For More Permanent Positions
in Swiss Higher Education
Less brain drain. Many are leaving academia, because they do not see a chance for future employment or cannot justify remaining in precarious conditions on a non-permanent position and with a low salary (for example because they have to sustain a family). People would no longer be pre-selected according to their ability and willingness to live precariously for a decade or longer (i.e. until the end of their 30s at least). University would become more attractive and could compete with other industries for top talent.
Professors are at the moment over capacity themselves as institutional responsibilities have increased over the last two decades without much additional supporting measures put in place. More mid-level permanent positions would allow to re-distribute the responsibility and workload more adequately.
Retaining institutional know-how. University systems are very individual and extremely diverse. It takes at least up to two years for someone to be adequately acquainted with how their university works. Losing employees again after two to four more years is very inefficient and would hardly be tenable in any other working environment.
Not everyone who is a good teacher or an excellent researcher is a capable professor. If the possibilities for employment are more diverse, people can be hired according to their skill set for positions where they can perform at their best (as researchers, as teachers, as team leaders).
More productive work culture. Sufficiently diverse career opportunities would limit the fierce competition between scholars and thus create a more collaborative work environment, which is essential for good research and makes academia more attractive. Many excellent researchers are leaving academia because of the working culture that has been fostered.
Mitigation of hierarchies. Intermediate positions between doctorate and professorship would help to flatten the academic pyramid characteristic of the chairs system and thus could significantly mitigate power abuse and complete dependency on one’s supervisor/superior.
Improvement of mental health. Permanent uncertainty in employment is an aggravating factor for developing or exacerbating psychological disorders. The prospect of stable employment after the thesis would alleviate some of this stress.
More adequate ‘life planning’ beyond a short-term basis of a few years. The precarious employment of researchers has many harmful effects on our social life (e.g. not being able to leave the parental home) and their family life (postponing parenthood, separation, etc.).
More commitment. Stability is a prerequisite to be fully committed to one’s work and be invested in a research project (individual or collective). Furthermore, it allows for the development of original and innovative research projects. Time could be dedicated to actually doing research and not be squandered on an endless cycle of writing applications.
Focused research. The creation of a significant number of career opportunities available immediately after the PhD would avoid the need for PhD candidates to develop third-party funded research projects during the thesis writing process.
Not everyone wants to become a professor. Many would be happiest if they could stay in academia on a teaching and research position and do not desire the power and responsibility a professorship provides.
Broadening of academic skill set beyond research. Investing in one’s further education and specialization in areas such as teaching or academic administration would become more attractive. This in turn would improve the overall quality of work done by the academic staff and would ensure better pedagogical skills and thorough administrative knowledge.
Health care costs. The toll the current university system is taking on the mental health of its academics is expensive for the general public. A work environment in which people are six times more likely to suffer from depression and anxiety compared to the general public is not acceptable. Especially with rising health care costs, public institutions such as universities need to put in place organizational policies that do not exacerbate the situation.
Improvement of education quality. A better work environment for academics would mean a better learning environment for students, because their teachers are less exhausted and have the capacity to supervise students adequately. Permanent positions allow people to invest in their pedagogic skills. Thus, rather than teaching being a secondary obligation among many others, it would be valorized and professionalized.
Focus on relevant research rather than primarily on projects for a researcher’s resume improvement. Thus, both fundamental research and innovative research projects that do not fit into the short cycles of grants and career advancement would be strengthened.
Prevention of brain drain. When researchers cannot find work in the national space in which they were trained, they go abroad, thereby contributing to innovation in other countries.
Competitive advantage. Higher education institutions in Switzerland could gain as they were to be offering more attractive working conditions. Thus, they could truly recruit the best talents globally rather than the most willing and able to live precariously.
Permanent positions would allow mid-level staff to participate more actively in civil society. Thus, a broader exchange with the general public by everyone involved in academic teaching and research would become possible, whereby universities could more fully contribute to a vibrant civic community and society.