3. Habilitation

Heidelberg University welcomes the fact that the habilitation is, in principle, to be retained in Baden-Württemberg. Nevertheless, the newly created qualification pathway of junior professor is proving very competitive. The habilitation must be generally expanded in such a way as to retain its own profile over against the junior professorship and heading a research group, and so that it can be regarded as an equivalent qualification pathway.

The expansion of the habilitation should chiefly pursue the following goals:

  • shortening the habilitation phase, and
  • improving preparation for the responsibilities of university teaching.

It is also important to

  • safeguard and improve the resources of habilitation candidates, and
  • spare them extraneous burdens.

3.1 Shortening the habilitation phase

One of the main points of criticism regarding the habilitation is the high average age (40.3 in 2003)) at which successful candidates are granted the permission to teach (venia legendi) a particular subject. That is why both the doctoral and the habilitation phase must be considerably shortened (cf. section 2). In the latter case it is also necessary to guarantee its competitiveness compared to other qualification pathways. The habilitation phase should generally not take longer than four years (compared to the junior professorship, which is planned to last six years). An exception would be if the candidate opted for a specific route that could be responsibly accepted, and this would have to be explained to the Rector in a personal talk. In order to manage within the four-year period, a Memorandum should be drafted on the habilitation project and the habilitation phase should be more tightly structured. At the same time, the candidates should be given better support and evaluation, and relieved of responsibilities extraneous to their course.

3.1.1 Memorandum

The general conditions of the habilitation project shall be outlined in a Memorandum between the habilitand, mentor group or mentor (see 3.1.3) and the faculty. The Memorandum shall contain, in particular,

  • the (working) topic of the habilitation paper or the area of a cumulative habilitation,
  • the envisaged venia legendi,
  • the foreign language selected for the habilitation paper, as appropriate,
  • the composition of the mentor group,
  • the planned timeframe,
  • the probable culminating phase,
  • the predicted point in time for the interim evaluation,
  • the number of individual classes, the expected participation in undergraduate examinations and other service duties, and
  • the resources needed for the habilitation project and the qualification, including the basic equipment needed to attract external funding (possibly also funds for programmes to acquire university teaching skills).

The responsibilities and activities of the habilitand must serve the purpose of acquiring the qualifications needed for a university professor. That does not just mean research findings, but also includes experience in teaching and committee work ("academic self-government") along with education and training programmes (see section 3.2). Academic achievement from elsewhere (e.g. postdoc periods abroad) may be considered in the Memorandum and lead to a shortening of the habilitation phase.

The mentor or mentor group are responsible for the adherence to the Memorandum, along with the dean. The Rector must be informed of the state of the evaluations at two-yearly intervals. Habilitationsschriften may be written in English, French and, in justified exceptional cases, in other languages, if this is appropriate to the topic. However, an acceptable level of language must be guaranteed, to be certified, if necessary, by a native speaker of that language.

3.1.2 Timing

The habilitation phase begins with the presenting of the Memorandum to the Faculty. The candidate is thereby formally accepted. After about two years the Faculty shall conduct an interim evaluation. The whole habilitation procedure should be completed at the latest four years after the submission of the Memorandum, with no more than six months elapsing between the opening of the assessment procedure and the granting of the venia legendi. Breaking this deadline must be justified in individual cases before the responsible bodies in the Faculty and reported to the Rector at the same time.

3.1.3 Accompaniment

In order to allow candidates to focus on acquiring the qualification, better accompanying measures are to be put in place. The purpose of the accompaniment is to help them to be able to plan their project accurately and foster their academic self-reliance and freedom.

Habilitation candidates should be able to choose whether the Faculty transfers the responsible accompaniment to an individual professor (mentor) or to a mentor group with a chairperson. When the candidature has been accepted, their mentor or mentor-group shall be formally installed by the Faculty. The mentor group may include members from other universities.

The Faculty is generally responsible for handling the procedural side of the habilitation (interim evaluation, initiation of assessment procedure, obtaining opinions from referees), and the mentor or mentor group is responsible for providing specialist advice and methodological support, and for assessing the candidate. The granting of the venia legendi will still be the decision of the responsible habilitation conference.

3.1.4 Evaluation

Both the interim evaluation and the final reference procedure will reflect the culture of the individual subjects and faculties. That is why the procedural details should be left to the faculties. However, the respective habilitation regulations must contain a binding procedure. In their habilitation regulations the faculties shall set out the way in which the interim evaluation is to be conducted (e.g. on the basis of a presentation before the habilitation conference or a written report to the mentor or mentor group).

The results of the evaluation must be communicated to the candidate with explanatory comments. External referees are to be involved at least at the second evaluation of a junior professor, and so this is also advisable for the final evaluation of a habilitation. The faculties are therefore recommended to include obligatory external referees in their habilitation regulations.

3.2 Improvement of preparation for the responsibilities of university teaching

The way in which candidates have hitherto given evidence of teaching and methodological aptitude is clearly in need of improvement. In appointment procedures for a chair this may prove to put habilitands at a significant disadvantage, as compared to the situation of junior professors, who will have had six years of teaching experience. On the other hand, there is also a danger of excess in using habilitands for teaching duties and other services, which may mean that the time available for research is limited and that the habilitation phase is consequently prolonged.

3.2.1 Teaching component in the Memorandum

In order to guarantee continual training in university teaching, the Memorandum shall contain a section on the teaching load to be covered. It shall only set out the general type (lecture, seminar, practical etc.) and scope of the classes. The teaching mentioned in the Memorandum must allow candidates to conduct demanding coursework on their own responsibility and contain the usual form of teaching (including lectures). At the same time, however, limits should be set on the amount of teaching expected, and the times without teaching obligations should be established (section 3.4). These arrangements shall apply in principle to external habilitands as well. Habilitands shall be encouraged to acquire university teaching skills, e.g. through the Heidelberg Graduate Academy (section 2.5).

3.2.2 Accompaniment and advice

The classes of the habilitand shall be followed by the mentor or mentor group, and at intervals by an advisor external to the Faculty. In addition, selected classes are to be evaluated by the students present. The external advisors shall be selected in consultation between the habilitand and the mentor group. The University shall draw up a list of suitable persons for the external accompaniment.

3.2.3 Preliminary supervision of undergraduate and master's theses

The competent supervision of theses is an important part of teaching and should thus be practised in the habilitation phase. Since it is not legally possible for habilitands to bear ultimate responsibility for (co)supervising theses they should at least be involved in the early stages of advice (in bachelor's and master's degrees, Diplom, Magister and teacher training courses). They should also be able to advise on doctoral theses including on working groups set up at their own proposal. On the other hand, broadly relieving habilitands from supervisory duties puts them a great advantage as compared to the junior professorships. The effort needed to provide preliminary supervision of theses must not slow down the habilitation.

3.3 Improvement of resources

Habilitands must be equipped with the resources required for their academic projects and training programme (e.g. rooms, technical equipment, costs for teaching method courses, basic equipment for attracting external funding, staff assistance et al). The allocation of funds must be organised by the mentor or mentor group and must be included in the Memorandum. In order to strengthen the personal responsibility of the habilitands, they should be allocated the necessary finance directly by their department. The funds required are to be raised by the department concerned. Travel costs of habilitands should also be paid from the departmental budget, as far as possible.

The faculties and departments will have to raise even more resources to finance young scholars in future. So that habilitations do not become a burden on the departments, they should be increasingly included in budget negotiations in future to the detriment of externally funded projects without support for young academics.

In efforts to raise external funds, habilitands should be taken into account and encouraged to take independent initiatives.

3.4 Relieving the burden on habilitands

The high average age of granting the venia legendi is not least due to the over-burdening of candidates with different teaching duties along with committee work and other duties. The prospect of being able to conclude the habilitation procedure after four years will only be realistic if the faculties are really determined to take practical steps to lighten the load on candidates.

Hence teaching obligations should be limited to the amount required for teacher training (see section 3.2.1, and section 3.2.3). In addition, habilitands should be granted a fixed quota of at least ten months after the interim evaluation in which they can concentrate on their Habilitationsschrift. This culminating phase should, if possible, only include one lecturing semester and otherwise be taken in the lecture-free period. During this period the habilitands should be freed of all teaching obligations and committee work. The departments must arrange for appropriate substitute teachers. The necessary funding must come from the departmental budget, but on the argument in financial negotiations that it is an investment in young academics.

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Latest Revision: 2012-11-06
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