Successful research at Max Planck – also with a baby

Pilot project bears childcare costs for infants up to the age of one

The Max Planck Foundation has provided half a million euros to relieve the burden of childcare costs for parents working in science. Anyone with children aged between three and twelve months has been able to apply for an allowance to help cover their monthly childcare costs since the beginning of July. The support is primarily aimed at doctoral students and postdocs at the Max Planck Institutes.

It looks like a baby version of a smiley, just on a pastel-green background – a cheerful, dummy-sucking face adorns the cover of a new flyer explaining how researchers can obtain a childcare allowance for infants aged between three and twelve months. This is not as straightforward as it seems because the MPG is not permitted to bear childcare costs due to public funding law and can only fund the provision of infrastructure. This is where the Max Planck Foundation is now stepping in to provide initial support to enable a rapid return to research work. The infant childcare project’s target group is PhD students with funding contracts and postdocs with contracts based on the Collective Wage Agreement for the Civil Service. Childcare costs present a major challenge for these income groups. A maximum of half the costs – but up to a limit of € 400 a month – is met for up to ten months.

Starting a family clashes with careers

The third federal government report on junior scientists published in February 2017 reveals that young researchers start a family less frequently than career entrants of the same age. They indicate that a lack of childcare provision represents an obstacle in addition to a heavy workload and mobility requirements overlapping with a time when starting a family and the qualification phase already coincide. The international nature of the Max Planck Society increases the need for affordable and flexible childcare close to Institutes. Around 48% of doctoral students and around 65% of postdocs with contracts hold a foreign passport and therefore have no family support network nearby. Support for people with young families during the qualification phase is therefore a key factor in ensuring the best researchers amongst around 4,500 junior scientists (as at 31 December 2016) remain in basic research.

The MPG helps reconcile work and family life

Challenging and supporting talented researchers is a strategic objective in all of the Max Planck Society’s activities in order to enhance the professional profiling of its staff. The Max Planck Society’s President Martin Stratmann firmly believes: “The best laboratories alone are not sufficient for top-class basic research. Having the best talent – both men and women – is much more important. Equal opportunities is therefore a key element in the competitiveness of a research organization with a global profile based on innovation and performance.” The MPG therefore offers an additional set of measures especially for parents – on top of the legal entitlement to a nursery place from the age of one. They include reserved places at nurseries or with childminders, specially equipped child-parent offices and the use of a family service to arrange various childcare services.

The employees themselves bear the actual childcare costs apart from a few exceptions. The MPG is dependent on private support to provide direct allowances for quickly accessible and flexible childcare. The foundation of Christiane Nüsslein-Volhard – the MPG Nobel Prize winner – which was established in 2004, supports, for example, up to 15 outstanding female researchers with children who work in the natural sciences or experimental research each year. The monthly grant is intended as an allowance for domestic help and additional childcare. Funding from the Max Planck Foundation is now closing the gap that currently exists in childcare support for young infants. With its help, the MPG can now provide a flexible allowance for childcare after statutory maternity – i.e. from the age of three to twelve months – and set a new standard in terms of reconciliation of work and family life at German research organizations.

The funding provision is subject to the requirement that both parents are in work or one is a single parent. If both parents work at the MPG, only one can obtain the allowance. It does not matter if the costs are incurred on nurseries or childminders. Applications are made to the MPI administrations. The data is gathered centrally to forecast the requirements for future years. If the initiative proves successful, it will provide the MPG with a strong argument in its efforts to bring about urgently needed action and the amendments required to the applicable legislation. Only a paradigm shift of this kind will enable the Max Planck Society to pay childcare allowances from public funding.


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