Which are the ways to get my PhD studies funded?

Along with many favorable settings of the German education system is, similarly, having no study tuition fee. The reality behind this fact is that university and non-university research activities are particularly sponsored by the government. The industry on the other hand, is another significant contributor funding research and innovation activities through its own research institutes and close cooperation with university and other non-university research institutions. The third funding party of education and research are private foundations, i.e. Fritz Thyssen and Gerda Henkel Foundations who spend millions on this regard. The European Union is an additional supporter in this regard, allocating education and research funds inside the Research Framework Programme. Additionally, as a response to the global challenges, such as the climate and demographic changes, the extend of the disease, the need for a safe food, as well as deficiency of fossil fuel and energy resources, the Federal Government has launched its High-Tech Strategy as an instrument to support the research in these areas. Accordingly, in 2015, the Government allocated 10% of the country’s GDP for the education and research.

There are around 20,000 public and private funding organizations, which allocate their funds for the international doctoral candidates, such as the Academic Exchange Service (DAAD), the Alexander von Humboldt Foundation and Helmholtz Association. To give a clear figure on the level of support received for education, research and innovation from these organizations, The Stifterverband für die Deutsche Wissenschaft i.e. contributes with more than 35 million euros dedicated to education, research and science.

Anyhow, despite that the offered support for the education system in Germany resulted in eliminating the study fee for higher education studies, you, and any doctoral student in Germany has to meet semester and living costs in addition. Correspondingly, as a foreigner who seeks to get a visa for entering and residing in Germany, under the intention of studying, amongst others needs to be proving the access to at least 8,640 euros annually (usually by depositing the amount of money on a so called “Bank Blocked Account“). On the other hand, an estimated monthly cost of a student in Germany is 794 euros, which exceeds the amount of the above-mentioned sum of 8,040 euros. Consequently, you, as a doctoral student, have to make an effort on exploring the proper funding alternatives.

Many doctoral candidates who engage in research training groups, graduate schools or research institutions work as paid research associates or they get scholarships from one of numerous funding organizations. Some other doctoral candidates are involved in a part-time job related to their research area in the industry and some others find a part-time job outside their area of research.

How much will I spend on doctoral studies?

To reemphasize, there is no study tuition fee, as the Government and other parties are there greatly supporting the education, research and innovation. While, a student has estimated monthly costs, at minimum, 794 euros. This includes the following approximate costs: semester contribution 75-250 euros, Rent 298 euros, Food 165 euros, travel (car/public transportation) 82 euros, leisure/culture and sports 68 euros, the health insurance 66-90 euros, clothing 52 euros, telephone/internet/ radio and TV cable/postage 33 euros, and study materials 30 euros.

Funding opportunities

Despite the stress you might experience dealing with the aforementioned costs behind you, several are the alternatives to support you financially during your doctoral studies in Germany. As a doctoral student, you can experience a part-time employment in university, non-university research institutions or industry. There are also several funding organizations, which can support you with scholarships and other support programmes.

Non-university research institutions, i.e. the Max Planck Society, Helmholtz Association, Leibniz Association and other, offer you, as a doctoral candidate, scholarships and/or fix term employment or both of them meantime.

As a student of a structured programme of doctoral studies you get the opportunity to benefit getting a job as a doctoral researcher, i.e. from Fraunhofer-Gesellschaft, but not exclusively, since there are so many other similar organizations.

On the other hand, you can get a job in the industry usually – a part-time contract in a job related to your research area, which is consistent with the specific-industry real time demands. Another prospect of employment in industry is to choose a job in a research based industrial company. In such case the university will employ you (as a recruiter) and through the cooperation with the specific industry will engage you in a research project that relates to the industry demands. In such form of work, you will be teamed supervised, from the university and the company supervisors.

Well, if you chose to be employed in non-university research institutions, as another available alternative for doctoral candidates, typically you will engage in a research project that relates to the industry demands. Your job will be supervised by university, non-university and by the industry.

Funding organizations

To reemphasize, the education, research, science and development are amongst the most sponsored activities in Germany. There are around 20,000 supporting public and private organizations, whose activity is also allocating funds to incite research based activities that produce innovation in science and industry. Some of these organizations are there to support you and other doctoral students through individual scholarship programmes offered, some others with part-time fixed-term research work contracts and some with a combination of two. The university also plays a great role in offering paid part-time employment prospect for your category of students, especially as research associates, supporting you to practice and specialize the research and teaching skills and to get your living costs covered.

As there are numerous funding organizations, we want to put the emphasize in some of them, which make the most of the contribution in supporting education and research activities.

The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD)

The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) is the biggest scholarship provider for the international students who want to pursue their education in Germany. A special focus of DAAD is supporting financially the education and research activity of doctoral candidates. DAAD has its network of 15 offices and over 51 centers spread around the world.

More information on how you can benefit from DAAD’s funds: DAAD’s official website.

The Alexander Von Humboldt Foundation

The Alexander Von Humboldt Foundation is established by the Federal Foreign Office, Federal ministries and international partners, dedicating its funds to support German and international doctoral researchers who perform their research activity in Germany. This foundation covers several disciplines, by supporting 2,000 international and local researchers.

More information on how you can benefit from The Alexander Von Humboldt Foundation’s funds: The Alexander Von Humboldt Foundation’s official website.

The German Research Foundation (DFG)

The German Research Foundation (DFG) runs as a self-governed funding organization, acting as a partner of research-intensive higher education institutions, non-university research institutions, scientific associations as well as academies of sciences. Its activity is mainly focused on financing young researchers’ activity and inciting the international cooperation, through funds mainly received by the Federal Government and the German Länder.

More information on how you can benefit from DFG’s funds: DFG’s official website

German Federation of Industrial Research Associations (AiF)

The German Federation of Industrial Research Associations (AiF) orients its funds in financially assisting with activities related to the applied research and development, dedicated to, and on behalf of the Small and Medium Enterprises (SMEs). The foundation, through its activity seeks the encouragement of cooperation between science, research and industry so to increase the number of innovative marketable products. The AiF has a network of 100 industrial research associations with around 50, 000 companies dominated by SMEs, with an annual allocating budged on research and innovaton of 490 million euros.

More information: The AiF’s official website.

The European Union (EU)

The European Union (EU) is one more funding institution, allocating its budget on research and innovation activities for the entire European territory based on the Horizon 2020 strategy. Through its funds, the EU supports research projects and individual actions. The EU, through this assistance, aims to promote research, technology development and innovation.

Horizon 2020 as an especially dedicated strategy to research and innovation, attempts to promote the excellence in science – for which the EU allocated a budget of 24,6 billion. While, the EU supports the individual research and innovation actions through the programmes ERC Grants and Marie Sklodowska-Curie beneficiaries of which programmes are research institutions and junior researchers.

More: the ERC Grants in general and dedicated for the Germany.


German companies are amongst the world’s greatest sponsors of research and innovation, with a fund allocation level of two-thirds of the overall annual research and innovation budget. Especially SMEs greatly support research and discoveries, which lead to the establishment of new marketable products. Industry, for that reason, stands close to the academic and research institutions by funding education and research activities of these institutions, having a wide network of cooperation with universities and research institutions. Companies also support research activities by offering jobs for doctoral candidates, as well as by financing researchers by offering of scholarships and prizes.

There are many industrial companies in Germany. The Federation of German Industries stands as an authority for supporting mutual interests of 36 industrial associations with a total membership of 100,000 companies.

More on German companies: The Federation of German Industries’ official website.

Federal and State Governments

Federal and State governments (Landers) similarly, are amongst greatest contributors as regards to funding research and innovation related activities. These authorities are mainly focused on sponsporing activities that relate to the governmental and landers’s policy areas and strategies, in order to get the necessary scientific basis for the implementation of ministries or Landers policies and strategies. An illustrative fact of this are The Robert Koch Institute e.g., is an institute, whose activities are financially supported by the federal institutions to bring innovative research based findings on a national level as regards of diseases and preventive measures, while The Federal Institute for Materials Research and Testing (BAM) activities are sponsored to bring findings as regards of chemistry and material technology to increase the safety in chemistry.

Federal institutions can be found on the website of The Federal Government.


The aforementioned foundations are the biggest sponsors of research, development and innovation activities, as well as of young and senior researchers. However, there are a lot of other foundations, around 20,000 which are there to give their contribution in the same aspect, likewise.

There is a database of the Association of German Foundations encompassing a list of 10,000 foundations, whose activities relate to the research, education and innovation activities.

Some of the most eminent foundations in this category are:

Depending on the research activity they support, these foundations are divided into the following categories:

  • Foundations supporting research activities,
  • Doctoral students, young researchers,
  • Senior researchers,
  • Young talents and so on.

Doctoral scholarships

If you are considering a scholarship as an option to get your doctoral studies funded then there is a good news for you. There are several scholarship programmes available which aim to support you as a future doctoral candidate in your research on the chosen area. Applying for the scholarship, duly-reaching the application application is necessary, a touch that increases your chances to be awarded as a scholarship holder.

Questioning where to get the information on available scholarships category, the following are the major databases offering scholarships posts for doctoral studies in Germany:

  • The German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) website posses a wide-range listed scholarships for doctoral studies which can be accessed on the following link: funding-guide.de,
  • The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has a scholarship pilot website with the information on scholarships available for doctoral students ,
  • The database of Stiftervrband also offers an information on foundations which provide scholarships for several study subjects,
  • EURAXESS is a scholarships online portal where you can reach information on research funding opportunities and scholarships offered for doctoral studies in Germany.

Part-time employment

Among other options to fund your living costs while doing a doctorate in Germany is getting a part-time job contract in university, non-university research institution. Industry or else.

Employed in a University

As a future doctoral candidate you have high chances for a part-time employment by the university, in the position of research assistant- a job involving activities on research projects supervised by a combined team of university and company supervisors. The information about open positions for the job of research assistant can be obtained by your supervisor or the international office and the career center of the university.

Employment in a Non-university research institute

Despite that non-university research institutions do not possess the authority to award doctoral degrees, their support to doctoral candidates is significant, due to the close cooperation with the university and industry they constantly keep up. These institutions typically invite doctoral candidates on paid part-time fixed term contracts of employment.

The posts offered to doctoral candidates from non-university institutions typically involve working in industry-related applied research, which are carried in full cooperation with universities, where the candidate is directed by the supervisor.

Employment in the Industry

If you chose to get employment in the industry during your doctoral studies in Germany, there you have a lot of opportunities. Thus, due to the close cooperation that the industry has with university and non-university institutions. As a doctoral candidate part-time employee in the industry, your job will be working on a research project related to your doctoral thesis, under the direction of your supervisor, university professor and the industry. 

The information on available job opportunities in industry can be obtained in the university’s international office, career center or from your doctoral studies supervisor or team of supervisors. However, you can check the websites of industrial companies in the aforementioned websites.

In an Independent employment

Of course, you never should throw away  the option of open job opportunities that the rich labor market offers. There are several job portals where you can search and find your preferred part time job. However, as a foreigner, you shall meet the requirements for involvement in the economic activity of Germany, by consulting the Aliens’ Authority and get the proper work permit.

There are governmental institutions posting open job vacancies:

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