Press Release No. 9 | March 31, 2021

DFG Publishes Reports on Doctorates in Consortia

Detailed evaluations of the duration of doctoral programmes as well as completed and uncompleted work in the context of coordinated programmes / A good four years are required for completion on average

Detailed evaluations of the duration of doctoral programmes as well as completed and uncompleted work in the context of coordinated programmes / A good four years are required for completion on average

How long does it take to complete a doctorate in the German research system? Are doctorates completed more quickly in certain research fields and subjects than in others? Does the length of a doctoral programme differ according to the gender and background of the researcher, and are factors such as the environment and the funding or other source of finance significant, too? Also: how many doctorates are completed and how many are not?

These and similar questions are highly relevant to the development and funding of university graduates and young researchers, as well as being of interest in terms of the research system in general and the job market both inside and outside academia. However, data on doctorates in Germany has been inadequate up to now, and valid statistics have only recently been compiled.

The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG, German Research Foundation) has published two detailed reports on the subject of doctorates. They contain extensive up-to-date statistical data on the duration of doctoral programmes as well as details of the ratio between completed and non-completed doctorates in the research consortia funded by the DFG. As the largest research funding organisation in Germany, the DFG finances some 17 percent of all doctorates nationwide across the entire breadth of its programmes. Doctorates in the research consortia account for just under 10 percent of all doctorates. This means that the two reports just published are among the most reliable and detailed sources of statistics on doctorates in Germany.

According to the first of the two evaluations, a total of 2,710 doctorates were completed in 2018 under the DFG-funded Coordinated Programmes, of which 811 were in Collaborative Research Centres (CRCs) and 535 in Research Training Groups (RTGs), with another 1010 and 354 respectively in the Graduate Schools and Clusters of Excellence funded under the Excellence Initiative.

The average length of a doctoral programme – i.e. the time between the self-determined start of doctoral studies and the oral doctoral examination – was 51 months, in other words a good four years. The majority of doctorates, that is to say more than 40 percent, were completed within three and a half to four and a half years, with at least half of these being completed within four to four and a half years. Only 18 percent of doctorates were completed in up to three and a half years, including no more than a good 5 percent in a maximum of three years. On the other hand, just under 27 percent of doctorates were completed after more than five years, including almost 10 percent of cases in which the doctor-ate took more than six years to complete.

There are some clear differences in terms of the major fields of research, in particular individual disciplines. In the natural sciences, where the highest number of doctorates were completed in DFG consortia in 2018, namely 1,057, doctoral programme length was at its shortest at an average of 50 months. In the life sciences, where there were a total of 952 doctorates, programme length was exactly in line with the overall average at 51 months. In the humanities and social sciences with 379 and the engineering sciences with 322 completed programmes, doctorates took longer than average, namely 56 and 57 months respectively. Within the various subject areas, programme lengths differed greatly in some cases; for example, it took an average of 43 months to complete a doctorate in agricultural sciences, forestry and veterinary medicine, while the average programme length in computer science, electrical engineering and systems engineering was 60 months.

There were only minor differences between genders. Of the more than 2,700 doctorates recorded, 42 percent were completed by women and 58 percent by men. Doctoral programme length was almost the same across the entire range of research fields and subjects, with women completing their doctorates three months more quickly than men in the engineering sciences and two months more quickly in the life sciences. It was also the case that the background of the researchers and the type of funding they received for their doctorate did not have any significant effect on programme length.

In its second evaluation, the DFG analysed the ratio between completed and non-completed doctorates. For this purpose, the doctorates started in funded consortia in 2012 were compared with the dissertation entries listed in the German National Library (DNB). According to this, a total of 4,009 doctorates were started in 2012. Of these, 3,158 are recorded as having completed their doctorate by 2020, while 851 are shown not to have done so. This means that 79 percent of doctoral students verifiably completed their doctorate within a period of eight years. For the remaining 21 percent, it can be assumed that they did not complete their doctoral project.

Here, too, there were clear differences between the disciplines in some cases. The highest completion rate was recorded in chemistry at 88 percent, while 55 percent of doctorates were completed in the humanities. Here again, neither the gender of doctoral researchers nor their source of programme funding had a marked impact.

Further Information

Media contact:

  • DFG Press and Public Relations
    Tel. +49 228 885-2109

Programme contact at the DFG Head Office:

The two statistical reports entitled Sprint or Marathon? Die Dauer von Promotionen in DFG-geförderten Verbünden (“Sprint or marathon? Doctoral programme lengths in DFG-funded consortia”) and Alles hat ein Ende … oder? Abgeschlossene und nicht abgeschlossene Promotionen in DFG-geförderten Verbünden (“All things come to an end ... don’t they? Completed and non-completed doctorates in DFG-funded consortia”) are available on the DFG website under this link:

Printed copies can be requested by sending an e-mail to .