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2. Doctoral Programmes

2.1 Starting situation

The doctorate forms the basis for almost any academic career. The training given to doctoral students is therefore of strategic significance to universities with regard to their support for young scholars and researchers and to raising their university profile. With approximately 1000 doctorates completed per year, Heidelberg University is one of the leading institutions for training doctoral students in Germany, and beyond. It is therefore particularly interested in safeguarding and improving the high quality of doctoral courses, and strengthening the competitiveness of its young scholars.

The importance of doctorates in the academic world and for society will continue to grow. Applicants for full professorships no longer exclusively need to show that they have earned their habilitation - junior professors or young heads of research groups can now also apply - and so the doctorate is gaining in significance. EU Research Framework Programmes are devoting an increasing amount of funding to individual and institutional doctoral programmes. In addition, there is increasing international competition for the best young scholars, which is heightened by the integration process in the European educational area.

Doctoral training in Germany enjoys a good national and international reputation. In order to consolidate and expand this high reputation, however, the universities need to rethink and optimise their doctoral programmes, focusing on the needs and future chances of doctoral students. In modernising its doctoral training, Heidelberg University will give due regard to the differing cultures in the disciplines, and grant the faculties wide-ranging powers to set their own priorities.

In the last few years non-university research institutes have also endeavoured to promote young researchers, offering doctoral students the opportunity to do research at their facilities under mostly very good conditions. Heidelberg University welcomes this involvement, while being concerned to state that the doctoral procedure must remain in the hands of the universities. In order to offer all doctoral students the best possible conditions for their research projects, cooperation between the universities is to be intensified and expanded.

2.2 General objectives

Efforts to further improve doctoral training should pursue the following objectives:

  • The time taken to complete the doctorate should be generally shortened. The average doctoral student in Germany graduates at the age of 33 (2003), which is older than in other comparable countries. Also the time taken, 4.5 years (2002/03), is relatively high. Although this problem was recognised in the mid-1990s , the age of graduates and the length of time taken to complete the doctorate have continued to rise. Our aim must therefore be to make it possible to obtain a doctorate within three years at most.
  • Excellent general conditions and an efficient selection procedure must guarantee that the best young scholars can be recruited for doctoral studies. Another objective is to raise the share of qualified doctoral students from other countries.
  • Supervision and advice for doctoral students shall be intensified.
  • There must be a guarantee that qualification-related activities take absolute priority over other service duties, in order to enable candidates to concentrate on their own research projects.
  • The doctoral programme shall involve more opportunity for interdisciplinary cooperation and acquiring specialist knowledge and key qualifications going beyond the field of research on the doctoral thesis.
  • The international visibility of research findings of doctoral students shall be enhanced.

In order to achieve these objectives, the University of Heidelberg will

  • offer structured doctoral programmes in as many academic fields as possible,
  • create a Heidelberg Graduate Academy as the umbrella body for all doctoral programmes, in order to offer every doctoral student at the University the opportunity to acquire key qualifications (see section 2.5),
  • create general conditions for funding those doctoral projects that do not fit into a structured doctoral programme (hereinafter called "individual doctoral programmes"),
  • expand its cooperation with non-university institutions and well-known international partner universities,
  • extend the possibilities for theses to be written in English, French and in justified exceptional cases in other languages, and promote the publication of outstanding research results by a publication phase immediately following the completion of the doctorate, lasting at most six months (see section 2.7).

2.3 Structured doctoral programmes

In their statements, the Academic Council and the Conference of University Rectors have recommended the introduction of structured doctoral programmes everywhere. Heidelberg University is well on the way to achieving this and already has a number of structured programmes, including fifteen post-graduate research training groups (Graduiertenkollegs), particularly in the natural and life sciences. Nevertheless, considerable efforts will be necessary in order to comply fully with this recommendation. In the humanities, cultural studies and social sciences a great deal still remains to be done.

Heidelberg University believes that individual doctoral programmes are still essential in many disciplines, alongside structured programmes. It is worrying that the support for doctoral programmes is concentrating increasingly on structured doctoral programmes. Heidelberg University is strongly in favour of keeping individual support as well. Nevertheless, all faculties will have to redouble their efforts to introduce structured doctoral programmes.

Heidelberg University documents the quality of its structured doctoral programmes through university-wide quality standards, while leaving the Graduate Schools and doctorral training groups (Promotionskollegs) a lot of freedom to plan their programmes to suit their subjects. The general principles for structured doctoral programmes at Heidelberg University are reflected in quality standards. They include the following:

  • advertising of doctoral programmes internationally,
  • selecting doctoral students on a competitive basis,
  • organising a qualification phase as required (in the context of an integrated master's programme or through a special training module),
  • concluding an agreement between the doctoral student and the advisor (group) stating the topic, duration, rights and duties of the student as well as a workplan extending generally over three years,
  • supplementing the relations between the main supervisor and the doctoral student through elements of cooperative supervision and responsibility provided by a group of several professors,
  • establishing a teaching programme of appropriate scope to accompany the doctoral course,
  • fostering interdisciplinary exchange and the acquisition of additional qualifications in the context of the interdisciplinary doctoral centres (Doktorandenkollegs) of the Graduate Schools,
  • assessing progress with the thesis at regular intervals,
  • promoting the international dimension of the programme through guest lectures, visiting lecturers, attending conferences, periods at external partner institutions etc.

2.4 Individual doctoral programmes

Individual doctoral programmes offer a high degree of flexibility, personal responsibility and freedom, so that this form of doctoral course must be regarded as still appropriate for certain research projects. Heidelberg University is strongly in favour of maintaining individual doctoral programmes, but it is not blind to the problems connected to this doctoral model.

In the interest of the doctoral students, some elements of the structured doctoral programmes should be adopted and conditions thereby created to enable a university-wide quality standard for individual doctorates as well. Besides a clear improvement in supervision they would be able to acquire additional skills. Binding standards shall include:

  • concluding an agreement between the doctoral student and the supervisor stating the research topic, duration, and a normally three-year workplan,
  • regularly discussing progress with the thesis project,
  • involving the doctoral student in the interdisciplinary doctoral centres of the Graduate Schools to foster interdisciplinary exchange and the acquisition of additional qualifications.

Further, the University recommends that all concerned introduce the following elements for individual doctoral programmes:

  • supplementing the relationship between the main supervisor and the doctoral student in the form of cooperative supervision and responsibility shown by other representatives of the discipline,
  • Conducting workshops for the doctoral students of a subject / a subject group with the presentation of research projects,
  • Involving doctoral students in current research projects,
  • Improving the financial conditions through attracting scholarships and externally funded projects.

2.5 Heidelberg Graduate Academy

In order to further raise the profile of its doctoral training, Heidelberg University is founding a "Heidelberg Graduate Academy". It will link up all doctoral programmes which will, as far as possible, be grouped together in Graduate Schools.

The Graduate Schools will form the framework for cooperation, exchange and common activities of differing graduate programmes, offer training and qualification opportunities of cross-disciplinary relevance, and shape the substantive and structural aspects of doctoral programmes in keeping with university-wide quality standards for structured programmes. In cooperation with the Graduate Schools, the Graduate Academy will set up an interdisciplinary doctoral centre, responsible for an interdisciplinary programme of educational events, skills training, and advice services.

With the founding of the Heidelberg Graduate Academy, the University will also demonstrate the breadth and quality of its post-graduate training to the outside world. The Academy will ensure the uniform, professional appearance of all doctoral programmes at the University, set the university-wide standards for structured and traditional programmes, promote exchange between the different areas of scholarship and coordinate the range of non-subject-specific training in appropriate skills. The management of the Graduate Schools and research schools will, as far as possible, receive administrative support from the Graduate Academy.

The interdisciplinary skills-training programmes of the Graduate Academy, including courses in university teaching, will be available to doctoral students and also to habilitation candidates, post-doctoral students and young heads of research group.

2.6 Cooperation with non-university institutions

One of the major strengths of Heidelberg University is its connections with the numerous non-university research centres in the Heidelberg area. Cooperation with these institutions is intense and successful. However; in the field of support for young scholars, available potential for institutional cooperation must be better used. The doctoral programmes set up jointly with non-university research institutes and renowned international partner universities will be integrated into the structure of the Heidelberg Graduate Academy. In all cooperation with non-university research institutes, care must be taken to ensure that the doctoral procedure remains the exclusive responsibility of the faculties of Heidelberg University and that the awarding of the right to supervise doctorates to young heads of research groups is linked to the criteria named below (see section 5).

Since 2002, the Faculty of Life Sciences and the European Molecular Biology Laboratory (EMBL) have successfully run a joint PhD Programme, which will be extended to the Medical Faculties from 2005. As of 2005, the Research School (Promotionskolleg) for Astronomy will be established in cooperation with the Heidelberg Max Planck Institutes for Nuclear Physics and for Astronomy. The University seeks to establish further cooperation with Max Planck Institutes and with the DKFZ (German Cancer Research Centre) and GSI (society for heavy ion research), which are both members of the Helmholtz Association. The next step will be to establish a research school for the life sciences, law, economics and sociology in conjunction with the Max Planck Institutes, and another research school in cooperation with the DKFZ (Helmholtz training group). In all the doctoral programmes set up jointly with non-university partner institutions, the connection with Heidelberg University must be clearly evident, both in the long and the short version of the name.

2.7 International visibility of research findings

International attention to research results achieved in Heidelberg is in the interest of the university, the institute, the supervisors and the young scholars.

Heidelberg University will therefore create the legal preconditions for the submission of theses in English, French and, in justified exceptional cases, in other languages, as long as that is in keeping with the topic. However, an acceptable level of language must be maintained, to be certified, if necessary, by a native speaker of that language.

In order to enable the publication of research findings in reputable publishing houses and international journals, outstanding doctores are to be granted a publication phase of at most six months, immediately after they have obtained their doctorate. A grant application for the necessary funds must be made to the University or the Medical Faculties.

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Latest Revision: 2012-11-06
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