Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz (academic employment law)

In Germany, fixed-term employment contracts are legally permitted only under certain conditions. That is supposed to protect the employee: it is supposed to prevent employers from continually employing staff for a limited amount of time instead of giving them a permanent job contract with protection against unlawful termination. In academia, there is special regulation in order to allow for more flexibility, a law about fixed-term work contracts in academia (Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz).

Fundamentally, academic personnel can be employed at a German institute of higher education for 12 years, including up to six years before the PhD is finished. If the PhD is completed earlier than six years after the start of employment, "unused time" before the PhD can be added to the six years after the PhD (so-called "saved PhD time").

All fixed-term employment contracts with more than a quarter of the working time of a full-time employee at a German institute of higher education will be taken into account. Caution: scholarships and grants are not counted towards the six years prior to earning a PhD, but do count towards saved PhD time!

Ever since German Bundestag passed an amendment to the Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz in 2016, a fixed-term employment within the 12-year-period is only possible when the employment aims at the employee's own academic qualification. This can be either for dissertation or habilitation, but also for other academic qualifications such as the aquisition of specific scientific methods or teaching methods. Note that the duration of the fixed-term employment has to be adequate for the purpose of qualification, thus the actual qualification goal is to be laid down in the written contract of employment. If you seek further information on academic fixed-term contracts, please see here, or in this recommendation of the German Research Foundation (DFG).

Exceptions and options for the extension of the 6- or 12-year employment constraint may be: the extension due to the care of the employee's own children, foster children or stepchildren (up to two years per child); a chronic disease or a disability of the employee.

The 12 years are not valid for research projects funded by third parties, because there is a specific reason for the fixed term. That means that after the end of the 12 years, positions with fixed-term employment contracts can continue to be accepted. The duration of that employment is dependent on the duration of the respective project funding. There are still specific conditions to be fulfilled (see Abschnitt III: "Befristungsmöglichkeiten bei Beschäftigung in Drittmittelprojekten", in German only).

A paper which was written down by the FSU Doctoral council in cooperation with the Jena Abbe School of Photonics doctoral council and the FSU's own head of human resources, can give you a good insight into the most important contents of the Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz and its application at Jena University: Das Wichtigste zum Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz (the Most Important Facts of Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz).

The classification does not often appear to be easy. If in doubt, the human resources department (Personaldezernat) is responsible for the decision. Additional information is available here.