Skip to content

Germany, Academic Career Structure





Competitiveness: The German system fairly corresponds to the Continental European model: there is a widespread belief that positions at universities are given on the basis of personal contacts more than a merit. A reform has been implemented in 2001, so far with mixed outcomes. There also seem to be a recent tendency for German universities to become more and more open to foreigners.

Openness to non-nationals: Due to the "closure" of the system and eventually language barriers it is not easy for foreigners to start an academic career in Germany.

Postdoc: Go to the German Research Council website for information on postdocs.

Entry positions: there are two main entry positions to the academic career in Germany: Scientific Assistant or Junior Professor, the former implying the preparation of the Habilitation. Click here for more information.

Career requirements/progress: Under the new system, after the Habilitation or a positive evaluation of his or her Juniorprofessorship one can become W2 Professor. Upon approval by a faculty committee and the ministry, one can become a W3 Professor. The two passages (to W2 and W3) are not consequential. Click here for more details, including on the old system.

Temporary/permanent positions: The academic career in Germany is not always tenure track and a junior professor often do not become professor in the same university. Permanent position for junior professors is often created once the junior professor gets an offer from another university. Positions from C2/W2 are permanent. Click here to know more.

Salaries: National legislation fixes salaries. Their progression is not determined by seniority rules but regulated through a system of bonuses that rewards the completion of administrative tasks and successful research and teaching. It is possible to negotiate a higher salary when having another job offer. See salaries.

Gender: At most universities, there is an equal opportunity policy in place that is especially targeted at gender equality and increasing rate of female faculty. Within universities there are also some funding opportunities (post-docs, for example), for which only women are eligible. Further support is provided by a 'woman representative' and several regional states also provide financial incentives for universities, which increase the number of female faculty. All these measures could explain why there is a rising share of women in German academia at top positions. Click here to know more.  

Universities and research institutions: Click here for a list of German universities.

Job postings: Click here for a list of useful websites.


Higher Education in Germany

The German system is usually classified as "continental European" and it is predominantly affected by the federal organisation of the state. The respective federal states (Bundesländer) differ in their education policy depending on their state governments. Even though there exist some frameworks coordinating the respective education policies, the legislative prescriptions and organisation of education contents is very heterogeneous.

The higher education system is subdivided into universities and “Fachhochschulen” (polytechnics), which implies a division into more theory- and more applied-oriented approaches. There are all together 333 higher education institutions: besides 117 universities or equivalent higher education institutions, there are 160 Fachhochschulen and 56 Colleges of Art and Music. Normally only the universities have the right to confer doctoral degrees.

With only a few exceptions, the universities in Germany are state institutions. Because of the federal structure of Germany, universities are controlled and financed by the respective Ministries of Education. The relationship between the Ministries of the federal states and the universities is regulated by the different Acts of Higher Education of each federal state, which in turn are determined and coordinated by the Framework Act of Higher Education, the HRG ( Hochschulrahmengesetz ), which is in force for all the federal states.

Because of the specific characteristicas of the German system, in which states control universities, Germany has a very well-funded network of federal research institutes (of which Max Planck and Leibnitz are the two biggest networks). Hiring practices vary by discipline, but many of these institutes search candidates on the international markets. While postdocs vary in length and duties, the best of them are for 6 years and have no teaching or administrative obligations.

In 2001, a reform began to be enacted to liberalize the academic system and diversify the career pattern. It included a new "junior professor" position. Criteria other than seniority are being evaluated for the purpose of career advancement. However, the outcome of this reform has not been entirely successful so far. Few universities opened junoir professorship positions. Despite institutional attempts to expand the pool of potential candidates - as academic job positions are increasingly being advertised online and outside Germany - informal contacts still matter at the moment of assigning a position.


Career Curriculum

At the moment, two career patterns coexist in the country following the enactement of the 2001 reform. In particular, the new system introduced the Junior Professorship position, which was conceived as a valuable and, in the long-term, alternative to the traditional Habilitation as a prerequisite to become a professor.

Old system:
1. PhD Candidate. During this time, one usually holds an Academic Employee/Junior Research Fellow position (Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter)
2. Habilitation. During this time, one usually holds an Academic Assistant/Senior Research Fellow position (Wissenschaftlicher Assistent)
3. C3 Professorship (Professor)
4. C4 Professorship (Professor)

Provisional new system:
1. PhD Candidate. During this time, one is usually regarded as Academic Employee/Junior Research Fellow (Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter)

After completing a PhD, under the new system a researcher has two options:

2a. Habilitation. During this time, one is usually considered an Academic Assistant/Senior Research Fellow (Wissenschaftlicher Assistent) or
2b. W1 Professorship/Junior-Professorship (Junior-Professor)

3. W2 Professorship (Professor)
4. W3 Professorship (Professor)

Neither the Academic Employee nor the Academic Assistant positions are tenured. These are positions held while completing respectively a PhD and Habilitation. They are limited to a maximum of six years each. Only C3/C4 and W3/W4 are tenured positions.

Second, the career pattern under both the old and the new system is not linear and consequential. For example, it is not necessary to have been C2 Professor to apply for a C3 Professorship, or C3 Professor to become C4 Professor. Nor is it necessary to have been W2 Professor to become W3 Professor. Many academics started with C4 Professorship without being a C3 Professor before. It is therefore difficult to compare the German system to, for instance, the UK or US systems.

Third, it is important to note that the Junior Professorship position has not replaced the Habilitation so far. See 'Requirements for Positions' for further information.

Fourth, the C3/C4 and W2/W3 professorship positions are both fully tenured professorship positons but correspond to second-class, first-class and exceptional class (similar to the French system).

The average age for obtaining the PhD degree is 33.


Requirements for Positions

To become Scientific Assistant or Junior Professor, a PhD degree is required. As already mentioned, both positions can be held for maximum six years.

Assistants are working toward their Habilitation, while Junior Professors do not have to write a Habilitation. Instead, they have to carry out a wider variety of tasks, including research, teaching, administration and management. In practice, however, the Junior Professorship has not (yet?) become a strong alternative to the Habilitation track. This has become evident, for example, in the area of Law. Not many universities created Junior Professorships and scholars who did obtain such positions are encouraged to write a Habilitation nonetheless.

The procedure to become a Junior Professor involves several stages and can easily take a year. Both an internal and an external commission rank the candidates. In case both lists correspond with each other, the final ranking is presented to the faculty. Subsequently, the principal of the university has to agree on the list, after which it is sent to the minister of eduction of the Bundesland for final approval.

To become W2 Professor, one needs the Habilitation (in the case of Scientific Assistants) or a positive evaluation of the Juniorprofessur (in the case of Junior Professors).

The Habilitation is an additional stage of qualification after the PhD and is also called the “second PhD”. Usually, scholars write their habilitation while in employment as assistants of professors (Wissenschaftliche Assistenten). The habilitation can be either a thesis (opus magnum) or several scientific publications of outstanding quality (cumulative Habilitation). The habilitation commission of the faculty makes the decision regarding the acceptance of a habilitation. This committee grants the academic title of Private Lecturer (Privatdozent) and the teaching licence (venia legendi). After having achieved this academic grade, scholars can apply for professorships. Habilitated academics who do not have a full professorship at a university have the status of Private Lecturer and may work as freelancers for or be employed by the university.

The procedure for the appointment of professors (Berufungsverfahren) is the same at all German universities. In the Humanities and the Social Sciences, a committee of the faculty presents a shortlist of three candidates to the faculty. Members of the appointment committee may be representatives of other faculties, but special attention is paid to the "subject specific competence". According to the provisions of the Federate State laws, at least nine individuals [candidates or jury members??] must participate in the procedure. A "sufficient number" of expert opinions are collected from experts who do not have a personal relationship with the candidates and who have an established academic reputation in the academic community. These experts are asked to provide comparative evaluations of all the candidates.

According to the normal appointment procedure, the appointment committee sends a ranked list to the university senate, which is free to modify the list before it is submitted to the ministry. The ministries cannot easily justify ignoring the lists but they are free to appoint one of the three candidates. It happens that the ministry disregards suggestions emanating from the faculties.

An important feature of German academia is that with the exception of Junior Professors, habilitated academics usually cannot obtain a W3 professorship at their own university. This is specified in the Higher Education Act (HRG) and is called internal promotion prohibition.


Research Career

Please contact us if you can provide relevant information.


Barriers to Career Advancement

Informal processes play an important role to obtain an academic position in Germany. While academic posts are advertised in newspapers such as Die Zeit, potential incumbents are often already informally decided upon in advance and there is a long tradition of approaching potential candidates informally to invite them to apply. The supervisor’s role is therefore decisive for the career of a young scholar.


Job Security

The German academic career is not tenure track: by law a junior staff member cannot be promoted to a professorial position within the same institution. However, one becomes a civil servant from Academic Assistant (C2/W2 positions in the old/new system) onwards. This means that compared to other countries academics in Germany obtain tenure at a relatively late age, as on average one becomes Academic Assistant at the age of 42.

Due to the university system that guarantees the university relative academic freedom, the position of professor in Germany is stronger and more independent than, for instance, in France. As civil servants, professors have a series of attendant rights and benefits, yet this status is subject to discussion. For example, it is considered now to relate professorial pay to performance rather than merely to age.


Contracts and Duties


Please contact us if you can provide relevant information.



Sabbatical Opportunities 



 Please contact us if you can provide relevant information.


Gross Salaries

Gross monthly salary levels from 2007

 Eastern ProvincesWestern Provinces

PhD Candidate






Junior Professor

3.149,94 €/month

3.405,34 €/month

Associate Professor

3.598,28 €/month

3.890,03 €/month

Full Professor

4.369,34 €/month

4.723,61 €/month

Source: Deutscher Hochschulverband and

These salaries are fixed salaries, which are not increased according to seniority. To compensate for the reduction in salary – compared to the previous C-salaries – there is a system of bonuses. Bonusses are paid, for instance, for administrative tasks and success in research and teaching. Academics also obtain family and child allowances.

While the salary is considered to be not very negotiable, it is possible to negotiate the salary when having another job offer. However, what is far more negotiable then salaries in the German system are academic benefits (sabaticals, research assistants, research budgets etc.). All this can be negotiated when there is a competing job offer and this is also often the way in which full professors improve their working conditions. Competing job offers in general seem to be a relativelly effective tool for improving one's working conditions in German academia.


Number of Existing Positions

   All Disciplines

PhD Candidate








Assistant Professor




Associate Professor




Full Professors





Please contact us if you can provide relevant information.


There are no exact numbers regarding recruitment. Partially due to the fact that it is difficult to be promoted to a tenured professorial position in the institution where one holds a junior position (apart from a Junior Professorship), mobility between universities in Germany is relatively high.


Accessibility for Non-Nationals

While German universities are in general considered to be not very open to non-nationals or academics with foreign academic background, this is not always the case and some universities even have an explicit internationalisation policy. In terms of networks, while having a previous contact with the univeristy is often very benefitial, it is not always needed for succesfull job application (this, of course, depends on the university).


National Universities


Research Institutions


Academic Unions


German Academic Association for Women (Deutscher Akademikerinnenbund)

German Association of University Professors and Lecturers (Deutscher Hochschulverband, DHV): The DHV represents more than 22,000 members and follows up legal and administrative measures with statements and proposals. It is a comprehensive service and information institution for German university teachers and up-and-coming academics.

German Historical Institute in Washington, DC. The Institute published a reference guide for research, studies and funding in history and social sciences in both the US and Germany.

The German Rectors’ Conference (Hochschulrektorenkonferenz, HRK):
This is the voluntary association of state and state-recognised universities and other higher education institutions in Germany. It currently has 259 member institutions at which around 98% of all students in Germany are registered. The HRK is the political and public voice of the universities and other higher education institutions and is the forum for the higher education institutions' joint opinion-forming process. The HRK addresses all topics relating to the responsibilities of higher education institutions: Research, teaching, studies, advanced continuing education and training, knowledge and technology transfer, international cooperation, and self-administration issues.

German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft, DFG)
The German Research Foundation is the central, self-governing research funding organisation that promotes research at universities and other publicly financed research institutions in Germany. The DFG serves all branches of science and the humanities by funding research projects and facilitating cooperation among researchers.

German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) 

The German Academic Exchange Service is is the largest funding organisation in the world supporting the international exchange of students and scholars in Germany and abroad. Its budget is derived mainly from the federal funding for various ministries, primarily the German Federal Foreign Office, but also from the European Union and a number of enterprises, organisations and foreign governments. The DAAD offers a variety of funding opportunities for scholars in social sciences and humanities. 

This is a Wiki-Portal regarding the PhD promotion, the habilitation and the junior professorship, which was created to enhance contacts between young scholars.

Legislation regarding universities can be found on the websites of the German Rector's Conference and the German Hochschulverband.

In Germany most of the funding comes from public bodies but private foundations can provide an alternative. Private foundations may put restrictions to non-German applicants but in principle they are open to EU citizens.

Party-related institutions:

Church-related institutions:

Union- and employer-related institutions:


Info for Economics

Please contact us if you can provide relevant information.



Info for Law

Please contact us if you can provide relevant information. 



Info for Social and Political Science


Postdoctoral Information

See above all the German Research Council, which is the major research council in Germany.


Websites for Job Postings



Berning, E. (2004) 'Petrified Structures and still little Autonomy and Flexibility. Country Report Germany', J. Enders and E. de Weert, eds. The International Attractiveness of the Academic Workplace in Europe. Frankfurt, Gewerkschaft Erziehung und Wissenschaft 107, 160-182.

Enders, J. (2001), 'A Chair Systems in Transition: Appointments, Promotions, and Gate-keeping in German Higher Education', Higher Education 41: 3-25.

Enders, J. (2005), 'Border Crossings: Research Training, Knowledge Dissemination and the Transformation of Academic Work', Higher Education 49: 119-133.

Griffin, G., T. Green, et al. (2005), The Relationship between the Process of Professionalization in Academe and Interdisciplinarity: A Comparative Study of Eight European Countries, University of Hull, UK.

Huisman, J. and J. Bartelse, eds. (2001), Academic Careers: a Comparative Perspective. Report prepared for the Dutch Advisory Council for Science and Technology Policy on academic careers, The Netherlands, Germany, Sweden, Finland, Flanders and the United Kingdom, Enschede.

Krebs, R., I. Siouti, et al. (2005), 'Disciplinary Barriers between the Social Sciences and Humanities. National Report on Germany'

Musselin, C. (2004), 'Towards a European Academic Labour Market? Some Lessons Drawn from Empirical Studies on Academic Mobility', Higher Education 48: 55-78.

Musselin, C. (2005), 'European Academic Labor Markets in Transition', Higher Education 49: 135-154.



Special thanks to:

Ruediger von Krosigk, Programme Coordinator, Max Weber Programme, EUI

Mariano Pasquale Barbato, Max Weber Fellow, 2007-08

Giesela Rülh, Max Weber Fellow, 2007-08

Ingo Trauschweizer, Max Weber Fellow, 2008-2009

Justin Valasek, Max Weber Fellow, 2011-2012 

Cécile d’Albis, Max Weber Fellow, 2010-2011

Leen Vandecasteele, Max Weber Fellow, 2011-2012

Page last updated on 28 August 2018

Go back to top of the page