I am planning to apply for a PhD position in Computer Science but haven't decided yet which country to study in. So far I found interesting universities / research groups in Germany (where I am currently studying), Denmark and Sweden but the structures of PhD programs seem to differ widely. Therefore I was wondering if these differences also result in a quality difference.

Up to my current understanding the systems and differences are as follows: (Please correct me if I'm mistaken.)

  • In Germany Computer Science PhDs are usually unstructured, without course work. Only published papers and the thesis count. Exchanges semesters are not usual (at least at my current university). PhDs usually take up to 5 years.

  • In Denmark and Sweden PhDs are structured and include course work and usually an exchange semester at a foreign university.

  • In Denmark PhDs take exactly 3 years and in Sweden about 4 years.

Do these differences affect the overall quality of the PhD and the experience/ knowledge you gain from it?

For example, Danish PhDs are much shorter than German ones and include additional course work and an exchange stay abroad. I get the impression that Danish programs are much more guided than German ones but that you have less time to do research. Does this imply that you learn less or are students in a guided environment more productive?

  • 4
    I disagree with the close vote. As far as I understand, comparisons between countries are not considered "shopping" on our site.
    – Nobody
    May 7, 2017 at 10:04
  • 6
    I have no reference for this, but my feeling is that within-country variation is larger than cross-country variation.
    – henning
    May 7, 2017 at 10:48
  • 1
    Do you have a master's degree? Or are you a bachelor who has just got past the basic indoctrination? Do you need guidance?
    – Karl
    May 7, 2017 at 20:29
  • So, did you decide? how is it going?
    – EarlGrey
    Oct 19, 2021 at 23:32

2 Answers 2


In Germany, there's a huge variability in the quality of PhD theses. The quality of a particular PhD and the benefits gained from it are mostly determined by the quality of the workgroup and its supervision culture.

To identify the good workgroups, you can simply look at the research output of their PhD students, in particular, publications at good venues.

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    "In Germany, there's a huge variability in the quality of PhD theses": I think that this can actually describe the situation in any country, not only Germany. May 7, 2017 at 12:37
  • @MassimoOrtolano Maybe yes. I would be particulary interested in impressions from countries where mandatory coursework is a part of the PhD. May 7, 2017 at 15:18
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    @MassimoOrtolano On the other hand, as mentioned here, a part of that variation can be ascribed to which university granted the PhD (as the quality of the universities differ quite a bit from best to worst). This is much less the case in Denmark which has so few universities. May 7, 2017 at 15:43
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    @TobiasKildetoft: Yes, Germany has a fair number of universities, only some of which are widely known. Yet, it seems questionable to me whether there are indeed significant differences in quality consistent across fields. Or, as it was (in my opinion, correctly) expressed by another user in a comment a while ago: "[in] Germany (...) a clear concept of a 'top university' and an inter-university ranking (...) is much less pronounced and people can be hard-pressed to even name a university that is distinctly above others". May 7, 2017 at 22:15
  • @MassimoOrtolano in the netherlands I know there's a lot of effort to make sure the PHd level stays equal between universities.
    – paul23
    Mar 5, 2020 at 14:53

The "quality" of your doctorate is in your own hands. You can hear as many additional lectures as you like and have time for. You can spend a semester abroad in the typical German "Individualpromotion", if you want to and have a convincing goal.

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