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Third Cycle (PhD) Programmes


7.Higher Education

7.5Third Cycle (PhD) Programmes

Last update: 3 January 2024

Organisation of doctoral studies

Two types of PhD programmes exist: The normal research PhD where the student is employed by a university while completing the PhD and the industrial PhD where the student is employed in a private company and at the same time enrolled in a university.

The prescribed period of studying for a PhD programme is 180 ECTS credits corresponding to three years of full-time studies. Typically, the PhD programme is organised as a full-time education, but it can also be organised as a part-time education under rules determined by the institution.

All Danish universities offer PhD programmes within their research areas, including humanities, natural science, social science, health science, technical science, arts, and theology.

PhD courses for all Danish universities are available at: PhD Courses in Denmark.

The individual university organises the PhD programme within the legal framework provided by the PhD Act. The PhD programmes take place at PhD schools established by the universities. The universities establish the PhD schools either independently or in cooperation with other institutions. The PhD schools constitute the organisational framework for the education, including administration, courses, guidance etc.

The PhD programme encompasses the following elements:

  • Conducting an independent PhD project under supervision;
  • Completing PhD courses corresponding to approximately six months;
  • Participating in active research environments, including long-term stays at other research institutions;
  • Gaining experience of teaching or other forms of knowledge dissemination;
  • Completing a PhD thesis based on the PhD project.

The PhD student is required to defend his or her PhD thesis publicly at the university.

PhD models

Different ways to organise the PhD programme exist:

  • The ordinary model (the 5+3 scheme);
  • The flexible models (the 4+4 or 3+5 scheme);
  • Thesis without research education.

The ordinary model (the 5+3 scheme) refers to the model in which a five-year Bachelor and Master’s course is followed by a three-year PhD programme.

The flexible models enable students to begin a PhD programme before they complete their Master’s programme. In the 4+4 scheme, the student starts the PhD programme 12 months after the beginning of his or her Master’s studies. In the 3+5 scheme, the student starts on an integrated Master’s and PhD process straight after completing his or her Bachelor’s degree.

Finally, the universities can also assess a thesis even if the PhD student has not completed his or her research education, provided the student has acquired equivalent qualifications otherwise.

Admission requirements

Normally, a completed Master’s programme is required for admission to a PhD programme. It is also possible for the universities to enrol students before they have completed their Master’s programme. In that case, the institution is to ensure the student the opportunity to complete a Master’s programme during the PhD programme.

The individual institution decides whom they admit as PhD students. The rules of the institution stipulate which criteria the institution uses as basis for admission to the PhD schools.

Typically, the application for a PhD position is based on the universities’ information about vacant PhD positions posted on their websites. The universities’ PhD websites provide information on the procedures, requirements and deadlines for applications. Among other things, the application is to include a detailed plan about the contents etc. of the PhD thesis.

Status of doctoral students/candidates

Generally, PhD students are employed in a position as a PhD scholar, meaning that they are employed in a position with pay. The employment contracts are for three years in accordance with a special protocol to the Danish Confederation of Professional Associations’ agreement. PhD scholars are covered by the agreement on the terms set out in the protocol.

For students enrolled before they have completed a Master’s programme, support after special provisions in the Act on State Educational Grant is given.

The company where the student is employed pays the student completing an industrial PhD.

Supervision arrangements

According to the PhD Act, the PhD student is entitled and obliged to receive supervision. The institution determines rules regarding supervision of the PhD student.

The institution appoints a principal supervisor to each PhD student who is responsible for the overall PhD programme. The principal supervisor must be an acknowledged researcher within the relevant subject field, be employed by the institution and be affiliated with the PhD School.

The institution approves the student’s PhD plan no later than three months after the beginning of the PhD programme, which among other things includes an agreement on the form of supervision.

No later than a week after the submission of the thesis, the principal supervisor submits a statement about the PhD programme as a whole, including the completion of the individual elements of the PhD plan.

For students completing an industrial PhD, the institution appoints both a principal supervisor and a supervisor affiliated with the company where the student is employed. Both supervisors must be qualified within the relevant subject field.


At top level, there are no concrete measures to facilitate access to the labour market after the PhD degree. However, at the local level many universities support their PhD graduates by means of career guidance and courses.


Based on statements by the principal supervisor, the institution regularly assesses whether the PhD student proceed according to the PhD plan and adjusts the PhD plan in the appropriate extent. The PhD student must be given the opportunity to submit his or her comments on the principal supervisor's opinion within a deadline of at least two weeks. In the assessment, the institution must take account of periods of documented illness, maternity/paternity leave and other approved leave. The individual institution determines the rules regarding the frequency of these assessments.

If the institution assesses that the PhD student does not proceed according to the PhD plan regardless of adjustments, the institution gives the student three months to alter this. The three months do not give rise to an extension of the PhD programme. After the three months, the institution as soon as possible undertakes a new assessment. If the assessment is negative, the enrolment ends.

An assessment committee comprised of three members assesses the PhD thesis and the public defence. The members of the assessment committee must be recognised researchers within the relevant subject field. Two of the members must be external researchers, of whom at least one member must be from outside of Denmark, unless this is not practicable considering the subject in question.

No later than two months after the submission of the thesis, the assessment committee submits a stance on whether the thesis is qualified as basis for granting the PhD degree. If the assessment committee considers the thesis as qualified, the defence can take place.

The institution determines the rules regarding the public defence of the thesis. At the defence, the student is to account for his or her work and defend the thesis before the members of the assessment committee.


After the defence, the assessment committee decides whether the PhD degree is to be granted and informs the institution and the PhD student. In case of disagreement, the decision rests upon the majority.

The institution issues a certificate of the award of the PhD degree in Danish and English. The certificate is to contain information on the subject field and topic of the PhD thesis as well as information on the completed PhD programme.

Organisational variation

No information available.



Ministry of Higher Education and Science, 2019: PhD programme. [Accessed 23 August 2022]

Ministry of Higher Education and Science, 2022: PhD models (Ph.d.-modeller). [Accessed 23 August 2022]

The Education Guide (UdannelsesGuiden), 2022: Research education (PhD) (Forskeruddannelse (ph.d.)) [Accessed 23 August 2022]

University of Copenhagen, 2022: The PhD process at UCPH. [Accessed 23 August 2022]

Legislation and Official Policy documents

Legal Information (Retsinformation), 2013: Act on the PhD programme at the universities and certain artistic education institutions (the PhD Act) (Bekendtgørelse om ph.d.-uddannelsen ved universiteterne og visse kunstneriske uddannelsesinstitutioner (ph.d.-bekendtgørelsen)), LBK no. 1039 of 27/08/2013. [Accessed 23 August 2022]

Legal Information (Retsinformation), 2019: Act on the Universities (the university Act) (Bekendtgørelse af lov om universiteterne (universitetsloven)), LBK no. 778 of 07/08/2019. [Accessed 23 August 2022]

Legal Information (Retsinformation), 2021: Circular on Collective Agreement for Academics in the State (Cirkulære om overenskomst for akademikere i staten), CIR1H no. 10084 of 20/12/2021 [Accessed 23 August 2022]