Do German company-sponsored Ph.D. students deserve the Ph.D. title?

I recently came across a post on social media that there's a BMW employee who got accepted to the BMW Ph.D. Program Promotion.

So they keep their full-time job but get assigned to a German university with a dissertation advisor. They spend three years working full-time, then get a Ph.D. degree.

In normal Ph.D. programs in the US (5 years) and Canada (3 years):

  1. Student does research

  2. Writes thesis

  3. The thesis is approved by the university according to the university's standards

  4. Degree is awarded by the university

In the German Company Sponsored Ph.D. Program:

  1. Student does research

  2. Writes thesis

  3. The thesis is approved by the university according to the university's standards



  1. Do you think this is an abuse or misuse of the Ph.D. title?

  2. Does such a program deserve to be called a Ph.D. program for the type of research and graduation criteria designed?

  3. Shouldn't this type of degree be named as D.Eng or EngD?

  • 1
    The five years for the US is post bachelors, not post masters.
    – Buffy
    Mar 29 at 23:14
  • 1
    That is the max time. It isn't the average. The average would be more like 3 post masters. Some programs limit the time you can spend.
    – Buffy
    Mar 29 at 23:23
  • 5
    It seems you have made your mind up on the answer already, and this is more of a rant... Mar 29 at 23:35
  • 1
    No, that screed is not asking politely in a nice way.
    – Jon Custer
    Mar 30 at 0:40
  • 1
    And your view of a PhD program seems very USA-centric. Most of your objections apply to every European program I know of.
    – Jon Custer
    Mar 30 at 0:50

2 Answers 2


For an outside viewer of the German PhD system some points have to be mentioned:

  • Germany produces over the average PhD graduates. This is partly caused by most of the research/lab work at public universities/institutes done by cheaper PhD students with 50-100% TV-L contracts.
  • Normally one is only allowed to start a PhD with a master title, so 3 years can be enough to reach the PhD
  • Beneath the universities there exist also many "Fachhochschule" (Universities for applied science, strongly collaborating and cooperating with Industry partners, not doing fundamental research). Master graduates from Fachhochschulen are normally not allowed to start a PhD at a university. The Fachhochschulen themselves don't have the right to give the PhD title, also many of them want to change this, while the Universities want to keep the sole right.
  • there exist branches like medicine in which a "Dr. med" title, the German equivalent of the PhD, is often given within 6-12 months for much less experimental/evaluation/statistical work than a natural scientist or engineer has to do. So there exist already very unfair and different measures to achieve such a title, being the qualification step before starting habilitation or junior professorship or tenure programme to become professor.

Now, concerning the case of BMW, I find it personally rather amusing than shocking which road the German PhD title and the academic system is apparently going here. One can be unsettled by this, when in former days the requirements were higher to earn a PhD and its reputation might decline therefore. On the other hand, times and academic standards change over time and countries.

The remaining question is, what will a PhD title based on research & development in such a programme be worth in 3, 10, 30 years? I don't think much apart from the formal value at a company like BMW or its competitors. But it might be rather counterproductive for a academic career and the journals in which you can possibly publish. If you do your research work at BMW or at an institute being paid fully by BMW for this research work, it should practically not make a big difference for the output. But, very likely, a professor supervising such a work, has to give away choice and responsibility what the content of the research work will be.

So to sum up, there is nothing illegal or in principle to criticize in this case, but the limitations/drawback to pursue such a PhD programme have to be taken into account by the PhD student. And in Germany, the Dr. titles of different study branches already have a very defragmented and intrinsic value due to very different requirements, contracts, practices, average period and level of (fundamental) "research" work in different branches.


I don't see why you'd think it's not deserved. "Deserved" is an intrinsically opinion-based thing, but even so, the department presumably has a set of written requirements that all its graduates must have met, and if those are met, then the PhD is "deserved".

Compare the things you list as needed in a US / Canadian PhD:

RA or TA

Last I saw being a TA is generally for funding only. If you don't need the money there is no formal requirement for being a TA. RA is different, but it's just a job title since PhD students do research, hence they are already RAs.

Teaching tutorial/intro courses

I doubt these are necessary for graduation, and are again just for funding purposes. If you don't need the money then there's no need to teach.

Qualification Exams

Lots of universities don't have qualification exams.

Thesis/Dissertation/Research/Experiment with rigorous level that may be published on academic journals

Are you suggesting company-sponsored PhDs don't have to do this? Your question itself says "Solve some practical problems for the company by writing a paper" (emphasis mine).

Thesis defense

Same as above, if the university requires a thesis defense then all PhD students have to pass or they don't get their degree. If these company-sponsored students you're referring to don't have to do this, it's because the university does not require it, in which case you should dispute whether the university is qualified to award PhDs.

Motivation: conduct scientific and theoretical research, career in academics, teaching

Motivation is irrelevant in academia.

High drop-out rate, especially on qualification test

This is a bad thing, not a good thing.

  • Am I right that you're saying PhD is a university/organization's self-defined degree. There's no standard across the globe for how a person should obtain the PhD degree. As long as the students do what the school says as the standard for the PhD, they'll get PhD. But I don't see why motivation is irrelevant. When you're applying for PhD programs, don't they ask you why you want to do PhD? Also why is high drop-out rate bad? Qualification exam is an objective way to filter out false positive PhD students. Lots of programs may not have qualif-exam, but at least stem subjects should have right? Mar 30 at 1:38
  • 2
    1) Yes. 2) Motivation matters to the student, but not the teacher (although some teachers use it to assess how likely the student is to drop out). 3) High drop out rates = wasted resources. You spend resources that could've been used elsewhere to teach students who leave. That's a bad thing, not a good thing.
    – Allure
    Mar 30 at 1:41
  • @SayMyNameHeisenberg in order for a global standard to exist, their needs to be some institution that can either create a global consus, or a body than can enforce a global majoritiy opinion. Global consensus in academia is something you can forget, and a world government does not exist. So each country does his own thing. Mar 30 at 8:59

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