Habilitation is the highest academic qualification a scholar can achieve by his or her own pursuit in several European and Asian countries. Earned after obtaining a research doctorate, such as a PhD, habilitation requires the candidate to write a professorial thesis (often known as a Habilitationsschrift, or Habilitation thesis) based on independent scholarship, reviewed by and defended before an academic committee in a process similar to that for the doctoral dissertation. However, the level of scholarship has to be considerably higher than that required for a research doctoral (PhD) thesis in terms of quality and quantity, and must be accomplished independently, in contrast with a PhD dissertation typically directed or guided by a faculty supervisor.[1][2]

In the sciences, publication of 10 to more than 30 research articles is required during the habilitation period of about 4 to 10 years. Sometimes (in the humanities) a major book publication is required before defense takes place. Usually the teaching ability of the habilitation candidate is evaluated as well. Thus, the level of academic achievement can be compared in many aspects to a North American tenure review but can take even longer. However, the outcome of the successful habilitation examination is a degree-like professorial certification rather than a tenured position. Whereas in the United States, the United Kingdom and most other countries, the PhD is sufficient qualification for a faculty position at a university, in other countries only the habilitation qualifies the holder to independently supervise doctoral candidates. Such a post is known in Germany as Privatdozent and there are similarly termed posts elsewhere. After service as a Privatdozent, one may be summoned to the faculty as a professor.

Habilitation qualification exists in France (Habilitation à diriger des recherches, "accreditation to supervise research", abbreviated HDR), Switzerland, Germany (Priv.-Doz. and/or Dr. habil.), Austria (formerly Univ.-Doz., now Priv.-Doz.), Denmark, Bulgaria, Poland (dr hab. , doktor habilitowany), Portugal (Agregação), Sweden and Finland (Docent or Doc.) the Czech Republic and Slovakia (Docent), Hungary (Dr. habil.), Slovenia, Armenia, Azerbaijan, Belarus, Latvia, Lithuania (Habil. dr.), Moldova, Kyrgyzstan, Kazakhstan, Uzbekistan, Ukraine, and Russia (Doktor nauk). A similar qualification known as Livre-docência still exists in some private universities at Brazil, and at a university in state of São Paulo, but has disappeared in other parts of Brazil. In Spain it is called "acreditación"[3] and it is a requirement for access to some kinds of posts in state owned universities. Similarly, the so-called Libera docenza existed in Italy until 1970. The habilitation, derived from the Medieval Latin habilitare — "suitable, fit" — developed in the eighteenth century.

The word habilitation can be used to describe the qualification or the process of earning it. It is sometimes incorrectly used to refer to the thesis written as part of that process (what is called Habilitationsschrift in German). A successful habilitation requires that the candidate (called Habilitand in German) be officially given the venia legendi, Latin for "permission for lecturing," or the ius docendi, "right of teaching" a specific academic subject at universities for a lifetime. This status is called Privatdozent (for males) or Privatdozentin (for females), abbreviated PD or Priv.-Doz..



In order to hold the rank of professor within the German system, in some scientific branches it is still necessary to have attained the habilitation. It is thus a qualification at a higher level than the degree of Promotion (the German equivalent of the Ph.D.). It is usually earned after several years of independent research, either "internally" while working at a university in a position as a Wissenschaftlicher Assistent ("academic assistant," a position equivalent to assistant professor when filled by a PhD-holder) or Akademischer Rat (academic councilor) or "externally" as a practitioner such as high school teacher, lawyer, etc. With the habilitation, the status of Privatdozent (university lecturer, PD or Priv.-Doz. for short) is usually granted.

Although disciplines and countries vary in the typical number of years for obtaining habilitation after getting a doctorate, it usually takes longer than for the Anglo-American tenure. For example, in Poland, the statutory time for getting a habilitation (traditionally, although not obligatorily, relying on a book publication) is nine years. Theoretically, if an assistant professor does not succeed in obtaining habilitation in this time, s/he should be moved to a position of a lecturer, with a much higher teaching load and no research obligations. In practice, however, on many occasions schools extend the deadlines for habilitation for most scholars if they do not make it in time.

A habilitation thesis can be either cumulative (based on previous research, be it articles or monographs) or monographical, i.e. a specific, unpublished thesis, which then has the tendency to be very long. While cumulative habilitations are predominant in some fields (such as medicine), they have been, since about a century ago, almost unheard of in others (such as in law). The cumulative form of the habilitation can be fairly compared to the higher doctorates, such as the D.Sc. (Doctor of Science), Litt.D. (Doctor of Letters), LLD (Doctor of Laws) and D.D. (Doctor of Divinity) found in the UK, some Commonwealth countries and the Republic of Ireland, which are awarded on the basis of a career of published work. However, the higher doctorates are not recognized by German States as being equivalent to the habilitation.[4]

Only those candidates receiving the highest or second-highest grade for their Ph.D. thesis are encouraged to proceed to the habilitation. Since 2006, in some federal states of Germany, there have been new restrictions by the federal laws regarding the degree of the Ph.D. thesis which allow only excellent candidates to enter the habilitation process.

The habilitation is awarded after a public lecture, to be held after the thesis has been accepted, and after which the venia legendi is bestowed. In some areas, such as law, philosophy, theology and sociology, the venia, and thus the habilitation, is only given for certain sub-fields (such as criminal law, civil law, or philosophy of science, practical philosophy etc.); in others, for the entire field.

Those who have achieved habilitation can denote the fact by placing the abbreviation "Dr hab." or "Dr habil." before their names, though this is only common for those who have not yet obtained or who have already relinquished a privatdozent position.

It is possible to get a professorship without habilitation, if the search committee attests the candidate to have qualifications equaling those of a habilitation and the higher ranking bodies (the university's senate and the country's ministry of education) approve of that. However, while some subjects make liberal use of this (e.g. the natural sciences in order to employ candidates from countries with different systems and the arts to employ active artists), in other subjects it is rarely done.

German debate about the habilitation

In 2004, the habilitation was the subject of a major political debate in Germany. The former Federal Minister for Education and Science, Edelgard Bulmahn, aimed to abolish the system of the habilitation and replace it by the alternative concept of the junior professor: a researcher should first be employed for up to six years as a "junior professor" (a non-tenured position roughly equivalent to assistant professor in the United States or lecturer in the United Kingdom) and so prove his or her suitability for holding a tenured professorship.

Opinion split among German academia

Many, especially researchers in the natural sciences, as well as young researchers, have long demanded the abandonment of the habilitation as they think it to be an unnecessary and time-consuming obstacle in a scientific career, contributing to the brain drain of talented young researchers who think their chances of getting a professorship at a reasonable age to be better abroad and hence move, for example, to the UK or USA. Many feel overly dependent on their supervising Principal Investigators (the professor heading the research group) as superiors have the power to delay the process of completing the habilitation. A further problem comes with funding support for those who wish to pursue an habilitation where older candidates often feel discriminated against, for example under the DFG's Emmy-Noether programme. Furthermore internal "soft" money might be only budgeted to pay for younger postdoctoral scientists. Because of the need to chase short-term research contracts, many researchers in the natural sciences apply for more transparent career development opportunities in other countries (e.g. in the UK, which provides more funding for senior postdoctoral positions, more lectureships, many more third-party fellowship funding opportunities including the 5-year RCUK fellowship and Value in People awards, no academic culture of age discrimination, and also the postgraduate (postdoctorate) diplomas in Higher Education and Learning & Research /Academic Development). In summary, a peer-reviewed demonstration of a successful academic development and international out-look is considered more than compensation for an habilitation where there is evidence of grant applications, well-cited publications, a network of collaborators, lecturing and organisational experience, and experience of having worked and published abroad.

On the other hand, amongst many senior researchers, especially in medicine, the humanities and the social sciences, the habilitation was and still is regarded as a valuable instrument of quality control Venia legendi before giving somebody a tenured position for life.

Bavaria, Saxony and Thuringia, three states with conservative governments, filed suit at the German Constitutional Court against the new law replacing the habilitation with the junior professor [1]. The Court concurred with their argument that the Bundestag (the federal parliament) cannot pass such a law, because the German constitution explicitly states that affairs of education are the sole responsibility of the states and declared in July 2004 the law to be invalid. In reaction, a new federal law was passed, giving the states more freedom regarding habilitations and junior professors. The junior professor has since been legally established in all states, but it is still possible—and encouraged for an academic career in many subjects in Germany —to pursue an habilitation.

Similarities in other countries

Universities in Sweden and Finland can appoint a researcher with a doctoral degree to an unpaid academic position called Docent ("Dosentti" in Finnish) after an independent scientific and educational review. A docent is allowed to lecture at a university ("venia legendi") and to supervise Ph.D. students at that university. There is no separate notion of habilitation in Finland and Sweden. The status of docent, or an equivalent scientific qualification, is also required to serve on doctoral committees and to serve as an opponent at a dissertation defense. After becoming a docent and continuing to amass qualifications, a Swedish scholar can also apply for a titular professorship.

In Denmark and Norway, the traditional doctoral degrees (that were the same in both countries) including Dr. Phil(os). are viewed as roughly equivalent to and sometimes translated as Habilitation (other translations include "higher doctorate", "grand doctorate" or "classic doctorate").[5]

The degree of Docteur d'État formerly awarded by universities in France had a somewhat similar purpose. It is now replaced by the Habilitation à Diriger des Recherches. The award of the French Habilitation is a strict requirement for supervising PhD students and applying for Professeur position. Depending on the field, it requires consistent research from 3 to 10 years after appointment, and (in the sciences) typically around 15-20 publications in peer reviewed journals. Contributions in administration, course organisation can compensate for a less substantial research dossier in some rare cases as the evaluation is primarily done by external and often foreign referees.

Belgium had a similar degree until 1995: it was called "Aggregatie voor het Hoger Onderwijs" (roughly: Higher Education Faculty Qualification) in Dutch and "Agrégation pour l'Enseignement Supérieur" in French.

In the Netherlands, the University of Utrecht has introduced the "Senior Kwalificatie Onderwijs ( SKO)" which has in 2010 officially become the nation-wide standard for the postdoctoral lecture qualification which builds the basis for a full Professor's position.

Although these awards are at a higher level than the Ph.D., they can only roughly be equated to the higher doctorates awarded by universities in the United Kingdom, and the Commonwealth. They are not actually degrees, but more similar to a post-doctoral position that must yield a specific product.


  1. ^ See laws and regulations of the Ruhr-Universität Bochum, Germany: http://www.ruhr-uni-bochum.de/imperia/md/content/chemie/ordnungenplaene/habil/habilordnung.pdf
  2. ^ A short description of PhD and Habilitation at the Free University of Berlin,Germany: http://www.mi.fu-berlin.de/en/stud/prom-habil/index.html
  3. ^ See laws and regulations in the site of the Spanish National Agency for Habilitation: http://www.aneca.es/actividadesevaluacion/evaluacionprofesorado/acreditacion_nacional.aspx
  4. ^ "Anabin database". Anabin database (in German, click on "Abschlusstypen", then "Doctor of/in"). 24 July 2009. http://www.anabin.de/scripts/SelectLand.asp?SuchLand=3. Retrieved 12 August 2009. 
  5. ^ Dommasnes, Liv Helga; Else Johansen Kleppe, Gro Mandt and Jenny-Rita Næss (1998). "Women archeologists in retrospect – the Norwegian case". In Margarita Díaz-Andreu García and Marie Louise Stig Sørensen. Excavating women: a history of women in European archaeology. London: Routledge. ISBN 0415157609. "[...] a Dr. philos. degree, which is the highest academic degree in Norway, roughly equivalent to the German Doktor Habilitation. Traditionally, this degree, which was considered a prerequisite for obtaining top positions within academia, was earned rather late in life, often after one had passed 50 years of age." 

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  • habilitation — [ abilitasjɔ̃ ] n. f. • 1373; lat. médiév. habilitatio 1 ♦ Dr. Action de conférer la capacité à un incapable. 2 ♦ Capacité légale à exercer certains pouvoirs, à accomplir certains actes. Habilitation à diriger une thèse (cf. Avoir qualité pour).… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

  • Habilitation — Ha*bil i*ta tion (h[.a]*b[i^]l [i^]*t[=a] sh[u^]n), n. [LL. habilitatio: cf. F. habilitation.] Equipment; qualification. [Obs.] Bacon. [1913 Webster] …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • Habilitation — (neulat.), Befähigung; d. h. Erwerbung des Rechts, Vorlesungen an einer Universität oder sonstigen Hochschule zu halten, durch eine wissenschaftliche Schrift (Habilitationsschrift) und deren öffentliche Verteidigung (s. Disputation). Sich… …   Meyers Großes Konversations-Lexikon

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  • Habilitation — Erwerb der venia legendi; Erwerb der akademischen Lehrerlaubnis * * * Ha|bi|li|ta|ti|on 〈f. 20〉 Verfahren zum Erlangen der Berechtigung, an einer Universität zu lehren (durch Verfassen einer wissenschaftl. Arbeit); →a. Venia Legendi [→… …   Universal-Lexikon

  • habilitation — həˌbiləˈtāshən noun ( s) Etymology: Medieval Latin habilitation , habilitatio, from Late Latin habilitatus + Latin ion , io ion : the act of habilitating : qualification thesis for habilitation as docent …   Useful english dictionary

  • habilitation — (a bi li ta sion) s. f. Terme de pratique. Action d habiliter.    Terme d ancienne jurisprudence. Sorte d émancipation, par laquelle un enfant devenait habile à faire des contrats, et pouvait acquérir pour lui même, mais sans avoir le pouvoir de… …   Dictionnaire de la Langue Française d'Émile Littré

  • Habilitation — Erwerb der Lehrberechtigung an einer Hochschule. Erforderlich sind außer der ⇡ Promotion zum Doktor eine weitere wissenschaftliche Arbeit (Habilitationsschrift), ein Probevortrag innerhalb der Fakultät und u.U. eine öffentliche Antrittsvorlesung …   Lexikon der Economics

  • Habilitation — habilitieren, ‹sich› »die Lehrberechtigung an Hochschulen erwerben«: Das Verb wurde im 17. Jh. aus mlat. habilitare »geschickt, fähig machen« entlehnt, das zu lat. habilis »leicht zu handhaben, geschickt, geeignet, fähig« gehört. Stammwort ist… …   Das Herkunftswörterbuch

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