The German Constitutional Court recently provided an opportunity for comic relief, perhaps as a prelude to Carnival. On Tuesday it ruled out as unconstitutional the current pay scales of academics in Germany. According to the ruling of the professors-filled court, base salaries for academics are "evidently insufficient.” At the moment academic pay scales have two components: a base salary and performance bonuses, dependent on publications and the ability to attract outside funding from research councils. However, the judges in Karlsruhe determined that the fixed base salary rates were not enough for a professor, "according to his rank, to allow for the responsibility associated with his office and the meaning of the Civil Service for the general public a decent living."
So what are German professors paid? According to the German Association of University Professors, base pay for starting academics varies between €3526 per month, in Berlin, and €3926 in the state of Baden-Württemberg. Even though about 95% of professors receive bonuses, the Constitutional Court considered that these did not compensate for the excessively low base salaries since bonuses were not a ‘right’ but only a possibility. Where have we heard this before? In a very politically incorrect comparison they even noted that lawmakers were paid adequate base salaries without the need for bonuses!On a PPP-basis, German academic salaries are today in the mid of the range of countries covered by a large survey published by the journal Nature (see figure).
In response to the ruling, the German Federal government has already called for a 25% pay rise, which will place German professors among the best paid academics in the World. The tradition of German scholarship excellence is well known, but one wonders about the consequences of the dilution of an incentive-based pay scheme for a sector whose best university ranks in the 47th place in the Academic Ranking of World Universities. After all, German judges and the government decided on an across-the-board pay rise unrelated to performance, whereas in countries such as the US and Canada, academic salaries are negotiated individually in the context of a very competitive market.Maybe Germans are finally “loosening up” – a similar pay rise for the rest of the economy would do wonders for the competitiveness of the rest of the Eurozone.