Particularly well-qualified students may also choose to complete a doctorate. The disciplines in which it is possible to obtain a doctorate at universities and equivalent institutions of higher education are listed on the internet.
The PhD proves the ability to carry out more in-depth, independent academic or scientific work. It embodies a separate research achievement and is not seen as a third phase of the course of studies in Germany. The goal of the PhD phase is to qualify for an activity in research and science, though also for leadership tasks in the scientific society.
The paths to a doctorate in Germany are varied. The leading model in Germany is the individual, supervised doctorate. Structured doctoral programmes are also becoming increasingly important. Doctoral studies are, as a rule, completed at universities or equivalent institutions of higher education, to some extent in cooperation with non-university research institutes and Fachhochschulen. The acquisition of a doctorate at a Fachhochschule is only possible in exceptional cases. There are currently just less than 111,000 doctoral students enrolled at the institutions of higher education. The total number of doctoral students in Germany is estimated at being just less than 200,000. Over 26,000 obtained their doctorate in 2020.
Organisation of Doctoral Studies
In order to support the up-and-coming academics, Graduiertenkollegs, financed by the German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft – DFG), have been set up at institutions of higher education since 1990 to provide students with the opportunity to prepare their doctorate within the framework of a systematic programme. In 2020 there were 240 Graduiertenkollegs in Germany. Since 1998, there has been a larger number of other structured forms of training for doctoral students. These include international doctoral programmes, International Max-Planck Research Schools and Graduate Schools.
Admittance to doctoral studies is regulated in the Higher Education Acts of the Länder and in the doctoral regulations (Promotionsordnungen) of the higher education institutions with the right to award a Doktorgrad. Master’s degrees obtained at universities and equivalent higher education institutions, or at Fachhochschulen, always provide entitlement to doctoral studies. A pass in the Erste Staatsprüfung (First State Examination) also provides entitlement to doctoral studies.
Particularly well-qualified holders of a Bachelor’s degree may also be admitted directly to doctoral studies without first acquiring a further degree by means of a procedure to determine aptitude. Higher education institutions with the right to award a Doktorgrad will regulate admission as well as the organisation of the procedure to determine aptitude in their doctoral regulations. In addition to their respective qualification, students are required to complete preparatory academic studies in the subjects to be studied at doctorate level and/or a supplementary period of study at the university in question or have to sit an aptitude test (Promotionseignungsprüfung).
Master’s degrees obtained at colleges of art and music entitle graduates to embark on doctoral studies if the Master’s study course provided a sufficient qualification.
Status of Doctoral Students/Candidates
Some doctoral students are employed, while others are funded by grants or finance their own doctoral studies. Grants and funding programmes are provided by the Federation, Länder, research and funding organisations, organisations for the promotion of young talent and political foundations. The rate of funding varies.
A doctorate is conferred on the strength of a doctoral thesis, which must be based on independent research, and oral examinations called Rigorosum. Oral examinations may be replaced by a defence of the student's thesis (Disputation) or a comparable achievement. A doctoral thesis need not be written within any prescribed length of time.
The doctorate entitles a graduate to bear the Doktorgrad (title of Doktor).
The potential organisational formats of the doctorate are set out above.