Tobias Wiß is an Assistant Professor (tenure track) in Political Science at the Johannes Kepler University Linz (JKU). In this interview, Tobias tells about the relation between pensions, family policy, occupational welfare and industrial relations, what he likes the most about his work as principal investigator in the DEEPEN-project and his passions about drums and pensions: “This topic follows me since my studies”.
What do you like the most about your job as principal investigator (PI) in the DEEPEN-project?
I like that I am working with an international group of excellent people on a topic that deserves – in my eyes – much more attention: the democratic legitimacy of funded welfare. Knowledge about what types of governance structures of funded pensions exist and how individuals evaluate them will help to improve individual satisfaction with pension outcomes and welfare states, and the quality of democracy. The good thing as a PI is that I can really conduct the type of research I like. It is like being self-employed with an own small team.
You have worked and/or studied in at least three countries. How did you experience the differences between studying and working in Austria, England and Germany?
My impression is that teaching in England is more standardised while the teaching style in Germany and Austria largely depends on the course instructor. Regarding working, the academic job market is extremely segmented in Austria and Germany with almost only fixed-term contracts for PhDs and Postdocs and permanent positions only for professors. This is really crazy and pushes many excellent people out of academia. The British system often offers permanent positions directly after PhD graduation and the job market is more open. I hope that Germany and Austria will become more attractive for international scholars soon. One of the few differences between Austria and Germany is in terms of more third party funding in Germany due to a higher number of foundations offering such opportunities. Oh, and in Austria informal arrangements are very common, which comes with pros and cons. In Austria you say “Jedes Schrifterl ist ein Gifterl” (everything you write will come back to bite).
You have focused on pensions, family policy, occupational welfare and industrial relations. The subjects seem, on first sight, diverse. What is the relations between this topics?
Well, I started working on the impact of the European Union on pension reforms in my diploma thesis and moved further to occupational pensions during my time as a PhD student in Mannheim. When you study occupational pensions in Germany, you have to include the social partners, because occupational pensions are often based on collective agreements. After my PhD, I wanted to extend my knowledge and expertise and decided to analyse family policy. I thought it was good to contrast the traditional policy field ‘pensions’ that provides benefits when you are old with a policy field that expanded more recently, providing services and benefits to younger persons. Following occupational pensions, occupational family policy also involves social partners. This was the starting point for my interest in family policy. So, as you see, these topics are actually more connected than one would think at first.
Can you explain why knowledge of those subjects is important for the DEEPEN-project?
Without my knowledge on pensions and funded occupational welfare I could not be part of the DEEPEN project team. My previous studies on the public-private mix in pensions increased my awareness for the importance of funded occupational pensions. Analysing details of the governance of funded pension schemes revealed that important decisions, for example about investments, lie in the hands of private actors, with limited accountability towards fund members. The participation of trade unions or member representatives might constitute more democratic funded pension schemes. My knowledge about industrial relations is very helpful to investigate this aspect. However, collective or representative participation is only one part of democratic input legitimacy, next to individual inclusion in decision-making processes. It is almost like the difference between direct and representative democracy in political systems.
And then the last question: I saw on Twitter that you like to play the drums. I read that characteristics of a drummer are: driven, passionate, present, fierce, direct. What apply the most to you?
Very impressive that you found this out. Well, I am definitely passionate about pensions. This topic follows me since my studies. I am fierce when I play double bass (my main motivation to play drums). And sometimes I might be (too) direct in my response letters to reviewers :).