I was wondering if anyone could help me with my current predicament. I have been offered a postdoc position in Germany at TV-L 13.

I completed my PhD in Australia last year but have not done a master’s (in my country a special year is added after a bachelor’s). After receiving my offer, I’ve been told by HR that, because I don’t have a master’s, I will have to start at TV-L 12. They want me to start at E TV 12 and then once my paperwork gets approved, try and move to the higher TV-L 13 scale but that seems precarious. I’ve sent my degrees to the German Central Office for Foreign Education (“Zentralstelle für ausländisches Bildungswesen”, ZAB) but when I’ve checked the Anabin database it doesn’t seem to recognise my BA (Hons) as similar to a master’s.

Is this standard? Would that mean I would be stuck at this pay for two years? How are the levels (Stufen) negotiated?

The position is for three years. Any general advice would be great as I’m not used to the German pay system and am about to move countries.

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    @HarvestMoon9 : At what kind of institution is your position located? Is it a governmental agency or similar? The reason why I am asking: a colleague of mine did a master's degree at a "Fachhochschule" and later a regular PhD (both in Germany). Since she does not have a proper master's degree from a German University, she cannot work on a TL-V 13 position or higher at a Federal Agency or similar instituions (such as the German Weather Service, DWD). However, she has already been employed at research institutes in Germany at TL-V 13 and 14. May 3, 2023 at 22:10
  • It’s a government university. I’m hoping it won’t be an issue and ZAB approve my documents. There are agreements in place between Australia and Germany to permit BA Hons from Aus enrolling in German PhDs. So surely following that logic they will approve my experience and I get paid the correct rate May 4, 2023 at 2:17
  • "After receiving my offer" — Did you have a signed contract? May 4, 2023 at 3:49
  • No I had not, however, I have signed an initial agreement which means we will start negotiating. Not sure if it’s exact name. May 4, 2023 at 3:57
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    Advice to those reading question (not OP): This is why if possible you should pick up a master's along the way, as you never know what will happen. Indeed, I got an AA (associates in arts) before my Bachelors, too. So I had AA, BEE, MS, PhD (4 degrees in total). This was US. Also, in some countries only a Plan A Masters (ie with Thesis) counts, so Plan B or coursework only doesn't. May 4, 2023 at 13:50

3 Answers 3


This is a rather common error made by bureaucrats who have no idea of foreign academic careers. If your academic progress is beyond a master’s equivalent (and your job requires it), you get a TV-L 13 payment. A PhD certainly fulfils this, and thus only this degree is relevant. (Mind that for your level (Stufe), other things may be relevant too.) Australian doctorates are amongst those which should be recognised most easily: There is a specific agreement on this and Australian doctorates are amongst the few that automatically allow you to call yourself “Dr.” in Germany (pertinent law for NRW, the largest German state).

Details depend on who communicated this to you, but most often this is solved by reminding the HR department that you have a PhD and this is TV-L 13 position. In the worst case, you have to activate the professor who hired you to tell the bureaucrats to do their job properly. Remember that your professor usually is on your side in this matter: They do not benefit from you getting paid less (they can’t use that money elsewhere), they have no close ties with administration, and they are not very keen on losing you over this.

Mind that the difference between TV-L 12 and TV-L 13 is only about 5 % at the same level (Stufe), and if you have a higher level on TV-L 12, you may even get more (see this table of the salaries). The best way to proceed really depends on the details: What previous experience counts at which group and which level? And would clarifying all of this delay everything make you lose one month of salary? For example, if they count more than ten years of experience since your bachelor’s for TV-L 12, you end up at 5582 €, whereas entry-level TV-L 13 is only 4074 €.

How are the Stufes negotiated?

This is a bit more tricky as it depends on the details of your work experience and how it is counted. The crucial thing here is work experience in positions that have similar requirements (master’s equivalent) and duties (probably mostly research) as the new position. Here, any research position after your PhD almost certainly counts; everything else is more complicated.

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    @HarvestMoon9 I would strongly suggest to have this sorted out before moving and starting your job. Currently you still have lots of leverage, which dissipates as soon as you are actually there. And yes, you have very good grounds to negotiate for TVL-13, since this is what is intended for postdocs. That you do not have a master's degree really should not matter given that you have a higher degree than a master.
    – xLeitix
    May 3, 2023 at 7:38
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    @HarvestMoon9 And, frankly, that they "need time to sort out the paperwork" for a case as as straightforward as "a PhD from Australia is still a PhD" sounds like a "them" problem. This has to be literal everyday business for a university HR department, and I would not accept an even temporary lower salary because they can't figure this out in advance.
    – xLeitix
    May 3, 2023 at 7:41
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    @HarvestMoon9: Also see my edit. Mind that if the problem is that they do not recognise your PhD yet for some reason, this is a different issue altogether (and it makes me wonder why they would hire you at all, since you should then fail to fulfil the formal requirements for the position).
    – Wrzlprmft
    May 3, 2023 at 7:45
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    @DCTLib I agree that it happens, but all are case of the bureaucracy unjustly interpretation the reality of how thinks outside of Germany do not map onto the German system in a neat way. To anyone in academia it is clear that anyone who has completed a PhD (at a serious institution) has at least three years of relevant TVL-13 level experience. The fact that this stuff keeps happening is indicative of a strand of nationalism based bigotry that needs to be stamped out with a vengeance.
    – TimRias
    May 3, 2023 at 11:37
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    @TimRias It's not a German problem, it exists elsewhere as well. I have an old school German "Diplom" and much fun was had by me trying to convince my UK university that I would be eligible for a PhD place with that and didn't have to do a bonus masters. May 3, 2023 at 13:19

You have a PhD. That's obviously "more" than a Masters and should count. The problem here (as Wrzlprmft also points out) is a cultural issue. The German administrators are familiar with the German system where one does a Bachelors, then a Masters, and then a PhD. So everyone with a PhD also has a (separate) Masters certificate. They're also sticklers for paperwork, so if the paperwork says a Masters is needed, you need the certificate that you've completed a Masters.

The complication arises as you've done your PhD at an institution which doesn't bother with the intermediate Masters designation(*), and goes directly from Bachelors to PhD. The bureaucrats are confused because the regulations say you need a Masters certificate, and they can't find anything in what you submitted that looks like a Masters certificate.

You're unlikely to convince them that they regulations can be ignored in this case, but what you likely can convince them of is that your PhD certificate also counts as a Masters certificate.

Because in reality, your PhD likely is the equivalent of both the Masters and the PhD. In the German system, a Masters is an ~2 year degree where the student takes a combination of classes and research, and writes and defends a thesis at the end. Then the PhD is a ~3-4 year degree where they just do research and write and defend a thesis at the end. (All this is roughly speaking -- different institutions and individuals have variations.)

I'm guessing(*) your PhD program was a ~5-6 year degree, with a combination of classes and research in the first ~2 years, and then research in the last ~3-4 years, followed by writing and defending a thesis at the end. There was likely also an event (possibly colloquially known as "prelims" or "quals") at about the 2 year mark where you had to write up a document and then defend it. -- Or in other words, it was a single program which combines the features of both the German Masters and the German PhD programs. Additionally (though institutionally dependent), it's also likely that - had you decided that the PhD program wasn't your cup of tea - at about the 2 year mark you would have been able to write up a thesis, defend it, and then leave the program with an official Masters degree (which is further recognition that the first two years of your program is a Masters equivalent).

So what's likely helpful is to convince the bureaucrats that your Australian PhD certificate counts as both a PhD and a Masters. I'm not sure what documentation you'd need to do this, but that's the angle I'd recommend to take when asking about it: "I'm terribly sorry about the confusing and backward way Australia runs its graduate education program. It says PhD, but it's really equivalent to a combined Masters/PhD program. What documentation do we need to prove that?" -- It may seem like a minor phrasing change, but going from "I don't need a Masters, I have a PhD!" to "My PhD certificate should also meet the requirements for a foreign Masters equivalent." is an important one for regulation-following sticklers. The first one asks them to bend the rules and special case you, but the second accepts the regulations and tries to satisfy them.

(*) I'm assuming. I'm not overly familiar with the academic system in Australia, and am basing it on the system in the United States.

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    I'm also not super familiar with Australia's academic system, except for through this site, but I think you have it a bit backwards; it's not that a PhD in Australia counts like a Masters+PhD, like a US PhD does, but that a "Bachelors (Hons)" does; the Hons part is a 1-2 year add-on to the bachelors degree, rather than just indicating a good performance in the bachelors component like "honors" typically means in the US. As such, it's a lot like a UK masters, and can be integrated with the bachelors.
    – Bryan Krause
    May 3, 2023 at 15:02
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    The Australian system is closer to the British system. A bachelors is 3 years. Honours is an additional 1-1.5 years which is generally 40-100% research, culminating in a thesis, which is typically one academic paper in length but a bit more verbose and not as polished. A PhD is then 3.5-4 years. An honours is similar to a masters or the first 1-2 years of a PhD program in the US. It's not 100% analogous but this can give you an Idea. I'm a TT academic in Aus and did my PhD in the US May 3, 2023 at 22:05
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    Yes that’s right, I did a 3 year BA, a 1 year Honours which included a 20k thesis, then did a 3.5 year PhD. I also did an additional Grad Cert of Higher Ed. I’ve sent my documents to ZAB for approval and hope they say my experience is equivalent. Thank you for your help everyone. May 4, 2023 at 2:06
  • In Au am Masters is actually not as respected as an honors (masters are for those not allowed to do an honours). May 4, 2023 at 17:44

I was exactly in a similar situation a year ago, but I manged to pull it to tvl-13. I convinced them that my msc-phd is combined together,like the US system. Negotiate strong don't fall on that trap.

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