Nationwide rules introduced in 2005 enabled states to set low basic salaries, but also allowed universities to pay bonuses to introduce an element of competition into the academic world. It removed the link between the age of professors and their pay.
But the court ruled the bottom-ranking Hesse salary of €3,711 was not enough – although it is not the lowest professor pay in Germany.
The judges ruled by 6 to 1 that civil servants were all entitled to earn a wage concomitant to their rank, experience and responsibilities – and agreed with a lawsuit filed by a Philipp University of Marburg professor, that his pay was not fair.
Those professors who have not managed to negotiate bonuses or receive performance incentives can end up with a paycheque similar to those received by secondary school teachers.
But the court said pay should be calculated with comparisons to the salaries paid to people with similar education and responsibilities working in the private sector.
“The salary granted is clearly insufficient,” the judges wrote. They said performance bonuses, while legal if qualifying criteria was clearly defined, were not enough to offset professors' poor pay and called on the government to move quickly to address the low salaries.