute scientific responsibility among all members of a research team – from doctoral students to professors.

Salome Adam, Co-President of actionuni adds: In addition, non-professorial academic staff must be given participation rights in all areas of policy development at higher education institutions that are of fundamental importance to them, so that we can make our concerns heard.”


Full position paper (pdf German / pdf French / pdf English):

     1.   Career diversification inside all types of universities and alternative careers

We consider stronger diversification and clearer definitions of career paths both within the universities as well as outside of academic structures as crucially necessary. Multi-step career paths for different types of universities need to be defined, promoted, and funded (e.g. Tenure Track, Assistant Professors, Senior-Positions). At least half of all non-professorial academic staff positions (except doctorate) need to be permanent.

Alternative career profiles with permanent contracts need to be implemented in areas such as, for example, research management, management of study programs, teaching, science communication etc. These positions need to be independent of professors and have an equal standing with full professorships.

The current employment-structure of Swiss universities suffers from the almost complete lack of a middle management. This does not only add to the unattractiveness of academic careers, but also leads to a functional overload for full professorships.

Increased promotion of women is necessary in order to draw on the full potential of excellent scientists.

Temporarily, quota are necessary in those disciplines, where women are heavily underrepresented, especially at senior research and professorial levels. Women as well as men need to be represented in decision bodies.


     2.   Professional human resources management

Definitions of employment conditions for the different levels of non- professorial academic staff positions as well as professional Human Resources management are indispensable (definitions of goals, feedback, support and mentoring). Administrative responsibilities and scientific supervision need to be disentangled. Leadership competences must play a role in the selection and further qualification of professors and supervisors.

A concentration of power is not an adequate mean for promotion of excellence. Leadership skills and supervision of scientific employees, evaluation (especially of doctoral theses), as well as project acquisition should not be in the hands of one person.

Broad graduate programs supporting supervision by multiple persons as well as interdisciplinary cooperation must be the norm and not be limited to so- called excellence-programs.

Independent ombudspersons help mediate conflicts at an early stage. Members of non-academic staff need to be involved in the election of an ombudsperson. Moreover, procedures must be established that allow doctoral candidates to change their supervisor in cases of irreconcilable differences or other unforeseen circumstances.


     3.   Double profile research/practice

The dogma of “up or out” at Swiss universities is outdated. Work experience outside of academia has to be possible and accepted. A return to university and/or parallel careers respectively have to be possible options. This is already a requirement for Universities of Applied Sciences and Universities of Teacher Education (double profile research/practice), but also universities could greatly profit from a stronger linkage between practice and their research and teaching.

The necessary structures and diversification of qualification criteria for researchers and lecturers must be established and implemented for all types of universities.

Practical experience is essential to ensure the relevance of research and teaching for society and must be adequately supported and acknowledged.


     4.   Transparency and career advice

Transparency of possible career options within and between different types of universities, as well as employment opportunities and limitations are the basis for any successful career planning. In order to reduce the large numbers of researchers with limited-time contracts and to ensure early independence after the doctorate, more options (e.g. tenure track, more professorial positions, alternative careers) are indispensable.

Supporting measures such as career advice centres, mentoring programs, and further education offered by universities, as well as appropriate conditions (financially, family friendly) must be ensured.

Careers outside of academia should be acknowledged in their value as equal to academic careers and young researchers must be prepared for either career path.


     5.   Strengthening of flat hierarchies and inclusive work models

We need university structures that limit the power of professorial chairs in order to reduce dependency on single persons. Often, the latter represent bottle-necks in terms of acquisition of third-party funds and scientific publications, especially for larger research groups.

Instead, scientific responsibility should be shared, everyone’s contribution adequately recognized and participation in all academic and organisational issues standardized.


     6.   Minimal research time

For PhD students, a significant part of their employment must be allocated as research time (min. 60% of a full employment). Paid research semesters should be possible on all levels. In principle, research is work and hence must be paid.


     7.   Compatibility of scientific careers with family and other obligations

Research careers must be compatible with family life: job sharing possibilities, part-time employment at all levels (also professorships), consideration of parental leave in evaluations, home office, dual career support, and affordable childcare options must be implemented and ensured wherever possible.

Parental leave extends limited contracts by the corresponding duration. The same rule applies in case of other obligations, such as military or civil service as well as the care of family members.


     8.   Participation rights

We demand participation rights for all areas and topics that are seminal to the university and therefore its staff. This includes especially strategic decisions such as the formulation of strategic mission statements, university strategy, location strategies, regulations related to personnel or students or quality assurance.

As a basis for targeted improvements regarding the situation of non- professorial academic staff in Switzerland, we need better data and clear definitions of who belongs to the non-professorial academic staff at different types of universities.

Participation rights at national level as regulated by law must be provided with adequate resources.