PhD Funding in Germany – A Guide for 2021 | FindAPhD.com
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PhD Funding in Germany

With no doctoral fees at all at public universities and a range of funding options for international students, Germany isn't just one of the most prestigious European destinations for PhD research: it's also among the most affordable.

German PhD funding takes various forms, reflecting the range of different ways you can complete a PhD in Germany. Doctoral students are often supported by traditional academic scholarships and fellowships, but German universities and research institutes also offer salaried assistantships for their PhD researchers.

This page helpfully introduces a wide range of options available to you and explains how to go about applying for PhD funding in Germany.

German PhD funding – what you need to know first

All countries provide financial support PhD students in their own ways, but Germany takes doctoral research particularly seriously. After all, this is the country that invented the modern PhD and in which the possession of a doctorate is a mark of particular prestige for politicians and other senior figures.

Here are a few things to be aware before you start looking for doctoral funding in Germany:

  • As well as universities, PhD training in Germany also takes place at independent research institutes. These are usually part of larger societies (gesellschaft) with their own funding available.
  • Most German funding is for living costs, as university and research institutes don't normally charge fees for doctoral research.
  • Financial support is usually equally available to all qualified students. Some awards are also exclusively for international students.
  • Some doctoral students to receive their funding as a salary for paid assistantship work. You may have to pay tax on this income but, in return, you will benefit from social security and health insurance.
  • On the other hand, German PhD scholarships and fellowships are usually tax-free, but you may need to pay for health insurance separately.
  • Many funders accept direct applications to support student's project proposals. However, some German PhDs are advertised as funded projects.

If you haven't already, it may be a good idea to take a look at our overall guide to PhD study in Germany.

The cost of a PhD in Germany

Before you can set about finding PhD funding, you'll need to know how expensive it is to complete a doctorate in Germany – and how much funding you'll need.

The good news is that doing a PhD in Germany costs less than you probably think.

PhD fees

Public universities in Germany don't charge any tuition fees for PhD study. This applies to everyone, including international students.

Most German research institutes provide PhDs in partnership with universities (who award the degree itself) and don't charge additional fees to host students.

Some private universities do charge PhD fees, but these may be covered by fellowship funding or other institutional support for suitably qualified students.

Living costs

The German Government expects international students to have at least €10,000 per year available to support themselves during a PhD (you'll need to demonstrate you have this much in funding, sponsorship or savings in order to get a German PhD visa).

In practice, you should aim to have slightly more than this. €800-1,000 is a good benchmark.

You can read more about accommodation and living costs in our guide to living in Germany during a PhD.

Other expenses

Though most universities don't charge PhD fees, you will need to pay a small semester fee of between €80-400 to cover services provided by your student union. This can actually entitle you to discounts on food, travel and leisure facilities.

International students will also need to pay around €200 for a visa and residence permit to study a PhD abroad in Germany.

All students in Germany also need some form of health insurance. If your PhD is a paid position then you will normally receive the necessary cover in return for social security payments. Otherwise, you will need to purchase insurance. Students under 30 can receive discounted policies for around €110 a month.

German government PhD funding

Germany invests more money in research and development (in total) than any other country in Europe. Much of this is spent on support for doctoral students, with multiple sources of government funding for PhD research.

Here are the three most important:

Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG)

The DFG is Germany's central funding body for research. When it comes to PhD funding, the DFG works similarly to UKRI in the UK: it funds ongoing doctoral training within dedicated centres at universities. These list funded opportunities for students to apply to.

There are currently two main DFG PhD funding schemes:

  • Collaborative Research Centres (Sonderforschungsbereiche) host multi-disciplinary research projects across the Sciences, Social Sciences and Humanities. Funding is usually in the form of a work contract, or a PhD fellowship. View a list of current opportunities.
  • Research Training Groups (Graduiernkollegs) host more focused projects in specific subject areas, usually within a structured PhD programme that offers additional training and development. Funding is usually in the form of a work contract, or a PhD fellowship of around €1,365 per month (with some money available for additional expenses). View a list of current opportunities.

PhD funding from the Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft is usually open to all suitably qualified PhD students, regardless of nationality. As well as a strong proposal, you will need an appropriate Masters degree.

German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)

The Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst exists to promote international collaboration between Germany and other countries, including opportunites for international students.

Current DAAD PhD funding schemes include:

  • Research grants for doctoral programmes in Germany are for international students to complete a PhD at a German institution. Scholarships last for up to four years and provide €850-1,000 per month, plus additional support for travel, health insurance and other expenses.
  • Research grants for bi-nationally supervised doctoral degrees are for students to pursue a PhD in their home country with involvement from German universities and academics, including the opportunity to spend up to two years researching in Germany. Funding of up to €1,200 per month (plus additional support with expenses) is available during your German research placements.
  • Short-term grants are for students to complete research placements of less than a year in Germany, with a grant of €850-1,200 per month during this period.

You should apply directly to the DAAD for funding. Eligibility is not restricted by nationality, but you will need to hold a relevant Masters degree and have started your PhD in the last three years.

International eligibility for German PhD funding

PhD funding in Germany isn't usually restricted by nationality. Some scholarships, such as those from the DAAD, are specifically for international students, but other opportunities are simply open to all suitably qualified applicants.

StipendiumPlus

StipendiumPlus is a network of organisations that exist to support students in Germany. They distribute funding provided by the German Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMFBF) and typically support around 4,000 PhD students each year.

There are 13 different funding bodies in the StipendiumPlus network. Most seek to support students from specific socio-cultural and / or political backgrounds:

You should make your funding application to individual foundations. There's more information on each organisation's website, as well as helpful profiles of current and previous scholarship holders.

Funding from research institutes and associations

A large proportion of doctoral research in Germany actually takes place outside universities at specialist research institutes. Studying at one of these means that the bulk of your training will take place in the institute with access to highly specialised facilities and expertise. Your academic degree is normally awarded by a partner university

Individual institutes usually form part of larger networks or associations (gesellschaft) which have their own PhD funding available. Many of these are prominent research bodies, equal in prestige to Europe's top universities.

Fraunhofer Gesellschaft

The Fraunhofer Society is a network of more than 70 institutes focussing on applied research in Science, Engineering and Technology. They support students on individual doctoral projects, usually on a three year work contract.

Find out more, or search for an advertised Fraunhofer PhD Project to apply to.

Helmholtz Association

The Helmholtz Association is Germany's largest scientific association, with over 40,000 staff and 8,000 doctoral students across its 18 research centres. Most of these centres host Helmholtz Graduate Schools which support PhD projects funded through 3-4 year work contracts.

Find out more, or search for an advertised Helmholtz PhD Project to apply to.

Leibniz Association

The Leibniz Association is a network of over 90 non-university research centres. Many of them host Leibniz Graduate Schools or Leibniz ScienceCampi offering structured doctoral training programmes. Some Leibniz Institutes also host individual doctoral projects. Funding is in the form of a work contract, or a fellowship (usually valued at €1,200-1,400.

Find out more, or search for an advertised Leibniz PhD Project to apply to.

Max Planck Society

The Max Planck Society is one of Germany's most renowned networks of independent research institutes, with a big focus on PhD training. There are over 80 individual Max Planck Institutes, most of which provide funding for individual doctoral projects in Biological and Natural Sciences, as well as the Humanities. In addition, there are several International Max Planck Research Schools (IMPRS) set up in partnership with universities to operate structured PhD programmes in partnership with universities outside Germany. Max Planck funding usually provides a work contract.

Find out more, or search for an advertised Max Planck PhD Research Programme to apply to.

Union of Academies of Sciences and Humanities

The majority of German research institutes focus extensively (though not exclusively) on STEM subjects. However, there are many other independent Academices that focus on Humanities and Social Sciences. The Union of Academies of Sciences and Humanities brings together some of these and helps manage a selection of PhD scholarships as well as awards for doctoral students and junior researchers.

Find out more.

German PhD work contracts

Some German PhDs are supported through work contracts rather than direct fellowships or scholarships. This is common at research institutes, but happens at universities too.

The value of a PhD work contract in Germany is based on the scale for public sector works and is typically between €3,000-4,000 a month (though most student contracts are part-time, pro-rata). Tax and social security are deducted from this salary, but you will receive access to benefits in return.

University Fellowships and Assistantships

As well as awarding government scholarships and partnering with research institutes, German university also provide their own funding. This can take different forms:

  • Research associate (wissenschafterlicher Mitarbeiter) positions provide doctoral students with a salary in return for completing additional research responsibilities alongside their PhD. These can include duties such as maintaining lab equipment and consumables, monitoring ongoing experiments and assisting with analysis of large datasets.
  • Academic assistant (wissenschaftlicher Hilfskraft) are similar to Graduate Teaching Assistantships (GTAs) in other countries. Your salary will be paid in return for completing additional teaching and demonstrating responsibilities, as well as supervise student's projects and / or mark assessments.
  • Fellowships are funding awarded directly for PhD research in the same way as a standard PhD scholarship or studentship. Your funding will usually be paid as a grant or stipend for living costs and you won't have to do anything specific in return for the money (other than work on your PhD).

The best way to find the funding above is to explore PhD opportunities in Germany and either apply for funded positions or investigate funding options at universities which interest you.

Business and industry

It's relatively common for German PhDs to be directly funded – or even hosted – by commercial organisations with an interest in science and research. In fact, private business and industry funds more than 2/3 of research and development spending in Germany, including support for thousands of scholarships each year.

Finding funding from business and industry is a little more complicated than applying to universities and research institutes, as awards tend to come and go and may not be widely advertised.

Universities and prospective supervisors may be able to guide you towards potential industrial partners.

Find out more

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Last updated - 08/12/2020

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