Development of Teaching Academics in the Academic Labor Market in Germany

by Natalia Karmaeva (Author)
©2015 Thesis 206 Pages


This study is an empirical and a theoretical contribution to academic labor market research in the social and educational sciences. The main focus is the situation of young academics who teach at German universities. Both the role of research and teaching in the academic labor market as well as opportunities for professional development in academia and beyond for those who teach are investigated. The study reveals how structures of the academic labor market, including academic culture, affect career decisions and development opportunities of young academics. The findings demonstrate how academics reconstruct the relation between teaching and research in their practice and how they seek new ways in making teaching meaningful in their working lives. The monograph proposes a model for evaluating the agency of academics and identifies the potential for social innovations in academia.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title
  • Copyright
  • About the author(s)/editor(s)
  • About the book
  • This eBook can be cited
  • Table of Contents
  • Introduction
  • The background of this study
  • Academic work transformations and personnel policy
  • Academic teaching in focus
  • Reframing teaching and broadening the reference points of academic work
  • Evaluation of professional development within the framework of the capability approach
  • Research questions
  • Structure of the monograph
  • Chapter 1 The academic labor market and academic work in Germany: the state of the art in research and theoretical implications
  • Introduction
  • Academic work
  • Teaching and research
  • Development
  • Changing context of academic work
  • New-institutionalist analysis of academia
  • Academic labor market and meanings of teaching
  • Academic labor market in Germany and teaching at a university
  • Summary
  • Chapter 2 Towards the evaluation of the agency of teaching academics in the academic labor market in Germany
  • Introduction
  • Professional development from the capability perspective
  • Agency and structure: structuralist vs. individualist perspectives
  • Structures in the academic labor market
  • Dissolution of structures
  • Embedding and decoupling as the mechanisms of change
  • Getting action and the problem of meaning: from the structural level back to the individual
  • The evaluative procedure
  • Summary
  • Chapter 3 Empirical research and findings
  • Introduction
  • 3.1 Methodology
  • 3.1.1 Choice of qualitative methodology
  • 3.1.2 Method of data collection
  • 3.1.3 Methods of analysis
  • 3.1.4 The study sample
  • 3.2 Results
  • 3.2.1 Evaluation of development: conceptualization of academic work and professional orientations
  • 3.2.2 Structures of the academic labor market
  • Formal institutional structures
  • Relational structures
  • Professional structures
  • Organizational structures
  • 3.2.3 Types of academics as actors contextualized in the structures of the academic labor market and their agency: developmental consequences
  • Type 1 “Narrow professional development orientation”.
  • Interview with Maria
  • Teaching
  • Research
  • Teaching and research relation
  • Conclusions and discussion
  • Interview with Markus
  • Research
  • Teaching
  • Teaching and research
  • Professional orientations and decision-making
  • Conclusion and discussion
  • Interviews with Nina and Lena
  • Research
  • Teaching and research
  • “Teaching as it should be” and “teaching as it is”
  • Justification by the discourse on policies
  • Conflict
  • Conclusions and discussion
  • Summary of Type 1
  • Type 2 “Broader professional development orientation”
  • Interview with Alexander
  • Research and teaching
  • Recontextualization
  • Interview with Anja
  • Teaching and research
  • Recontextualization
  • Interview with Julia
  • Teaching and research
  • Recontextualization
  • Interview with Dirk
  • Teaching and research
  • Recontextualization
  • Interview with Lea
  • Teaching and research
  • Recontextualization
  • Conflict
  • Summary
  • Summary and conclusions
  • Conclusion
  • Academic work and development
  • The research question
  • Theoretical approach and the research methodology
  • The outline of the results
  • Suggestions for future work
  • References
  • Appendix 1 List of tables
  • Appendix 2 Interview guide
  • Biographical
  • Practice of teaching
  • Teaching experience and development
  • Future plans
  • Appendix 3 List of interview participants
  • Appendix 4 Preliminary indicators for evaluating contextualization of framings of academic teaching and research of young academics in German universities

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This introduction starts with the background of this study, presents the problems that the dissertation addresses and points out existing research gaps. It proceeds by discussing general research questions and the goals of the research. In the third section the content of the chapters that follow is briefly listed.

The background of this study

Academic work transformations and personnel policy

The implementation of the Bologna reform alongside new public management policies (e.g. the introduction of market principles into the evaluation of academic work and the distribution of funding) and general cost-cutting measures in different countries have led to the changing conditions and content of academic work (see for example Henkel 2000; Chandler et. al. 2001; Bleiklie et. al. 2009 for the European context, and Krücken/Kosmützky/Torka 2007; Teichler 1988, 2007, 2008, 2013; Teichler/Höle 2013 for Germany). Universities are expected both to devote more attention to their employees involved in teaching and research and to ensure that the principle of “good work”1 is applied, especially in the case of junior academics (NachwuchswissenschaftlerInnen).

Policy documents on various levels call for the enhancement of the attractiveness of employment in the higher education sector and stress ← 7 | 8 → the necessity of winning and retaining excellent (young) academics in universities.2 Thus, the development plan of Bielefeld University states that its organizational policy measures would significantly increase the identification of its employees with their university.3

Measures aimed at enhancing the quality of work are implemented on the university level, such as training courses, scholarships, and mentoring and counseling. There is, however, a gap between the development strategies of universities and the particular personnel development measures (mentioned above) on the university level and that of the goals of attracting and retaining excellent young scholars in universities in order to achieve research excellence and high quality teaching formulated on the federal state level (see Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung 2012b). The problem involving professional development of junior academics has to be addressed in the personnel development policy principles for faculty development. Only this will bridge the gap between the general political statements and the concrete development measures offered to individual academics. The urgency of formulating these principles and guidelines on the university level is also due to the awareness that the situation of junior faculty has to be improved, especially by introducing more tenured positions (unbefristete) below full professorships, as well as expanding the length of contracts (see the interview with Andreas Keller, the representative of the trade union (see Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft; Hans-Böckler-Stiftung 2010; Deutscher Gewerkschaftsbund 2012; Himmelrath 2013, p. 36). The point at issue in all this is the nature of the criteria that such measures would rest on and the kind of academics who can benefit from such measures in the first place, ← 8 | 9 → keeping in mind the priorities of encouraging good research and teaching at universities.

Academic teaching in focus

There are two reasons which define the importance of teaching as a component of academic work. Firstly, there are the changes of conditions and content of teaching in universities (increased workload; standardization of teaching). Secondly, involvement in teaching (teaching load) is nowadays often associated with lower career chances. That is why an improvement of the conditions for teachers and teaching may contribute to the improved conditions of academic work, especially for junior faculty, and to the greater attractiveness of employment in higher education institutions. Additionally, to impact faculty development policy it is important to find out more about how teaching academics get involved in teaching and what kind of academic labor market structures play a role in this process. In this context, there are also many more aspects that need to be considered, such as different kinds of teaching, the varying teaching loads of different academics, and importantly, the ways academics frame teaching and relate it to other professional activities such as research.

Changes in the conditions and content of teaching at universities are underpinned by developments which will be outlined below. The implementation and further development of curricula for master and bachelor programs within the framework of the Bologna process (Universität Bielefeld 2013b, p. 30) comes at a time when student numbers are rising considerably in Germany.4

These challenges are addressed by the measures targeted at ensuring and improving the quality of teaching (Bundesministerium für Bildung und Forschung 2013). Enhancing the quality of teaching implies, firstly, the better coverage of teaching by faculty. This includes the workload on different levels: from professor through junior faculty (Mittelbau) to the student tutor level. Better coverage of teaching means, first of ← 9 | 10 → all, decreasing the number of students per teacher (improved Betreungsverhältniss or student-faculty ratio). Secondly, another measure is to improve the quality of teaching through the qualification measures for the assignments of teaching. They include the professionalization of teaching through a focus on the institutionalization of teaching methods and the greater teaching or research specializations of academics (Teichler/Höhle 2013, p. 5).

It is, however, not only the content of teaching and its conditions that have to be taken into consideration, but also its attractiveness for academics and their positions at the university.

The problem of how teaching can be conceptualized is widely addressed in the scholarly debate. There are different ways of framing teaching in the university context (see the review in Healey 2000, 2010). There is a tendency to reproduce the ideal of the research-teaching nexus and the framing of teaching as professional work with research-like characteristics (Huber/Hellmer/Schneider 2009). This way teaching is framed as an academic scholarship (in contrast to teaching at school).

Recent analyses of teaching show that changes in the framing and practice of teaching come together (Henkel 2005). According to Musselin (2011), the relation between teaching and research is put into question both in terms of the framings and conditions of work. Thus, the worsening economic situation of the universities coupled with the growing enrollment numbers5 could result in a greater division between research and teaching. At the same time, the growing teaching load is especially characteristic of the positions below professor (Bloch/Burkhardt/Franz et. al. 2011, p. 6)6. For junior faculty, this trend is expected to take place ← 10 | 11 → together with the “rising share of part-time employment, third-party funding, and non-tenured positions” (ibid., p. 7)7.

Moreover, academics are becoming increasingly research-oriented (Teichler 2008, p. 149). This results from a situation where the growing demand for teaching coexists both with the trend towards increasing the proportion of funding acquired from third parties, and the competition for funding in the ‘excellence initiatives’ on the federal level. This means growing competition in research and the increasing role of research excellence in funding distribution8.

In practice, the changing conditions question the unity of research and teaching as a part of professional practice exercised by academics. According to Bundesbericht Wissenschaftlicher Nachwuchs 2013, in nine higher education laws of federal states (Landeshochschulgesetzen (LHG)) new categories for teaching faculty alongside the old ones can be found. These new categories are primarily or exclusively teaching-oriented. In ten federal states, the personnel categories with a specialization in research have also been formulated (see Konsortium Bundesbericht Wissenschaftlicher Nachwuchs 2013, p. 25).

Although Lehrprofessur-positions (professorships in teaching), newly introduced at some universities, were planned with the idea that they may turn into an attractive career option for academics who teach (Lübbert 2007), recent research shows a different situation. In particular, academics are against increasing their involvement in teaching (Bloch/Burkhardt/Franz et. al. 2011, p. 6). Research findings support this and show that the “teaching specialization” of an academic may have negative career consequences as long as it distracts an academic from doing her own research (Bloch/Franz/Würmann 2010a, p. 75; European University Institute 2013). It can be assumed that this situation may well have especially unfavorable consequences for junior academics who teach. Thus, the teaching load, as ← 11 | 12 → well as an uncertain career, can be factors which will decrease the attractiveness of employment in universities, together with the general situation of academics which is characterized by “phases of professional insecurity, high proportion of temporary jobs in comparison to other research-oriented sectors, and low payments” (Konsortium Bundesbericht Wissenschaftlicher Nachwuchs 2013, p. 24).

Reframing teaching and broadening the reference points of academic work

Going back to the earlier discussion on the attractiveness of employment in the higher education sector and the universities’ ambitions to attract and retain excellent academics, another vector in the political and scholarly debate can be noticed. It is the debate on the penetrability of the university boundaries9 and the greater degree of transferability of the competences obtained, for example during doctoral studies, into sectors outside academia. In this respect it was noted that “taking into account that doctoral studies do not exclusively qualify for a career in academia in a narrow sense, but also for many professions in administration, economy and society, the main challenge is to make the scientific [wissenschaftliche] qualification relevant [anschlussfähig] for professions in economy and administration” (Konsortium Bundesbericht Wissenschaftlicher Nachwuchs 2013, p. 24)10.

Thus, there is a paradox: on the one hand, there are political statements in favor of gaining and retaining excellent junior academics in universities ← 12 | 13 → and differentiating teaching personnel in the university. On the other hand, in relation to the career situation of the young academics, the idea of their professional re-orientation to the labor market outside of academia is introduced.


ISBN (Softcover)
Publication date
2014 (October)
Karriereentscheidung Akademiker Lehre Forschung Arbeitsmarkt
Frankfurt am Main, Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Wien, 2014. 206 pp.

Biographical notes

Natalia Karmaeva (Author)

Natalia Karmaeva studied Economic Sociology and Labor Economics in Saint Petersburg. She did research in Human Development at Bielefeld University (Germany) and also was a visiting scholar at Oxford University. Currently she is a researcher in the international research project The Changing Academic Profession at the Higher School of Economics in Moscow.


Title: Development of Teaching Academics in the Academic Labor Market in Germany