"Now make it happen!"

Markus Zürcher. © Valérie Chételat

Are the Federal Council’s proposals to support young academics satisfactory? Markus Zürcher, General Secretary of the Swiss Academy of Humanities and Social Sciences (SAHS) is not completely happy.

Horizons: The Federal Council wants to improve conditions for young academics. Do you find their report convincing?Markus Zürcher: It’s the best, most comprehensive review we’ve yet seen of the situation in which young academics find themselves.H: The report calls for more equality of opportunity and recommends supervising doctoral candidates better, and paying them better wages. But above all it wants to make careers in academia both more attractive and easier to plan. So it proposes having earlier selection processes and creating a wider job profile for academics, besides professorial posts. Do you agree with all that?MZ: That’s both right and necessary. But the Federal Council doesn’t overly emphasize these proposed measures and leaves it largely open as to how they might be put into practice. Of course, that also reflects the fact that it’s ultimately up to the universities to implement them. Given the problems we’re facing, what I feel is lacking is the message: ‘Now make it happen!’H: In the humanities, it’s all somewhat worse, isn’t it?MZ: Let’s put it this way: there are discipline-specific aspects that influence today’s problems for up-and-coming scholars in the humanities and social sciences. The report makes no attempt at differentiation here.H: But the recently published SAHS baseline report on supporting the humanities does just that. It’s one of a series of many reports and proposals for recruiting young academics in Switzerland. Aren’t there now too many doctors trying to treat the patient?MZ: That is precisely why the new plea by the SAHS for a national education strategy is such an important signal. We can really only solve the problems in our education system if we develop a programme for all of Switzerland, across all levels of education. We have to succeed in exploiting everyone’s potential to the full, not just at tertiary level. The problem with up-and-coming scholars has to be tackled by supporting them earlier on.

(From "Horizons" No. 102, September 2014)