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"An obligation, but also a matter of the heart"

The "audit familiengerechte hochschule" (family-friendly university audit) – the instrument with which universities design their family-friendly working and study conditions – has turned 20. The University of Erfurt has held the certificate for 17 years. In the following interview, which first appeared on the "berufundfamilie Service GmbH" blog, the team from the University of Erfurt's Equal Opportunity and Family Office reports on what has and is happening on campus in terms of reconciliation of work and family life...

berufundfamilie: The University of Erfurt has been certified under the family-friendly university audit since 2005. What do you see as the main effects of the management tool?
Step by step, advisory, supervisor and support services at the University of Erfurt have been expanded and made more visible. Measures that were newly introduced in 2005 are now established and taken for granted. In each re-audit procedure – and the dialog procedures that have since built on it – it was and is very helpful for us to reflect questions like: What were our goals? What have we achieved? What can we do even better? We can highlight a few examples that have had a significant and lasting effect on our family-friendly university:

  • since 2008: possibility of flexible working hours with special consideration of family work and telecommuting; further development since 2011: flexible work location (working from home/mobile work)
  • since 2011: anchoring the commitment to reconciling work/study and family in the basic regulations, the equal opportunities concept and the equal opportunities plan of the University of Erfurt
  • since 2013: flexible childcare "Räuberhöhle" at the University of Erfurt and "Kinderladen" at the University of Applied Sciences Erfurt as cooperation facilities together with the Thuringian Student Services Organisation (Studierendenwerk) for Erfurt as a university site
  • since 2018: creation of opportunities to bring children to the workplace in the event of childcare bottlenecks and possibility of using a parent-child workroom in the University Library; further development since 2020: mobile play boxes according to age groups for lending via the Office for Equal Opportunity and Family Services at the University of Erfurt

berufundfamilie: University operations in Corona times: What are your findings? What will remain to improve the compatibility of career or studies, family and private life?
With a high level of commitment from all those involved, the University of Erfurt has succeeded in converting classroom operation to distance/online operation within a short period of time. In addition to special funding for equipment and licenses, the willingness of employees and students to adapt to new teaching, learning and working formats has also contributed to this. We now all know the pros and cons of videoconferencing. For many meetings and discussions, the online format will continue to be used, eliminating duty strokes. Hybrid settings can be enabled in courses: students can ask lecturers to broadcast the course via videoconference and room microphone in the event of care or illness. This was of great importance for students with care responsibilities or in events with mandatory masks also for pregnant women. Mobile working or working in a home office has become more natural and will certainly be preserved in service agreements. This flexibilization is ambivalent, as is so often the case. Location-independent working can make it easier to reconcile professional and family responsibilities. However, there is also a risk that the burden on women with child-rearing responsibilities in particular will continue to increase in employment or during their studies, because home offices usually result in a juxtaposition of childcare responsibilities and work or studies. It would be desirable for the flexibilization of work to also contribute to the division of care tasks according to the wishes of the parents. Only then flexibilization can also contribute to the quality of life.

berufundfamilie: Targeted communication is needed to announce compatibility offers and to strengthen their viability. Because of the different status groups (non-academic employees, academic employees, students), this can be a challenge. How do you master this?
We use various channels to draw attention to compatibility offers in order to specifically address our different status groups: students receive offers in the Moodle learning management system. We send event notices and information for those working in science and teaching to the Deaneries of the faculties and forward them from there. For non-academic employees, we provide information on the intranet or by e-mail. In addition, news is communicated to university committees. Of course, all information and references to offers are also entered on the web pages of the Equal Opportunity and Family Office. For print material (postcards, flyers), we are also increasingly using QR codes to link directly to online offerings.

berufundfamilie: In the course of #IchbinHanna, there are repeated discussions about the "Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz" (WissZeitVG) and the special fixed-term contract law it contains. Is it possible at all to reconcile family and research in this way? What possibilities do you see as a university?
With the hashtag #IchbinHanna, a long overdue debate was brought to the public. The special fixed-term contract law anchored in the "WissZeitVG" particularly aggravates the situation of scholars with family responsibilities. It is true that the maximum fixed-term contract duration can be extended for persons with care responsibilities. However, the practice of short contract terms, with the associated uncertainty about the prospects in the phase of starting a family, represents a particular hurdle. Because of the family support system and the search for housing as well as care facilities moving to another university town precisely when a contract term of two years is in prospect with a child or children presents different challenges than for people without children, who often commute remotely during such periods of employment. If both partners are employed in academia, coordination becomes extremely difficult. Where the countries and universities have scope to support young researchers in this phase, for example with regard to the duration of their contracts, they should make use of it. Ultimately, however, it is the task of policymakers to evaluate and amend the "WissZeitVG" on the one hand, and to provide the resources to retain capable young researchers in science and maintain Germany's attractiveness as a location for science on the other. There is obviously an urgent need to remind people of this.

berufundfamilie: Section 6 of the Thuringian Higher Education Act stipulates that universities draw up equality plans to promote gender equality and increase the proportion of women among academic and artistic staff. To what extent do you use the measures in the audit to fulfill your equality plan?
The further development of a barrier-free, family-friendly and diversity-sensitive environment makes the campus and working life more inclusive and appreciative for all. The specific situations of academics with care responsibilities are increasingly taken into account and well communicated as part of the measures in the audit, so that the University of Erfurt is perceived as an attractive employer even before recruitment or application.

berufundfamilie: The University of Erfurt has a guideline on "Good work in academia". How does this – in addition to the family-friendly university audit – contribute to family-friendly research and teaching?
The guideline regulates minimum employment durations and scopes for e.g. qualification positions. In particular, the university-internal minimum term of four years for doctoral positions can provide more reliability and planning security. A concrete example is the so-called automatic extension: Section 2 "WissZeitVG" stipulates that the fixed-term period is extended for periods of maternity and/or parental leave. At the University of Erfurt, employees are already given the option of agreeing to the contract extension when they apply for parental leave (cf. § 2 para. 5 p. 1 no. 3 "WissZeitVG"). But the requirements of the Thuringian Equal Opportunity Act also contribute to the fact that job advertisements generally contain the indication that part-time employment is possible and will be examined.

berufundfamilie: Keyword "together": Together with the Thuringian Student Services Organization (Studierendenwerk) and the University of Applied Sciences Erfurt, you operate the flexible childcare "Räuberhöhle" and regularly organize events for families. How did this cooperation come about?
For our students with child(ren) in Erfurt, it is an obligation for the universities and the Thuringian Student Services Organisation (Studierendenwerk), but also a matter of the heart, to offer access to studies that is fair to all. Especially for single parents who would refrain from studying or drop out due to their care responsibilities, the flexible childcare should be a safeguard and thus enable them to study in Erfurt. Student parents can use the "Räuberhöhle" on the campus of our University of Erfurt or the "Kinderladen" at the University of Applied Sciences Erfurt with their individually bookable block times as an additional childcare module during seminar times. These good reasons gave rise to the cooperation at the Erfurt university campus, from which (not only) student families benefit and which has enjoyed high demand for years.

berufundfamilie: One exemplary compatibility measure for students is the "Erziehen und Studieren" (raising and studying) ID card. Could you please explain what this is all about?
Upon presentation of the child's birth certificate, student mothers and fathers can apply for the "Raising and Studying" ID card at the Office of Student Affairs. Together with this, a cover letter from the university administration will be handed out for presentation to the lecturers, which explicitly requests that the students' double burden be taken into account in their everyday studies. This allows students to request, for example, prioritization for enrollment in courses. The "Raising and Studying" ID card thus contributes to university-wide awareness of the concerns of students with family responsibilities.