I recently visited the GAIN meeting in Cambridge, MA, where about 200-300 German academics met to get information on and discuss the recent reform(s) of the German university system, brain drain (away from Germany), how to reverse it, how to allow young researchers to conduct independent research, etc. Representatives from all major research and education funding institutions (DFG, Alexander von Humboldt, DAAD), members of the parliament, deans from several universities, representatives from independent research foundations (MPI, Frauenhoffer, etc.), and industry representatives gave presentations about recent improvements, persistence problems, and plans for the future. There were also many interesting workshops on, for example, how to start your own lab and how to apply for funding for it (“Nachwuchsgruppe”) or, more generally, on academic and non-academic careers in different disciplines.
If you’re interested in more information, have a look at the GAIN website, which contains the whole program, contact info, and so on. A summaries of the meeting is available, for example, at the site of the German Scholar Organization (GSO). The event also had quite some press echo (see this GAIN summary of the press echo, e.g., Stuttgarter Zeitung (in German) –which also “quotes” utterances of me out of context ;), so pls take that one with a grain of salt, make that a bucket full of salt– or Martin Fenner’s blog; I am sure there is more).
My one paragraph summary would be that the situation seems to have improved a lot and that most involved parties in Germany (DFG, the universities, politicians, …) are aware that these changes need to continue. I was good to hear from young researchers that have decided to start there careers in Germany that they are able to conduct their research independently. At the same time, there still are some oddities about the current state of affairs – for example, in some states, “Junior Professors” (young professors, roughly comparable to an associate professor) are not allowed to graduate students because they aren’t “habilitiert”. That is, their doctoral students must take the final examination (Promotion) with a senior colleague of the Junior Professor. Also, it seems that start-up funds are still not comparable with those at top US universities, but IMHO start-up funding is quite essential in that it allows young researchers to conduct their own research without in any way depending on their senior colleagues (well, obviously there is always gonna be influence from senior colleagues and that is good and fair, but financial independence is an important component).
There is much more to be said, but in any case, if you’re a German scholar in the US or a scholar interesting in working in Germany, I think you may be interested in reading up on the recent changes to the German university system and the GAIN website given above is a great starting point for that (check out the GAIN newsletter archive).