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I am a Ph.D. student in Germany. For the past three years I have been paid by a scholarship grant. (The source of this grant and the subject I’m in is not of relevance. Consider it natural sciences.) This grant is now terminating after three years however I still have to write and hand in my thesis. The relevant university requires Ph.D. students to be properly enrolled, thus I qualify as a student.

I need to fill the gap between the end of the grant and having handed in my thesis in some way — I need food and to pay my flat’s rent. I am not entitled to Arbeitslosengeld I (unemployment benefits) because a grant is not considered an employment contract. And today I also heard that apparantly I am not entitled to Arbeitslosengeld II (social welfare benefits) either, because I am still enrolled as a student.

Is that piece of information correct? If that is the case, are there any social welfare benefits I can apply for? Or do I really need to rely on ‘rich parents’/savings?


Side notes:

Technically, my grant can be extended; however, I am unsure whether it will be or not. There is no way I can finish my thesis by the time the original grant ends and my supervisor does not have any spare money to finance me for the remaining time e.g. as a wissenschaftliche Hilfskraft (scientific helper).

I’m still checking with my university whether I actually must remain enrolled or not; please assume compulsory enrolment in your answers/comments.

So far in my life I have never paid into the unemployed insurance. Any student jobs I had gave too little salary.

In case it matters, I am a German national.

  • It is very unlikely that someone from the other end of the world can answer this. You'd have to ask locally. I'm sure you aren't the first (would be) graduate in the same bind... – vonbrand Jan 6 '16 at 14:32
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    @vonbrand I know but there are a handful of German people around here. And the same is also true for questions regarding PhDs in America/UK/Japan/South America. They’re all somewhat localised. – Jan Jan 6 '16 at 14:48
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    @vonbrand The germany tag clearly implies that it is a local question. – silvado Jan 6 '16 at 15:02
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    The position isn't so very different in the UK. Benefits eligibility is rather limited and those who are eligible have to spend a rather large mount of time applying for jobs. Any jobs. Realistically many students move in with their parents for a few months and work from home, visiting the university only when necessary. – Chris H Jan 6 '16 at 16:53
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This is very normal to happen, you have three choices, which I would recommend the last two:

  1. Extend and Hope The Supervisor Comes Through: Obviously you are extending your stay at the university, you can stay still and hope that your supervisor can find a funding somewhere, which is laying around, and then give it to you.

  2. Find a Job and Write Your Thesis: Second choice is to go and find a job (postdoc or industry), since you are a German national, the world is your oyster. You do not need to waste time and energy for visa applications.

    2.1 Benefit: You stack your experience, start earning based on years of education.

    2.2. Drawback: You need to balance it out between your future job and writing your thesis.

A Big Fat Alert: The second option is the tricky one, not everyone can balance it out between a job and writing a thesis; and I know people who did fail their submission because they were too busy earning their living.

  1. Combination of the first two: You can find a job at your university and then write the thesis at the same time.

    Main Benefit: You can still discuss issues with your supervisor and be at the same environment until your submission.

Conclusion: You need to sit down and think about this very carefully, and then choose your option. Not the best scenario but it happens to many at the end of their third year period.

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You could get a part time job.

There are some exceptions to this but usually you can keep your student status (e.g. with student tarif medical insurance and other student discounts) if you work 20h/week or less and are enrolled as a full time student.

Possible part time jobs include TA-/RA-Work (Hiwi-Jobs) which would usually be done by master students. As far as I know, the professors usually put in the worst-case budget for these positions anyway (i.e. they budget for someone with a masters degree even if they're planning to give the positions to someone with only a bachelor). The benefit of TA/RA-work is that you can keep close contact with your supervisor, even if you don't work on your original project anymore.

But of course, your part time job could also be in the industry (Werkstudent, possibly with the company you're planning to join anyway) or anything else that pays enough for you to live on for a year or less. The downside is of course that you'll have less direct contact with your supervisor.

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And today I also heard that apparantly I am not entitled to Arbeitslosengeld II (social welfare benefits) either, because I am still enrolled as a student.

I found out that this information is incorrect.

The highest court-ruling on the issue so far is one of the Landessozialgericht Sachsen-Anhalt (state social welfare court of Saxonia-Anhalt) and can be found under the reference number L 2 AS 71/06. The main point is that Ph.D. studies cannot under any circumstances be supported by BAföG benefits. § 7 section 5 of the 2. Buch Sozialgesetzbuch (SGB II) explicitly mentions that those eligible for BAföG are not eligible for social welfare benefits (ALG 2). The court ruling clarified that for a student to be ineligible for ALG 2, it has to be possible for any student to be eligible for BAföG benefits according to the BAföG law. In layman’s terms, that law excludes anything past a bachelor’s degree from BAföG benifits unless it is a consecutive master’s degree. Most importantly, under no circumstances can Ph.D. studies be supported.

The court is pretty clear in that interpretation:

Promotionsstudiengänge gehören grundsätzlich nicht zu den nach BAföG förderungsfähigen Ausbildungen, weil sie nicht zu einem berufsqualifizierenden Abschluss führen.

Ph.D. studies do not belong to the education supportable by BAföG under any circumstances because they do not lead to a graduation that directly qualifies for a job.[1]

Thus, even if one is enrolled as a Ph.D. student at one’s university, one is eligible for Arbeitslosengeld II.


Note:

[1]: This is probably something very inherent to Germany, having to do with the history of the BAföG law. It was designed to support exactly one academic degree which was no problem in the old days with diploma/magister. But after bachelor and master degrees were introduced as a consequence of the Bologna process, suddenly the bachelor was a graduation qualifying for jobs while the master was comparable to the former diploma leading to a lot of complicated wordings and interpretations.

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