Universities and Universities of applied sciences (Fachhochschule or FHs) are de-facto equal since the introduction of the Bologna process. Unlike Universities (and TUs), Fachhochschules don’t usually offer Ph.D. So, students who finish their Master’s in an FHs will have to switch to a university to pursue a Ph.D. This is possible as the Master’s degree from Universities and FHs are considered equal following the Bologna process.
The Bologna Process is a series of ministerial meetings and agreements between European countries to ensure comparability in the standards and quality of higher-education qualifications. The process has created the European Higher Education Area under the Lisbon Recognition Convention:
The Unfortunate Truth
FH graduates must overcome extra hurdles to get into a PhD in Germany. As a result, the number of FH graduates pursuing a PhD is quite low. The main reason for this is that at a university, students are usually asked by professors at the end of their studies if they want to do their doctorate. Sometimes a professor also offers a topic, perhaps one that the student has already studied. But, this is not an option for FH students.
“It’s certainly a disadvantage if you do not know anyone and can not bring any contacts from the master’s degree program“ – Frank Simon, Press spokesman of the Hochschule des Bundes (HS Bund).
As FH students, you need to check the rules and regulations of the department (Fachbereich) thoroughly before starting a Ph.D. at a university; for example, some Fachbereich may have a clause saying that one needs to study at least 6 semesters at a University to be able to start a Ph.D.
Some Fachbereich may conditionally allow a student with an FH degree to a Ph.D. program. For example, the student must have an excellent Master’s degree. He/she must, in addition, participate in special courses during the Ph.D. and/or pass some exams.
Also, we have heard of unfortunate cases where it has taken longer to admit an FH graduate to Ph.D. program than the corresponding TU graduate.
The number of FH students applying for Ph.D. is slowly increasing. as per the numbers from Hochschulrektorenkonferenz (HRK), a total of 1,245 FH students took this path between 2012 and 2014 and successfully completed their doctorate, 30 percent more than in the previous survey over the years 2009 to 2011.
In order to make it possible for FH students to get a Ph.D., some FHs are now cooperating with universities. Both institutions make a binding agreement under which FH graduates can earn their doctorate. As a rule, the students are then supervised by a professor from the FH and a university professor. You can find information about this from FH websites directly.
There is a rising demand from FHs to have a right to award a doctoral degree. Each federal state decides on this individually. The ministers of education of Hessen, Baden-Wuerttemberg, and Schleswig-Holstein have already signaled that it will be possible for FHs in those statements to grant a Ph.D. Hochschule Fulda has already gained the right to award a Ph.D. in social sciences. However, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has a skeptical view of FH awarding a Ph.D. without any university involvement.
The Pros and Cons
- No discrimination against FH graduates when they apply for a Ph.D.
- Degrees from FHs and Universities would no longer be equivalent only on paper but also in reality.
- Application-related research would be promoted.
- FHs not being able to award a Ph.D. meant the loss of research potential.
- Cooperations with universities are limited to subjects that are of interest to universities. This will no longer be an issue.
- Meaningful division of tasks between universities and FHs would be repealed.
- FHs are not set up for in-depth (theoretical) research.
- Expenses for buying advanced equipment for the FHs would be immense.
- There are already more than enough PhD students – even without a doctoral degree from the FHs.
- Increasing competition would be at the expense of the FHs.