Expat scientists want better conditions at home

September 2005 Expetica

BERLIN - A group of German scientists working in the U.S. have sent an open letter to German education authorities saying that they would return to their homeland - but only if working conditions improve there, a report coming out Thursday said.

The letter, titled 'The Future of Science' has been signed by more than 100 German scientists in the United States, said the weekly Die Zeit newspaper.

Its initiator was the German Scholars Organization (GSO), an association of German scientists in North America.

Eicke Weber, the GSO head and a professor of material sciences at the University of California-Berkeley, estimated that 80 per cent of young German scientists in the U.S. would prefer to teach and do research in their homeland, the report said.

The number of German scientists potentially involved is not small: the report says about 6,000 young Germans are working at American universities and other institutes.

Supporters of the letter include Wolfgang Ketterle, a German native and winner of the Nobel Prize for Physics in 2001 who is at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT).

The scientists say in their letter that professors in Germany should be chosen in transparent procedures and by commissions that include non-Germans.

Bodies now granting professorships "don't always select the best candidate from a scientific point of view," says the letter.

The scientists also criticize the right of each of Germany's 16 federal states to set education policy, which had "led to confusing and unequal working conditions for scientists."

They call for German universities to be given more autonomy from the state and governed by a single set of laws.

Creation a U.S.-style 'tenure track' for junior professors aiming for a permanent position is also backed by the letter.

There have been many calls in recent years for broad reforms in Germany's once venerated educational system, now widely seen as hidebound and under-funded.


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