Compared to other countries, Germany has an above average high number of doctoral students: according to the 2013 National Report on Junior Scholars (BuWin), around 25.600 doctoral degrees were awarded in 2010, which corresponds to around one fifth of all graduates. The average age of doctoral graduates was 33 years, with 44 per cent of dissertations written by women.
Those who complete a doctorate have better chances of finding a job. According to the study, almost all doctoral graduates aged 35 to 45 in all subject groups were in employment. The doctoral thesis also proved helpful in terms of the salary. Ten years after completing their first degree, the gross annual salary of doctoral graduates is around 20 per cent higher than of those without a doctorate who graduated the same year.
However, clear differences were also discernible between academia and the private sector. In industry, employees with a doctorate earn significantly more than their peers working at universities, whereby the number of fixed-term positions is also considerably higher at universities.
The national report established that while a doctorate opens up many career paths in academic and non-academic fields alike with its "dual qualification function", the prospects are gloomy at universities and non-university research institutions, reveals Mathias Winde from the Stifterverband. "The competition gets even tougher after completing a doctorate." Andreas Keller from the German Education Union (GEW) also confirms this: "The positions for young academics are few and far between."
A number of different paths to a doctorate
Despite being aware of the disadvantages, Hristina Markova still strives to win recognition as an academic. The sociologist completed her doctorate at the University of Heidelberg in February 2013. She is currently a post-doc student at the University of Jena. Markova has positive memories of her doctorate. "I received excellent support, was in regular contact with my supervisor, and obtained very comprehensive feedback at the end," the 30-year-old reflects.
Her doctorate first became a possibility thanks to a fellowship from the Friedrich Ebert Foundation within the scope of their graduate funding programme. She did not have a position at the institute, however given that she had previously worked there as a research assistant, she was allowed to retain this position. She also participated in the institute colloquium where all doctoral students would meet and exchange once a week. This integration proved a great help: "I would never have made it on my own," says Markova.
In Germany, there are a number of different paths to a doctorate. The most common is a doctorate under the guidance of a professor (internal doctorate). Some write their dissertation alongside their job; others receive funding through fellowships. However, the classic financing route is a position as a research assistant. These are often part-time, fixed-term positions. Doctoral candidates are paid according to the collective agreement for public servants (mostly pay grade 13). Depending on the federal state, this corresponds to a gross annual salary of between 40.000 Euros and 41.500 Euros in the first year of employment - for a full-time position.
In addition to their doctorate, they must perform other duties, i.e. hold seminars and supervise work groups. "Doctoral candidates are often overwhelmed with part-time positions and do not have enough time for their own work," criticises Anke Burkhardt from the Institute for Academic Consulting. "This often delays graduation, or is even a reason for abandoning a doctorate." Andreas Keller sees a major problem in the short, fixed-term contracts: "Doctoral candidates are permanently kept on tenterhooks about whether it will be extended."