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Updated: 2020-12-28 | Duration: 6:00 min.

Universities of Applied Sciences and the Doctorate degree (Dr.) in Germany

Which opportunities are there to pursue a Ph.D. at or after graduating from a UAS in Germany?

When you inform yourself on the German higher education landscape, you will quickly learn that there are three types of universities:

 

  1. The traditional research-oriented Universities (German: Universität),
  2. Universities of applied sciences (German: Fachhochschule/Hochschule für angewandte Wissenschaften), and
  3. Academies for arts, music, and film (German: Kunst-, Musik-, and Filmhochschulen).

 

While the latter focus on artistic training and subjects mostly, it is not always easy to distinguish between universities and universities of applied sciences (UAS). As a general rule, universities are the more traditional research-oriented institutions, whereas UAS focus on combining theoretical elements with practical applications. This university type is newer and gained an equal standing to the more traditional research-oriented universities in 1999 with the Bologna reformations.

 

Almost equal, we should say, because there is still one domain that remains reserved to the traditional research universities: We are talking about the right to award doctorate degrees (German: Promotionsrecht).

  University University of applied sciences
Focus Research-oriented, scientific, theoretical. Application-oriented, scientific, practical.
Degrees offered Bachelor’s, master’s, state examination (German: Staatsexamen), doctorate degrees. Bachelor’s, master’s, no doctorate degrees*.
Official degrees issued Yes.
Subject range

All subjects (incl. medicine, law, pharmacy, teaching).

Applicable subjects
(incl. engineering, business, social sciences).
Teaching staff requirements Scientific qualification (doctorate degree & habilitation). Scientific qualification (doctorate degree) & work experience.

 

*Exceptions exist in Hessia, Saxony-Anhalt & North Rhine-Westphalia.

Universities of applied sciences generally do not have the right to award doctorate degrees and therefore, largely do not offer the opportunity to pursue a Ph.D. This right has been traditionally reserved for research universities. This being said, there is an ever-increasing number of UAS graduates who do continue their education and pursue a Ph.D.

 

The following article gives you an overview of the options you have to pursue a doctorate degree in Germany, either after graduating with a master’s degree from a UAS or while pursuing your doctoral research in the context of a UAS.

I graduated from a university of applied sciences. Can I even pursue a Ph.D.?

woman wearing glasses thinking about something

First things first: Yes, if you graduate from a UAS in Germany with a master’s degree you qualify for doctoral studies. The master’s degree is a European degree format that indicates the graduate’s qualification to enter the job market or to obtain a Ph.D.

 

Therefore, a master’s degree from a UAS is equivalent to a master’s degree from a university. With a master’s degree from a UAS, you can continue your academic career at any university in Germany or abroad that does have the right to award doctorate degrees.

 

This brings us to your first option to pursue a Ph.D. after graduating from a UAS:

Option 1. Transfer to a university

woman handling some papers to another person

If you started your studies at a UAS, you do have the opportunity to continue your education with a doctoral degree. Therefore, after finishing your master’s degree, you have the opportunity to continue your academic career and transfer to a traditional research university and engage in doctoral studies there. In Germany, finishing a master’s degree (of any higher education institution) with good grades is one of the main requirements to be eligible for doctoral studies.

 

As a general rule, there are two ways of pursuing a doctorate degree in Germany. Firstly, there are structured Ph.D. programs, which are a somewhat new development in Germany that mirrors the structured doctoral programs found in anglo-American countries. In these programs, a doctoral candidate works in close contact with other doctoral students and various supervisors under the framework of a graduate school that is part of a university.

 

Secondly, under the scheme of individual doctorates, doctoral candidates work more independently on their dissertation topic under the supervision of one professor. This format remains more common in Germany, and to take part in it, students need to approach a professor at a German university, win them as their supervisors and then enroll at the respective university.

 

Often, Ph.D. candidates fund their studies by working at a university. There are also various scholarship opportunities provided for Ph.D. students. Some of the graduate schools that host the structured Ph.D. programs even offer to fund successful applicants. The portal Research in Germany is a great start to planning your doctorate in Germany. Here, you will also find opportunities at other independent research institutions.

 

This being said, if you already plan on pursuing a Ph.D. after your master’s our recommendation is to primarily look for master’s degrees at universities. Here, students get more theoretical, research-oriented training which may be a good preparation for doctoral studies.

Option 2. Cooperative doctoral studies

gears turning together

Students who are interested in pursuing a doctorate degree in application-oriented research can do so by pursuing cooperative doctoral studies. Under this model, students join a UAS and conduct their research at a UAS under the supervision of UAS staff. On top of that, they have an additional supervisor at a research university which is able to award the doctoral degree. This model leaves you with the best of both worlds: You can obtain a doctorate degree, which is typically offered by universities only, while still conducting studies in the application-oriented sphere of a UAS.

 

This option is offered at UAS all throughout Germany. Cooperative doctoral studies often have supportive institutional frameworks at UAS in Germany, too. Take for example the HAW Hamburg. Although this UAS does not have the right to award doctorate degrees, it installed a Graduate Center for doctoral students who conduct their research at the HAW Hamburg in cooperation with a university. Here, doctoral students can get together, exchange ideas, and find support.

 

This opportunity is especially great for students who are interested in application-oriented research that is usually conducted at UAS in Germany. It also gives you the opportunity to work with the professors you got to know throughout your master’s studies at a UAS.

Option 3. Find exceptions to the rule: Study at a UAS that does award doctorate degrees

On top of that, in some German states (German: Bundesland) some reforms have been made so that now, there is a handful of UAS in Germany that do (under certain conditions) have the right to award doctorate degrees (in certain subjects). Check out the state of the developments and learn about the three exceptions.

Exception 1. UAS in the state of Hessia

state of hesse (hessia) in germany

In 2016, the state of Hessia gave the right to award doctorate degrees to certain universities of applied sciences. If a Hessian UAS can prove that they have strong research performance in a certain subject, they may be granted the right to form a graduate center for doctoral studies in this subject area and award doctoral degrees this way. We translated a small portion of the Hessian legal regulations (p. 2) defining which conditions need to be fulfilled for a UAS to be allowed to award doctorate degrees in a certain subject:

 

“Adequate research strength in a discipline includes, on the one hand, proven research activities of those persons who are considered as supervisors (personal research strength). On the other hand, a certain minimum number of qualified scientists in this field is necessary (‘critical mass’) to provide doctoral candidates with a suitable scientific environment.”

 

There are currently three doctoral centers that are run in cooperation by various Hessian UAS:

 

  • Doctoral Center Applied Computer Science (German: Promotionszentrum Angewandte Informatik).
    • Cooperation of Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences, Fulda University of Applied Sciences, RheinMain University of Applied Sciences.
  • Doctoral Center Social Work (German: Promotionszentrum Soziale Arbeit).
    • Cooperation of Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, Darmstadt University of Applied Sciences, Fulda University of Applied Sciences, RheinMain University of Applied Sciences.
  • Doctoral Center Mobility and Logistics (newly authorized in September 2020; German: Promotionszentrum Mobilität und Logistik).
    • Cooperation of Frankfurt University of Applied Sciences, Fulda University of Applied Sciences, RheinMain University of Applied Sciences.

 

Furthermore, two universities run their own doctoral centers:

 

Exception 2. UAS in the state of Saxony-Anhalt

state of saxony-anhalt in germany

Since 2020, Saxony-Anhalt grants its UAS the possibility to award doctoral degrees to its students, as well. The content of this reformation is quite similar to the regulations in Hessia: UAS have the opportunity to found doctoral colleges for research areas that their respective university performs really well in. Since the regulation is brand new, these doctoral colleges have not yet been established. If you want to keep yourself up-to-date, you may check the websites of the four UAS in Saxony-Anhalt:

 

Exception 3. UAS in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia

state of north rhine-westphalia in germany

The state of North-Rhine Westphalia decided on a slightly different approach to award a conditional right to award doctorate degrees to UAS. Here, the ministry of education as well as the 21 UAS are in the process of establishing the so-called Doctoral college for applied research at universities of applied sciences in North Rhine-Westphalia (German: Promotionskolleg für angewandte Forschung der Fachhochschulen in Nordrhein-Westfalen). This doctoral college will, upon successful examination, have the right to independently award doctorate degrees to its students (in certain subject areas).

 

As of now, the predecessor to this planned Doctoral college, the Graduate institute NRW, is still in place. This institution brings together the UAS in North-Rhine Westphalia and offers UAS students to pursue doctoral studies - but in a corporate fashion where the degree is awarded by a university and not by a UAS. In the near future, this institute is to be transformed into the aforementioned independent doctoral college.

Getting guidance and information on your academic career

guy helping a girl with something

Whether or not one of the three options mentioned above is for you, pursuing a doctorate degree, is - like any other career step - challenging at times and the decision to take this step or not might not always be so easy. At the end of this article, we want to provide you with some resources that you can consult when you are in the process of making a decision on if and how you should pursue doctoral studies in the first place.

 

  • Use your university resources: Ask a professor you know about an academic career, contact the career service center or the international office.
  • Contact graduate centers and universities you are interested in: They will be able to give you more information or to connect you with someone who is currently pursuing their Ph.D. there.
  • Research-in-Germany: Informational portal with relevant information on pursuing a doctorate degree.
  • Fem4scholar: Mentoring program for female*, trans* and non-binary* scholars.

 

And, as always, you can contact us with any questions regarding the German higher education system!

Summary Box

In Germany, universities of applied sciences (UAS) do not have the right to award doctorate degrees. However, there are three options to still start doctorate studies in the context of UAS:

  • Graduates with a master’s degree from a UAS can transfer to a university.
  • Graduates with a master’s degree can start cooperative doctoral studies, where they have a supervisor from a UAS and from a university.
  • Graduates with a master’s degree can study at a UAS in Hessia, Saxony-Anhalt, or North Rhine-Westphalia that obtained (or: will obtain) the right to award doctorate degrees.