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How international are doctoral studies in Germany? A Nacaps special analysis

How international are doctoral studies in Germany? A Nacaps special analysis
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Nacaps special analysis

How international are doctoral studies in Germany?

About one third of doctoral students in Germany go abroad during their doctoral studies and the majority of international doctoral candidates in the country are very satisfied with the support they receive at German universities. These and other facts about the degree of internationalisation of doctoral studies are now available for the first time in a special National Academics Panel Study analysis published by the German Centre for Higher Education and Science Research (DZHW). The DAAD funded the special analysis from funds provided by the Federal Ministry of Education.

Bonn, 11/18/2021

‘The newly published DZHW analysis shows that Germany has very mobile doctoral researchers and is an attractive research location for international doctoral students, too. It’s also gratifying to see that the DAAD is the most important provider of scholarships for early career international researchers in Germany,’ said DAAD President Professor Dr Joybrato Mukherjee. Understanding the degree of internationalisation of doctoral studies was particularly valuable in terms of Germany’s ongoing development as a research hub, said Mukherjee, so the DZHW would continue to receive support in assessing the international quality of doctoral studies.

German doctoral candidates are drawn to foreign countries

For the purpose of the DZHW special analysis, some 18,000 domestic doctoral students (so-called Bildungsinlaender and German doctoral students) were asked about their foreign mobility. 27 per cent said that they had spent an extended period of time pursuing academic activity abroad during their doctoral studies. This is the first time that a reliable mobility rate has been available for doctoral candidates in Germany. The rate is significantly higher among those pursuing doctoral studies than it is among students, where it is 16 per cent according to the latest survey conducted by the German National Association for Student Affairs and the DZHW.

Stays abroad to improve research skills

Doctoral candidates from Germany who have spent time abroad believe the most important reason for doing so is to improve their research skills. According to the survey, the second most important reason is to establish collaborations with researchers outside Germany and the third is to improve foreign language skills.

Heading west and to the US

The majority of doctoral candidates surveyed spent time in Western European countries (55 per cent), followed by North America (17 per cent) and the Asia-Pacific region (11 per cent). The main obstacle to international mobility was cited as being separation from partners, children and friends (52 per cent), while the second most common obstacle was said to be difficulties in funding mobility and research (43 per cent).

International doctoral candidates at German universities

Around 4,000 international doctoral researchers were also surveyed for the analysis. When planning a stay in Germany, international early career researchers attach particular importance to the personalities at German universities: they are very selective in their search for the best supervisor, and this determines their choice of university. Accordingly, the majority of respondents are satisfied or very satisfied with the supervision provided by the university and their main supervisor.

Jobs and scholarships

The international doctoral candidates surveyed mainly finance their stay through employment at a university or research institution. Just under 37 per cent of respondents finance it by means of a scholarship: survey responses named the DAAD as the most important funding organisation (19 per cent of all scholarship holders), followed in second and third place by funding from their own university and funding from the German Research Foundation (DFG). After completing their doctorate, international doctoral researchers in Germany are mainly drawn to industrial research: 80 per cent said they regarded a job outside academia that was related to research and development as being appealing or very appealing. A later research position at a university or public research institution was also described as attractive by 68 per cent of international respondents.

National Academics Panel Study (Nacaps) analysis

The current special analysis is based on the survey results collected by the DZHW in 2019 as part of the first National Academics Panel Study (Nacaps). The Nacaps results provide comprehensive insights into doctoral studies and career paths in Germany. Financed by the DAAD from funds provided by the Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF), the additional DZWH special analysis also offers an initial assessment of the degree of internationalisation of doctoral studies in Germany. The analysis will be updated at regular intervals in the future.


See here for the special analysis on the international nature of doctoral studies based on the National Academics Panel Study (in German).

All results of the National Academics Panel Study can be found here (in German).

If you have any questions, please contact

Dr Jan Kercher

Strategic Planning Expert

DAAD – Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst

+49 228 882-8779

Press contact

Michael Flacke

Head of Press Office / Press Officer – SB03

DAAD – German Academic Exchange Service

+49 228 882-454

Diese Presseinformationen werden Ihnen bereit gestellt von DAAD – Deutscher Akademischer Austauschdienst e.V., Pressestelle, Kennedyallee 50, 53175 Bonn; +49 228 882-454,