English version of the Open Letter

To the State Governments of the Federal Republic of Germany

As a result of the recent plagiarism scandals, the public debate has become focused increasingly on us, the doctoral candidates, as well as on our precarious professional situation (e.g., ZDF, 2012) and our way of working. Both on the state and the national level, there have been discussions concerning strategies and methods for preventing plagiarism in the future and for improving the quality of doctoral dissertations in Germany. Paradoxically, however, this discussion has thus far almost completely excluded the group immediately concerned, namely us.

We doctoral candidates make vital contributions to the research activity and teaching at German higher education institutions. Without us, the higher education system is unthinkable. But despite these contributions there is not even reliable and complete data on the number of persons currently working on a doctoral degree at German universities.

The currently unclarified legal situation in the higher education laws of the states engenders a situation in which we at the universities are not perceived as a group. Depending on where the funding for our dissertations comes from, we may be considered as students or employees or may not even have an official affiliation with the university at all. This leads to an incomprehensible state of inequality in questions of codetermination, legal status, and legal protection within our group.

As early as 1996, the German Rectors’ Conference demanded that doctoral candidates be granted an official status at the universities in order to regulate the supervision of their dissertation projects, to ensure that they are included in the statistics, to give them access to university services, and to clear up points of uncertainty in questions of liability. These demands have since been reiterated again and again in similar form at the highest level (e.g., HRG 2002, BMBF 2008, GEW 2010), most recently in the position paper of the Science Council in November 2011. Despite these initiatives, you, the state governments, who are responsible for the state higher education laws, have yet to take action on this matter.

When one considers how unambiguous this problem is and how clear the repeated suggestions for solving it in the past 16 years have been, this inactivity is frustrating. It creates the impression that we doctoral candidates and our work are not being acknowledged and that there is no interest in recognizing us as a distinct and legitimate group with its own voice and a secure legal status in the German higher education system.

With this open letter, we doctoral students want to make it clear that we are not happy with this situation and expect to finally see clear regulations. We do not see ourselves as an anonymous group that produces research findings and only returns to regulated circumstances upon earning a doctoral degree. We want to have a voice during the doctoral phase and help shape the higher education institutions and the research system. We expect legal security and recognition for the work we do for our departments, our faculties, and our institutions.

We demand a change in state higher education laws to ensure that we are finally recognized as a distinct group at the universities!


Andreas Hartmann, Promotionsstipendiat des Evangelischen Studienwerk Villigst e.V.

Maike Buttler, Thomas Schüler, Benjamin Liedy, Promotionsstipendiaten der Heinrich-Böll-Stiftung

Agata Klaus, Promotionsstipendiatin des Cusanuswerk

Lina-Mareike Dedert, Promotionsstipendiatin des Ernst Ludwig Ehrlich Studienwerk

Stefanie John, Ulf-Werner Soppa, Jonas Hennig, Promotionsstipendiaten der Friedrich-Naumann-Stiftung

Steffen Eckhard, Stefan Plenk, Ingo Reiff, Promotionsstipendiaten der Friedrich Ebert Stiftung

Alexandru Petrescu, Promotionsstipendiat der Hanns-Seidel-Stiftung

Jens Gaitzsch, Promotionsstipendiat der Rosa-Luxemburg-Stiftung

Das Leitungskollektv der Promovierenden der Hans-Böckler-Stiftung

Stefanie Land-Hilbert, Promotionsstipendiatin der Stiftung der Deutschen Wirtschaft


BMBF – BUNDESMINISTERIUM FÜR BILDUNG UND FORSCHUNG (2008): Bundesbericht zur Förderung des Wissenschaftlichen Nachwuchses, (BuWiN), Bonn. (http://www.buwin.de/fileadmin/kisswin/download/BUWIN_download.pdf, 19.03.2012)

GEW – GEWERKSCHAFT ERZIEHUNG UND WISSENSCHAFT (2010): Promotion im Brennpunkt. Reformvorschläge der Doktorandinnen und Doktoranden in der Bildungsgewerkschaft GEW.
(http://promovieren.gew.de/Binaries/Binary78009/Promotion%20Brennpunkt.pdf, 14.5.2012)

(http://www.bmbf.de/pub/hrg_20020815.pdf; 14.5.2012)

HRK – HOCHSCHULREKTORENKONFERENZ (1996): Entschließung des 179. Plenums vom 9. Juli 1996: Zum Promotionsstudium. (http://www.hrk.de/de/beschluesse/109_524.php#1.%20Allgemeiner%20Doktorandenstatus, 19.03.2012)

ZDF – ZWEITES DEUTSCHES FERNSEHEN (2012): Frontal: Lehrknechte und Betteldozenten. (http://www.zdf.de/ZDFmediathek/beitrag/video/1605028/Lehrknechte-und-Betteldozenten, 4.4.2012)


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