Top Universities for PhD Study in Germany – 2023

Top Universities for PhD Study in Germany – 2023

Written by Marcus Holt

Germany is home to 520 higher education institutions. Not all of them award PhDs, but those that do are renowned for generating highly trained researchers! The institutions offering doctorates in Germany are:

  • Research Universities (Universität) carry out original academic research in various subjects.
  • Technical Universities (Technische Universität) specialise in Science, Technology and Engineering research. However, they have recently begun to offer qualifications in other subjects including the Humanities.
  • Research Institutes carry out important research projects (including PhD work) in partnership with universities, businesses and industry. Most operate within larger networks such as the Max Planck Society.
  • Other research networks bring together expertise from different institutions for specific projects. For example, the three Max Planck Schools (separate from the Max Planck Society) focus on Cognition, Matter to Life and Photonics.

Universities in Germany can be either public or private. The vast majority (around 400) are public, educating 95% of the student body. These receive funding from one of 16 states (lander).

The remaining 120 private universities do not receive state funding. Many are Universities of Applied Sciences, which do not offer PhD programmes.

With a historic higher education system and many specialist research centres (and being the birthplace of the modern PhD!), it makes sense that Germany has some of the top ranked universities in the world.

Max Planck Schools

The Max Planck Schools is a network that brings together experts from different institutions to address joint research objectives. They bring together international PhD students with Germany's best scientists. Research takes place in three interdisciplinary fields: Cognition, Matter to Life and Photonics.

The Schools offer fully financed PhD positions. Candidates benefit from unique expertise, infrastructure and training opportunities.

Top 30 universities in Germany for a PhD

We’ve examined the latest international university rankings to identify some of the best universities for PhD study in Germany.

Top 30 German Universities in 2023
University THE 2023 QS 2023 ARWU 2022
Technical University of Munich 30 =50 56
LMU Munich 33 59 57
Heidelberg University 43 =65 70
Charité - Universitätsmedizin Berlin 73 - -
Humbolt University of Berlin =86 =131 -
University of Tübingen =86 169 151-200
University of Bonn 89 201 76
Free University of Berlin =91 =118 -
RWTH Aachen University =99 =147 201-300
University of Freiburg 113 189 101-150
University of Göttingen =119 =215 151-200
University of Hamburg =128 228 201-300
University of Würzburg =139 =410 201-300
University of Cologne 146 =335 151-200
Ulm University =148 =375 301-400
TU Dresden =156 200 201-300
Technical University of Berlin =156 158 301-400
University of Mannheim 179 541-550 -
University of Münster 185 =384 201-300
Karlsruhe Institute of Technology =189 =141 201-300
University of Jena =189 =352 401-500
University of Erlangen-Nuremburg =196 =340 201-300
Bielefeld University 201-250 1001-1200 701-800
University of Hohenheim 201-250 801-1000 -
University of Konstanz 201-250 541-550 501-600
University of Duisburg-Essen 251-300 801-1000 301-400
Heinrich Heine University Düsseldorf 251-300 751-800 301-400
University of Kiel 251-300 521-530 201-300
University of Potsdam 251-300 701-750 401-500
Ruhr University Bochum 251-300 =416 -
Information in this table is based on the latest Times Higher Education World University Rankings, QS World University Rankings and Academic Ranking of World Universities. Visit their websites for more information.

Note that independent research centres and schools are not usually included within rankings. This isn’t any reflection on the quality of their PhDs. It’s for the simple reason that they aren’t technically ‘universities’ and don’t teach undergraduates.

How much do rankings matter for PhD students?

Rankings can be a helpful resource for prospective PhD students, but they shouldn’t be the be-all-and-end-all of your search. We break down how the system works and how to get the best out of it in our guide to PhD rankings.

With nine universities in the 2023 Times Higher Education top 100, Germany is one of the best-ranked countries for higher education. The fact that it charges no fees for PhD study and has many English-language doctorates makes it an excellent destination for postgraduate study.

Think you’re ready to find the perfect project for you?

Search our database of PhD programmes in Germany.

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Last Updated: 08 March 2023