Unsafe jobs and unpaid overtime: Swiss university assistants demand clear views.
There are more than 8,000 signatures of the petition to the Federal Parliament. They are demanding better working conditions for faculty members at Swiss universities.
“It seems necessary for us to create more permanent post-doctoral positions,” explains a spokeswoman for the petitions committee, who asked not to be named. Like her colleagues, she fears flaws if her commitment becomes known.
The protest of the faculty
The middle-level employee associations at Swiss universities are behind the petition. More than 40,000 assistants, doctoral students, postdocs, and lecturers bear the brunt of research and teaching.
But nine out of ten have only a temporary contract and unsatisfactory working conditions, the petitioner continues. Most of the time, they are unintentionally hired part time, but they have to do extra work. There is a lot of unpaid overtime. By comparison, in the UK, only a third of faculty are on fixed-term contracts.
Most of the time, they are unintentionally hired part time, but they have to work overtime. There is a lot of unpaid overtime.
The petitioner had a 60 percent temporary job at a large university. Instead of 25 hours per week, up to 45 hours were incurred. There was only time for his PhD thesis in the weekend.
Too much dependency, hardly any security
All of this means a very high level of reliance on individual professorships, she says: “In addition to the limited independence in work, there is almost the impossibility of being able to plan for the next few years—both for research and for one’s life.”
For example, the family question that people in their mid-30s to mid-40s asked themselves as well. “They want to see if they’ll still have a job in three to four years so they can have children at all.”
The petitioner also asserts that this uncertainty also has negative consequences for scientific quality: ultimately, only those who can stay in the system are no longer the best, because the partner may mitigate financial risk.
In the end, there are no longer the best in science, only those who can stay in the system.
Women were particularly affected
As the Petitions Committee notes, a particularly large number of women are abandoning an academic career due to uncertain prospects. The proportion of women among doctoral students decreased from 56 percent to 33 percent among associate professors. This always means a great loss of knowledge and talent
The proportion of women decreased from 56 percent among doctoral students to 33 percent among associate professors.
Swiss universities know the problems
Universities are already doing a lot to improve working conditions for faculty members, explains Astrid Ebene, President of the University of Freiburg and on the board of directors of the Swiss Rectors’ Conference in Switzerland.
Freiburg, for example, promotes orientation measures, conducts professional discussions at an early stage and encourages residence abroad. Epiney also considers more permanent positions highly desirable, but notes that the financial leeway is limited and depends on the increase in the student population.
Personally, I firmly believe that we need to increase the number of permanent positions.
“Senior Lecturers” as a way out?
Epiney considers job diversification more important than permanent jobs. She is trying to promote such positions to the so-called “senior lecturers” at the University of Freiburg. This can lead to the safe development of research and teaching in the long term without seeking a professorship as a professional highlight and making the corresponding sacrifices.
A look at the Netherlands
In the Netherlands, academic staff recently obtained a permanent contract after one year at the university.
Jaap Verheg of the Dutch Universities Consortium explains: “As job security improves, they can focus more on their academic work. This is a big help for them.” Because if you don’t know year after year whether the contract will be extended, you can’t work quietly:
In the Netherlands, the 14 universities are independent of each other, but are centrally funded by the Dutch state. Labor relations are regulated by a national collective labor contract.
In Switzerland, the federal government is primarily responsible for ETH, while the cantons finance and regulate their universities. This is why structures and working conditions differ from one university to another.
That is why Astrid Ebeni of Swiss Universities confirms: “The exact measures we must take will be determined at the level of individual universities and ETH. The dialects here are completely different.”
“Alcohol buff. Troublemaker. Introvert. Student. Social media lover. Web ninja. Bacon fan. Reader.”