Germany’s higher education institutions enjoy an excellent reputation. Teaching and research provide key impulses for innovation and progress. German universities combine research and studies and have been the scene for ground-breaking discoveries such as the printing press, computer and mp3 that have become an inseparable part of our modern lives.
The German doctorate enjoys an outstanding reputation in all disciplines. The number of foreign students registering themselves for a PhD has more than doubled in the last 12 years.
There are very good reasons for this. These include among others International Degree Programmes (IDP) taught in English medium, excellent quality of education, no tuition fees, promising career opportunities and above all the vibrant social and cultural milieu.
There are various kinds of institutions of higher education in Germany. A majority of these belong to either of the following categories:
Universities (including Universities of Technology, abbr. TU) are research-oriented and offer a wide variety of subjects. These can award doctorate degrees.
Universities of Applied Sciences (Fachhochschulen, abbr. FH), on the other hand, are practice-oriented and offer courses mainly in engineering, business administration, social sciences and design. These have strong links to the industry and offer possibilities like joint supervision of the professor and a company for a master thesis, but do not award doctorate degrees. As a master degree holder from a Fachhochschule, one is in principle eligible to apply for a doctoral position at a University.
If you have set your mind on a PhD in Germany, you can consider two approaches: the traditional approach and the structured doctoral programmes.
Individual doctoral studies involve identifying a supervisor (Doktorvater / Doktormutter) at a German University who is willing to guide your research. This system offers a lot of freedom, and calls for a great deal of personal initiative right from identifying a topic in your research field. This kind of doctorate takes about 3-5 years to complete.
Structured doctoral programmes are internationally oriented, conducted largely in English and are comparable to PhD programmes offered in English-speaking countries. Here supervision is carried out by several university teachers. These programmes lead to a PhD in about three years.
Germany offers a multidimensional ranking , considering various criteria that are important from a student’s perspective. For example, student and staff judgments on quality of teaching, atmosphere at the university, library and other equipment, student numbers, average study duration, number of graduations, third party funding etc. You thus get a detailed picture of the strengths and weaknesses of each university on university-ranking.de. Here you can find your programme by selecting a subject, a university or even a city in Germany!
In Germany, every university is autonomous. This means that every university / study programme has its own set of criteria for admitting students. So please check the university website, and specifically the programme you are interested in to find out the exact admission requirements.
Some generalisation is however possible and one can say that as a Master degree holder from Bangladesh, Bhutan, India, Nepal or Sri Lanka your degree is treated at par with a German Master degree. In some cases, further assessment of eligibility will be required. It is advised that you clarify the matter of eligibility with the university or the research organisation of your choice before you send in your application.
Some universities may ask for the proof of your English language proficiency in form of TOEFL or IELTS scores, while most universities will ask for very good German language skills in case you have to write your thesis in German. In such cases, your knowledge of German needs to be certified through examinations like the TestDaF or DSH.
Decide which field of research you want to pursue and shortlist potential universities and professors if you want to follow the traditional approach or the appropriate structured doctoral programme.
A good place to start for an excellent overview of the German research scenario is www.research-in-germany.org The following databases will bring you a step closer to your research destination:
Academicians from your country who have collaborations with German academicians or your seniors who might be carrying out research in Germany can be a great source of information too!
I. Traditional Approach
II. Structured doctoral programme
As you have already seen, Germany offers numerous PhD programmes with English as the sole or primary medium of instruction and the language for your thesis.
But as a student in Germany, your life will not be limited to the university campus. You will surely want to interact with people, travel through the country-side and make the best of your time there. This is where knowledge of German will present a great advantage!
Universities offer beginner and well as advanced level courses where you can learn German. You can also start learning the language while you are still in your home country at a Goethe-Institut (Max Mueller Bhavan) / Goethe-Zentrum.
If you are participating in a structured doctoral programme and doing your doctorate at a graduate school, research centre or research training group, the issue of funding is usually resolved with you either working as a research assistant or receiving a scholarship of about Euro 1,000 per month.
If you are pursuing your doctorate on the basis of the traditional approach, you can apply for a job as a research assistant, if there is vacancy.
Working as a research/doctoral assistant involves collaboration in research/teaching and doing administrative work in addition to completing the dissertation. Non-university research institutions like Fraunhofer Institutes and also some companies offer doctoral candidates employment and / or fund their doctoral dissertations.
The DAAD offers the most extensive scholarship programme. Also a number of foundations support international candidates approved for the doctoral process. A database of scholarships offered by various German organizations can be found at www.funding-guide.de
|Step 4||Once selected, you will have to attend a mandatory German language course, which is a necessary and important part of your scholarship.|
|Step 5||After the successful completion of your language course in Germany, your PhD will begin in October.|
As an international student, you are permitted to work for 120 full days or 240 half days in a year. This will help you in getting a bit of extra pocket-money!
After completing your degree in Germany, you can stay on in the country for up to 1.5 years to look for a job that is in keeping with your education. Once you find a job, the residence permit issued to you for the purpose of studying, can be converted into a residence permit for taking gainful employment.
Germany has always had a very strong industry-academia linkage. A lot of scientific research is funded by the industry as well. During your studies you can get the opportunity to do internships with German companies, which can open new vistas for your professional career.
In Germany, a doctorate is a prerequisite for a career in research or higher education. Your options include:
Research Positions in Industry
The portal www.academics.com has Germany's biggest online job market for researchers.
There are also scholarships for Postdocs offered by the Alexander-von-Humboldt Foundation and other organizations.
If you want to know more about universities and student life or read what other international students have to say about Germany, check out the DAAD Young Ambassadors page.