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PhD Study in Europe

Europe's historic and world-renowned universities have always been home to leading scientists, artists and thinkers. You'll be welcome to follow in their footsteps as a PhD student.

Modern international students often pay surprisingly low fees and study within generously funded higher education systems, with ground-breaking research opportunities supported by the European Union's flagship Horizon 2020 scheme.

The diversity of opportunities in Europe is matched by a robust system of qualification recognition and credit transfer, meaning that your degree will be internationally recognised and accepted. European PhD programmes often also include a range of additional training and development opportunities (this, after all, is the continent that invented the modern doctoral degree).

The guides below introduce different options for PhD study in Europe. You can also learn more about the European Higher Education Area, ECTS credits, PhD fees and visa requirements.

Austria

Historic universities, low fees and innovative research programmes make Austria a strong choice for PhD study in the heart of Europe.

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Belgium

Belgium's globally respected universities and cosmopolitan culture make it an attractive option for international students.

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Czech Republic

If you're willing to embrace study in the Czech Republic you'll experience a striking and affordable option for doctoral research.

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Denmark

Home to some of Europe's top universities, offering unique research opportunities, Denmark is well worth considering for a PhD.

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Finland

Finland charges no fees to EU or international students and provides a striking setting for PhD research.

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France

France's tourist appeal is well-known, but it also offers affordable PhD study options at world-renowned universities.

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Germany

Germany invented the modern PhD and remains one of Europe's most popular and high-profile research destinations.

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Greece

A mediterranean climate, unparalleled heritage and unique research options make Greece an attractive choice for PhD study.

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Hungary

Hungary offers beautiful cities, historic universities and a rich culture for international students to explore.

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Ireland

Famous for its friendly and welcoming culture, the Republic of Ireland is also home to one of Europe's oldest universities.

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Italy

Italy has been attracting travellers and scholars for years and continues to do so with innovative modern PhD programmes.

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Netherlands

A cosmopolitan country with a proud tradition of international education, Holland and the Netherlands welcome PhD students.

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Norway

Norway's universities have plenty to offer adventurous international students and their PhD programmes are completely free.

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Poland

Poland is an affordable and attractive option for PhD study in Central Europe, with several historic universities.

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Portugal

Home to a proud tradition of intellectual inquiry and exploration, Portugal welcomes and celebrates students.

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Spain

One of Europe's most striking study abroad destinations is also home to some of of its oldest universities.

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Sweden

Free tuition, innovative thinking and globally-renowned universities are a winning combination for PhD students in Sweden.

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Switzerland

Few countries are as open and welcoming to international students as Switzerland and the country offers excellent PhD opportunities.

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Turkey

Having been a site of intellectual and cultural exchange for centuries, Turkey is an appropriate option for PhD study abroad.

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United Kingdom

World-leading universities and excellent research opportunities make the UK one of the most popular destinations for PhD study.

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PhD study within the European Higher Education Area

The European Higher Education Area (EHEA) is a network of 48 countries that share a common system for university degrees. It is made up of all 28 EU members (including the UK) as well as other countries from elsewhere in Europe and Eurasia.

All EHEA members follow the Bologna Process, an agreement signed in 1999 at the University of Bologna (Europe’s oldest university). This organises academic degrees intro three cycles:

  • Bachelors degrees are first-cycle degrees, usually taking three years
  • Masters degrees are second-cycle degrees, usually taking two years
  • Doctorates (such as PhDs) are third-cycle degrees, usually taking three to four years

Academic degrees from one EHEA country are automatically recognised in others. This makes it a lot simpler to study abroad in different parts of Europe or to work in another European country with your doctorate.

What does the Bologna Process mean for PhDs?

Doctorates are a relatively recent addition to the Bologna Process and fit more loosely within its guidelines. For example, there is still no standard length or credit value for a PhD in Europe and individual programmes may include additional training or other elements in addition to your research project.

However, studying within the EHEA does offer several important benefits for PhD students:

  • The Bologna Process can simplify your entrance qualifications. If you have a Masters from one country it should be easily recognised by universities elsewhere in Europe.
  • You will also receive a doctoral degree recognised across the EHEA. This means you can take advantage of unique research and training opportunities in one part of Europe and then easily use your expertise to follow up your research interests and seek academic jobs at other European universities and research centres.
  • Some PhD programmes award ECTS credits for modules and classes. This allows you to receive extra recognition for training you complete alongside your thesis. You can read more about ECTS credits below.
  • The Bologna Process asks that doctoral candidates are treated as early career researchers as well as students. This can increase the support you receive to develop professionally during a PhD as well as offering additional employment opportunities at your university.
  • Universities are expected to help all students access doctoral education and to help develop funding opportunities for them, including industry partnerships and / or employment opportunities.
  • Student mobility and exchange programmes are also encouraged, with opportunities for you to spend time in other parts of Europe during your PhD if this will benefit your research.

EHEA countries:

The following countries are members of the European Higher Education Area:

Albania, Andorra, Armenia, Austria, Azerbaijan, Belgium, Bosnia, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Georgia, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Iceland, Ireland, Italy, Kazakhstan, Latvia, Liechtenstein, Lithuania, Luxembourg, the Former Yugoslav Republic of Macedonia, Malta, Moldova, Montenegro, the Netherlands, Norway, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Russia, Serbia, Slovakia, Slovenia, Spain, Sweden, Switzerland, Turkey, Ukraine and the United Kingdom.


What is the European Research Area?

The European Research Area (ERA) was formed after the European Higher Education Area to help coordinate research activities across the EU and other associated countries. ERA members benefit from substantial framework funding programmes such as Horizon 2020, which can help create opportunities for PhD training.

ECTS credits for PhD study

Most degree programmes in Europe are measured using the European Credit Transfer and Accumulation Scheme (ECTS). This is one of the reasons that degrees can be recognised across the EHEA as all qualifications at the same cycle are ‘worth’ the same number of credits.

  • Bachelors degrees are normally worth 180 ECTS credits
  • Masters degrees are normally worth 120 ECTS credits

Each credit represents a certain amount of learning hours for a course, with a year of study usually being worth 60 credits. The independent research that makes up a PhD is harder to measure using this system. This means that doctoral degrees don’t usually have a total ECTS credit value.

However, ECTS credits are sometimes used to measure training units and modules as part of more structured PhDs. Some of these courses have a minimum credit requirement that students must meet before they begin working on their thesis. This number is usually quite small (around 20-30 credits, or half a year’s worth of work).

Qualification recognition

The Bologna Process ensures that degrees are easily recognised by universities and employers elsewhere in Europe. This is useful if you have a European Masters degree and are applying for a PhD in a different EHEA country.

The EHEA can also help you receive recognition for international qualifications from universities outside Europe.

Each country in the European Higher Education Area has its own National Academic Recognition Information Centres (NARIC) and these are part of the European Network of Information Centres in the European Region (ENIC). Together, these form part of a network known as ENIC-NARIC, which can help assess your foreign qualifications and confirm that they meet the entry requirements for a PhD in Europe.

Your university may ask this network to help check your Bachelors or Masters degrees, or you may be able to use ENIC-NARIC yourself to ask about your qualifications.

Bear in mind though that the final decision to admit you to a PhD is always made by your university, not ENIC-NARIC.

PhD fees and funding in Europe

Each country in Europe is free to set their own fees for doctorates and other degrees. However, EU member countries must charge the same fees to citizens of other EU countries as they do to their own students.


EU members:

The following countries are part of the European Union:

Austria, Belgium, Bulgaria, Croatia, Cyprus, the Czech Republic, Denmark, Estonia, Finland, France, Germany, Greece, Hungary, Ireland, Italy, Latvia, Lithuania, Luxembourg, Malta, the Netherlands, Poland, Portugal, Romania, Slovakia, Spain, Sweden and the United Kingdom.


Fee guarantees often also apply to students from European Economic Area (EEA) countries (Iceland, Liechtenstein and Norway) as well as Switzerland.

Other international students may pay more to study in Europe, but this isn’t always the case. Some countries actually charge no fees to any PhD students, regardless of nationality. You can find out more in the individual guides above.

Eligibility for PhD funding in Europe is usually the same as your fee status. If you pay the same fees as a local student, you will normally be able to access the same funding (such as student loans or other bursaries). It’s always worth checking this, however.

PhD students in Europe also have the potential to benefit from wider funding schemes such as Erasmus+ or MSCA scholarships. These are usually focussed on student mobility and research collaboration between universities in different countries.

Brexit

The UK will be a full EU member until 29 March 2019 and fee and funding guarantees are in place for students beginning a PhD before the end of the 2019-20 academic year. Future arrangements for PhD study between the UK and EU are't confirmed, but our Brexit FAQ and newsletter will provide you with updates as they're available.

Visas for PhD study in Europe

Whether you’ll need a visa for a doctorate in Europe will usually depend on two things: your nationality and whether the country you wish to study in is a member of the European Union.

EU students don’t need a visa to enter other EU countries. You can do so freely for up to 90 days. During this time you will need to register your presence and receive a residence permit which will entitle you to live in the country longer term and complete your PhD. The exact name and application process for your residence permit will be set by the country you study in. These conditions usually apply to EEA and Swiss students too.

Other international students will normally need to apply for a visa to enter a European country as a student. Once there you’ll also need to apply for a residence permit.

Additional exceptions may also apply in some countries. Check our guides, or contact your university’s international office if you aren’t sure about your visa requirements.

Schengen visas

The Schengen Area is a borderless region within the EU. It allows completely free movement between neighbouring countries, with no need for additional visas or passport checks.

EU students automatically have the right to travel across the Schengen Area and remain in another EU country for up to 90 days.

International students will need to apply for a separate Schengen Visa in order to do so. This could be useful if you wish to travel elsewhere in Europe for research or leisure whilst you are completing your PhD. Note that in most cases the visa that lets you enter the country you are studying in will not automatically provide you with a Schengen Visa.

You can find out more on the European Commission's Schengen Visa website.

Last updated 11/01/2019

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