A professorship at a university of applied sciences (abbreviated as HAW in German) offers an opportunity to teach with a focus on function. What counts as professional experience? What other requirements must be fulfilled? What exactly is expected of professors?
For the past several years, universities of applied sciences in Germany (called Hochschulen für Angewandte Wissenschaften or HAWs in German) have been forging ahead and stepping out of the shadow of the country’s universities. As part of their realignment, many have even taken the step of changing their names, shedding the “Fachhochschule” (FH) designation, which translates as “technical college.” The hallmark of universities of applied sciences is their focus on the practical application of knowledge and on teaching.
Universities for applied sciences offer degree courses that emphasise real-world applicability and produce highly qualified specialists for non-academic careers. They focus on professional fields such as engineering, media, law and social sciences. Specialised universities for public administration focus on producing graduates for administrative positions.
Research plays a significant role at many universities of applied sciences. Here too, though, the focus is less on basic research and more on practical application. HAWs have numerous partnerships with small- and medium-sized companies in the country, but also with larger corporations and non-governmental organisations. This form of cooperation is particularly prevalent when it comes to the engineering sector.
While models for obtaining a doctorate in cooperation programs between HAWs and full universities aren’t new, it is becoming increasingly possible for students to obtain doctorates directly from universities of applied sciences. That possibility has either been established or is being prepared in 12 of Germany’s 16 states (as of October 2022).
Due to the focus on instruction, HAW professors have a far greater teaching load than do university professors. While that leaves less time available for research projects, it results in a much deeper interaction with students. And the procurement of external funding is gradually gaining in importance.
Professorships at universities of applied sciences require a different career path than professorships at universities. The primary difference is the professional experience required. In almost all German state laws pertaining to universities, HAW professors are required to demonstrate at least five years of professional experience in their field, developing and applying scientific methods and findings. At least three of those five years of experience must have been acquired outside of the university environment.
There are exceptions: In Saxony-Anhalt, only three years of experience outside the university environment is required. In Brandenburg, three years of professional experience, with two of them outside the university, are required for an HAW professorship.
The curriculum vitae of an HAW professor, however, does not have to include the “additional scholarly achievements” that their counterparts at universities must have if they want to hold professorships, junior professorships or assistant professorships. The laws in most states in Germany do, however, allow for exceptions to the rules pertaining to the professional experience required of HAW professors. In “particularly justified exceptional cases,” HAW professorships can also be awarded based on the more academically oriented requirements expected of university professors.
The professional experience required differs from field to field. If you look through the curricula vitae of HAW professors in their respective fields, you will find a broad spectrum of professional backgrounds. Some only came to the realisation that they wanted to pass along their knowledge to students and applied for a professorship after several years of working in the private sector. And it is precisely this extensive professional experience that makes them attractive to HAWs. They are called universities of applied sciences for a reason.
Postdoc positions in the private sector present an opportunity to gain practical experience at a high level. But such positions are only available in an extremely limited number of fields outside of the university and research environment. When it comes to HAW professorships, by contrast, essentially any position that allows applicants to fully deploy their professional expertise is accepted as sufficient qualification.
It is, however, important that professional experience is relevant. That means there must be a clear correlation between the experience applicants have gathered and the subject they wish to teach. After all, the time spent working in the private sector serves as proof of the ability to teach and perform research in an application-oriented manner. Many HAWs expect that candidates’ experience was gathered as part of a fulltime position, but most are also satisfied with a part-time employment relationship.
As experience is gathered in the private sector, it is important that connections to the scientific world are not allowed to decay. Memberships in professional associations should be kept active and applicants should attend conferences periodically. More than anything, however, applicants should also accept regular teaching positions at universities of applied sciences. HAW professors must teach twice as many courses as their university counterparts – which means that teaching experience is a decisive advantage when applying.
Employment at a non-university research institution can also be recognised as professional experience, though such experience is considered differently depending on the specific university of applied sciences. The applicability of the research the institute conducts is also an important consideration. A position at a Fraunhofer institute is generally accepted as fulfilling the requirement for professional experience outside the university environment, but a position at a Max Planck institute may not be, because the latter institutes tend to be primarily engaged in basic research.
Those who have spent their entire careers in research at universities and other institutes of higher learning, however, are less likely to be successful with an application for an HAW professorship. Applicants who have achieved habilitation, an academic level beyond Ph.D. that is required to obtain a university professorship in Germany, should expect to be asked during the application process why they are interested in working at a university of applied sciences.
In individual cases, habilitation can also be recognised as sufficient professional experience. Should applicants wish to go this route, however, they should highlight the practical application of their habilitation in their HAW professorship application. In situations where a specific HAW professorship has gone unfilled for an extended period due to a lack of qualified applicants, faculty search committees are more willing to make exceptions.
Furthermore, some German states now offer the option of tandem professorships or junior professorships. These models come with reduced teaching loads, allowing those holding such professorships to, in addition to teaching, collect the additional professional experience they need or to work on their dissertations.
Where can HAW professors gather professional experience?
The transmission of knowledge is the top priority of universities of applied sciences. Teaching obligations generally comprise 18 periods of class time of a duration of 45 minutes (semester hours) per week during the semester. In addition to class preparation and grading, obligations may also include administrative duties and research. Acquiring external funding is generally less crucial at universities of applied sciences than at universities, but with applied research becoming more of a priority, it is gaining in importance.
HAW professorships are frequently advertised with extremely precise requirements. But it is rare that any applicant meets all of those criteria. As such, it is important for applicants to consider in advance how the experience that they have amassed applies to the job profile advertised, and how the students at the university of applied sciences could benefit from any additional experience, networks and potential cooperation partners they might have at their disposal.
HAW professors receive less attention than their counterparts at universities, and yet they are almost as numerous. According to the Statista database, there were precisely 21,022 professors at universities of applied sciences in Germany in 2021. The legal framework for hiring professors at universities of applied sciences is the same as for universities: The professorships must be publicly advertised and an appointment (hiring) committee is tasked with determining the top candidates, who are then invited for interviews. The three best applicants are placed on the “appointment list,” and once that list is approved by the relevant bodies, the first-place candidate is offered the job.
HAW educators also have the right to use the title “professor.” There is no difference here to university professors. There are, however, differences among the German states regarding the use of the title once professors are no longer actively employed. The title may continue to be used if the professor in question has reached retirement age or becomes unable to perform the job. In most states, however, there is an additional legal clause according to which, under certain conditions, the title may be retained after five or six years of service.
A relevant Ph.D. is necessary for becoming an HAW professor as proof of the ability to perform academic work. Exceptions are extremely rare. The Association of University Instructors, the professional organization for instructors at universities of applied sciences, recommends those who are interested in an HAW professorship make extensive preparations prior to applying. Applicants’ professional focus should not be too specific.
Similar to university research, applicants should hone their academic profiles through the publishing of articles and the presenting of papers. In addition, they should acquire teaching experience through lecturing, visiting professorships and guest professorships. Providing training courses within a company is also recognised as teaching experience. Furthermore, applicants should establish memberships in relevant networks, professional associations and trade organizations, and take advantage of the possibilities they offer.
What prerequisites must HAW professors fulfil?
As a rule, HAW professors are granted the status of tenured civil servants and are paid on par with their counterparts at German universities (pay grades W2 or W3). The German Association of University Professors and Lecturers has compiled an overview of the guidelines of individual German states and universities.
Professors at a university of applied sciences also receive merit pay in addition to their base salary, which can be negotiated during the hiring process, during contract extension negotiations and at the expiration of each five-year period. That is also true of professors who do not have civil servant status and are merely employees of the university where they work. Merit pay is provided for special achievements in teaching, research, art, continuing education, mentoring, self-administration and other areas. Extra pay can be credited to subsequent pension payments.
Extrapay is also provided for certain specific functions, such as for rectors, deans and equal opportunities officers. Pay for such functions is regulated by the German states. Many universities of applied sciences have their own policies for the allocation of merit pay regulating procedural details, the conditions which must be met and the maximum amount of such pay.
Having proven their versatility in the private sector and in research, applicants may not want to limit themselves to an HAW professorship and may consider taking a secondary position. In general, doing so is permitted for those with civil servant status, but such jobs must be reported at the very least; and in many cases, they must be approved. As a rule, however, HAW professors do not need approval for secondary jobs in the private sector, unpaid positions or lecturing appearances – provided they do not interfere with your official duties.
HAW professors will likely not be granted approval for secondary positions that come into conflict with their primary position as an HAW professor. Examples include situations which …
Precise regulations can be found in the federal law regulating secondary employment for civil servants in addition to state laws pertaining to secondary employment for university professors.