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Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin | BerlinScienceSurvey | First results from the BSS on framework conditions in science

First results from the BSS on framework conditions in science

This news appears in the BUA newsletter in May 2024.

Scientists are evaluated everywhere. University management and science policy in particular have a vested interest in this. The Berlin Science Survey turns the tables and lets scientists have their say. It makes it possible to measure where scientists see the biggest problems and potential for improvement in science.

On the one hand, the BSS addresses topics that are the subject of public controversy, such as the question of academic freedom, the reputation of science in society and career structures. On the other hand, topics were identified in advance that scientists had named as particularly important from their point of view in qualitative interviews. The survey also distinguishes between structural conditions in the science system in Germany as a whole and those conditions that are more at the local or organizational level of the individual institutions.


The results show that the biggest problems are not where the public discourse would suggest they are. Above all, an overwhelming majority of 82.7% rate academic freedom as rather good (46.2%) or even very good (36.5%). The community is somewhat less positive when it comes to the question of how science is perceived by the public. Here, 26.5 % see the situation as rather poor and a majority of around 70 % consider it to be rather good (58.6 %) or even very good (12.2 %).

Instead, problems on the part of the scientific community are primarily located in questions of scientific funding and even more so in the current career structures. Almost three quarters of respondents rate the current funding system, i.e. the ratio of third-party funding to basic funding, as rather poor (45.8%) or even very poor (28.0%). Career opportunities in the academic system are rated even worse: 80% rate them as rather poor or poor. The negative assessments are not only borne by non-professorial academics (postdocs and pre-docs). A good two-thirds of professors also agree with this assessment.

The career opportunities and the sometimes precarious path to a professorship have long been discussed, and the question arises as to who takes on the rocky road to the vaunted professorship. In the meantime, the picture seems to have changed somewhat: Not only is academia becoming unattractive because the prospects are uncertain and the path is rocky, but even the career goal no longer seems so attractive to many. 39.5% of those surveyed say that the attractiveness of professorships is rather poor, with a further 17.2% saying it is very poor. This means that only a minority of 43.4% rate the attractiveness of the professorship as rather good or very good. Even the professors do not give their own position consistently good marks. Among them, 65.4% rate the attractiveness of the job profile as good and, on the other hand, 34.6% rate it as poor.

The BSS will examine the reasons for this (partial) unattractiveness of the professorship in detail. It is becoming apparent that this has a lot to do with the working conditions, the lack of supportive framework conditions in some cases and the resulting high workloads.

At the organizational level, the greatest difficulties are seen in the inadequate administrative processes. 72.5% of academics rate these as rather (34.4%) or even very (38.1%) poor. This "outcry" from the scientific community is also reflected in the open statements and comments left by the scientists. Here, the topic of burdens caused by bureaucracy was one of the most emphatically addressed issues.

The assessment of research-supporting infrastructures and teaching capacities is ambivalent. In each case, half of the respondents rated these as (rather or very) good and the other half rated these framework conditions as poor. Teaching capacities are not primarily determined by the institutions, but rather by the university contracts with the state and the defined job capacities. Nevertheless, these conditions have an impact on other resources and the cultural climate at the institutions.

The framework conditions in science are the decisive points at which politics and management can exert influence in order to bring about the often-discussed excellent and innovative output. If science wants to attract the "best minds", as is often claimed, then the conditions and the goal of remaining in science must be attractive.

Assessments of the career system and the attractiveness of professorships are important indicators of self-selection processes. The assessments of the framework conditions show how efficiently and effectively the research institutions use the human resources of their employees. Where the framework conditions are not right, this leads to unnecessary stress and frustration, which also has an impact on the goals desired by the institutions - good research, good teaching, possibly also third mission. This is where the BSS reveals important potential.

The Berlin Science Survey

The Berlin Science Survey (BSS) is a scientific trend study on cultural change in the Berlin research landscape. For this purpose, the Robert K. Merton Center for Science Studies at Humboldt-Universität zu Berlin regularly collects the experiences and assessments of scientists in the Berlin research area at regular intervals in an online survey. To date, 2,366 scientists from the Berlin Research Area have taken part in the most recent study. (The Charité sample could not yet be integrated into these evaluations). We would like to thank everyone who took part in the study. The various and sometimes complex topics of the current survey will be successively evaluated over the coming months and the results published.