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In many countries, especially in German-speaking countries, the habilitation is considered the traditional way to obtain a teaching qualification and often also the ability to be appointed to a professorship at a university. It therefore represents an important stage in the academic career of many scientists. In this article, we shed light on the process, the requirements and the significance of the habilitation in an academic context.

What is a habilitation?

The habilitation is the highest academic degree that can be obtained at an academic university. It symbolizes the ability to work independently in research and teaching and is traditionally a prerequisite for appointment to a professorship in many countries, particularly in German-speaking countries.

Historical background

The habilitation has its roots in the medieval European university system and was originally the formal permission to teach at a university - the so-called "venia legendi". This privilege was granted by the faculties and marked the transition from student to teacher.

In the 19th century, the habilitation became established in Germany as an independent academic degree and became a prerequisite for obtaining a professorship. It served as proof of the ability to represent a subject area in its entirety in research and teaching. The habilitation also conferred the right to use the title "Privatdozent", which allowed habilitated professors to teach at universities and supervise students.

The role and significance of the habilitation has changed over time. In particular, the introduction of junior professorships and the increasing internationalization of science have triggered discussions about the necessity and form of the habilitation. Nevertheless, it remains an important milestone on the path to professorship in many disciplines and countries.

The habilitation reflects the traditional view of academic excellence and independence and is closely linked to the German university tradition and its influence on the global academic system.

Differentiation from doctorates and junior professorships

In contrast to the doctorate, which is the first academic degree and primarily demonstrates the ability to carry out independent academic work, the habilitation is aimed at a more comprehensive qualification. It includes not only research, but also teaching and often also the ability to lead academic projects.

The introduction of junior professorships offers an alternative way of gaining the qualification for a professorship without following the traditional path of habilitation. Junior professorships are intended to enable younger academics in particular to become independent at an earlier stage.

Excursus: Habilitation at university vs. University of Applied Sciences

The traditional habilitation path at universities aims to confirm the candidate's comprehensive teaching and research skills and is often a decisive step on the path to a professorship.  At universities of applied sciences, on the other hand, where the focus is more on practice-oriented teaching and applied research, the path to a professorship is somewhat different. Traditional habilitations are less common here. Instead, emphasis is placed on practical professional experience outside the academic world and on teaching skills. Some universities of applied sciences have developed their own qualification procedures that meet the specific requirements of applied research and teaching and still offer similar recognition to the habilitation.

Despite these differences, the aim of both routes remains similar: to confirm the ability to work independently in research and teaching and to promote young academics. As the academic sector evolves, the paths to professorship at universities and universities of applied sciences may continue to converge and new, more flexible models for academic careers may emerge.

The habilitation process

The path to habilitation is demanding and requires a number of steps to be completed by the habilitation candidate. The process may vary slightly depending on the subject area and university, but generally follows a set framework.

Requirements and admission to habilitation

In order to be admitted to habilitation, applicants must usually have an outstanding doctoral degree and often several years of academic activity after the doctorate. The exact requirements may vary depending on the subject area and institution, but generally include a list of scientific publications that make a significant contribution to the subject area.

Components of the habilitation

The habilitation typically includes:

  • Habilitation thesis: A comprehensive academic work that provides new insights and distinguishes the candidate as a leading expert in their field. The habilitation thesis can be either a monograph or a cumulative habilitation consisting of several publications.
  • Teaching sample: A course given by the candidate to demonstrate teaching competence. The teaching sample is usually assessed by a committee.
  • Lecture followed by a scientific discussion: This serves to demonstrate specialist knowledge and the ability to engage in scientific debate.

Assessment and evaluation procedure

After submission of the habilitation thesis and completion of the teaching sample, the entire portfolio is reviewed by a committee. This committee is usually made up of professors from the relevant department. The assessment criteria include the academic quality of the habilitation thesis, the teaching competence and the professional discussion. The successful completion of the habilitation procedure leads to the award of the venia legendi, the teaching license that enables the habilitated person to use the title "Privatdozent" and to work independently in research and teaching.

The path to a habilitation

This table outlines the structured path to obtaining a habilitation, starting with the requirements and ending with the award of the teaching qualification.
Step Description Notes
Requirements Successful completion of a doctorate, several years of academic work, significant academic publications Requirements may vary depending on the faculty and university
Submission of the application Formal application for admission to the habilitation procedure, including documentation of previous academic achievements Usually to be submitted to the relevant faculty or department
Preparation of the habilitation thesis Preparation of a comprehensive academic work that presents new research findings Can be a monograph or a cumulative habilitation with several publications
Teaching sample Teaching a course to demonstrate teaching skills Is assessed by a committee and is often part of the review process
Scientific presentation and discussion Presentation of a subject-specific topic followed by a discussion to demonstrate specialist knowledge and discussion skills Part of the review process
Assessment Evaluation of the habilitation thesis and teaching performance by a committee The committee usually consists of professors from the department
Conferral of teaching qualification If the assessment is successful, the venia legendi, the teaching license, is granted Enables the use of the title "Lecturer" and independent teaching at universities

The Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) is the dissertation in the field of business at Munich Business School. At Munich Business School, the DBA offers experienced specialists and managers the opportunity to combine their practical experience with a well-founded academic thesis. The program aims to enable participants to systematically analyze complex business challenges and to develop and implement solutions.

Our DBA program

Requirements and criteria for a habilitation

The habilitation places high demands on candidates that go far beyond those of a doctorate. It reflects not only research performance, but also teaching skills and the ability to independently manage academic projects.

Scientific achievements and publications

One of the core aspects of the habilitation is proof of outstanding academic achievements. This usually includes:

  • Habilitation thesis: a comprehensive academic paper that contributes significant new findings to the field. The requirements for the habilitation thesis are higher than for a doctoral thesis and usually require that the results are published in renowned journals.
  • Publication list: A list of publications in scientific journals that demonstrates the candidate's research achievements and contribution to the advancement of the field.

Teaching expertise

In addition to their research achievements, habilitation candidates are expected to have strong teaching skills. This is often demonstrated by:

  • Teaching test: a trial lecture or seminar in which candidates demonstrate their ability to convey complex subject matter in an understandable and engaging manner.
  • Teaching experience: Proof of previous teaching experience, for example through teaching assignments, seminars or lectures given during the postdoctoral phase.

Third-party funded projects and research networks

The ability to manage research projects and acquire third-party funding is becoming increasingly important:

  • Third-party funded projects: Evidence of successful applications for research funding and management of research projects funded by external funding.
  • Research networks: Active participation and contributions to scientific networks, working groups and professional societies that promote networking and exchange within the scientific community.

Core requirements for the habilitation

This table summarizes the core requirements for a successful habilitation. It shows that, in addition to research performance, teaching skills and the ability to lead research are also assessed.
Category Requirements Examples/Remarks
Academic achievements habilitation thesis, list of publications publications in high-ranking journals
Teaching competence Teaching practice, teaching experience Sample lecture, teaching assignments
Research leadership Third-party funded projects, research networks Successful research funding applications, active memberships

Significance and prospects after habilitation

After the challenging path of the habilitation, academics are at a decisive turning point in their academic career. The habilitation not only opens up traditional paths into teaching and research, but also offers a wide range of prospects in the academic world and beyond. This section looks at the many opportunities available after the habilitation and the considerations involved in choosing a future career path.

Habilitation as a qualification for professorships

In many countries, particularly in German-speaking countries, the habilitation is a recognized prerequisite for appointment to a professorship at a university. It signals comprehensive competence in research and teaching and opens up the opportunity to teach, conduct research and supervise the next generation of academics as a fully-fledged member of the academic community.

Alternatives to the traditional professorship and international perspectives

Not every habilitation leads directly to a university professorship. The academic landscape offers a wide range of career opportunities, from research positions in specialized institutes to leadership roles in industry. In addition, an international academic career often requires adaptation to the respective country-specific qualification paths and career models.

Discussion about the future of the habilitation in the modern academic system

The role of the habilitation in the academic career path is the subject of ongoing debate. In view of the challenges and uncertainties associated with long academic qualification paths, there are increasing calls for reforms and alternative qualification models.

Challenges and future of the habilitation

The habilitation has long been an established route to academic teaching qualifications and professorships. However, it is also increasingly the focus of critical discussions that question its role and significance in the modern academic system.

Critical consideration of the role of the habilitation

The habilitation is often criticized for its long duration, high demands and the associated professional uncertainty. In addition, at a time of increasing internationalization and mobility in academia, the habilitation is not recognized everywhere, which can impair the career opportunities of habilitation graduates in an international context.


  • Time commitment and career uncertainty: The habilitation process is time-consuming and can take several years, which means a period of career uncertainty for many academics.
  • Research funding: Securing research funding is becoming increasingly competitive and can pose an additional challenge for habilitation candidates.
  • International recognition: The habilitation is primarily a German-speaking phenomenon. Its international recognition is limited, which can restrict opportunities for an international academic career.

The Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) is the dissertation in the field of business at Munich Business School. At Munich Business School, the DBA offers experienced specialists and managers the opportunity to combine their practical experience with a well-founded academic thesis. The program aims to enable participants to systematically analyze complex business challenges and to develop and implement solutions.

Our DBA program

Frequently asked questions (FAQ) about habilitation

The habilitation is a complex and sometimes confusing process that often leads to many questions. Whether you are in the early stages of your academic career or actively preparing for a habilitation, here you will find answers to some of the most common questions surrounding the topic. These FAQs should help you to develop a better understanding of the habilitation process and provide you with guidance in your planning.

What is the difference between a doctorate and a habilitation?

The doctorate (Ph.D.) is the first academic degree that represents an independent academic achievement and paves the way into academia. The habilitation, on the other hand, is an additional qualification that is acquired after the doctorate and proves the ability to teach at university level as well as the ability to conduct independent research. It is traditionally regarded as a prerequisite for a professorship at universities in German-speaking countries.

Is a habilitation necessary to become a professor?

In many cases, the habilitation is a traditional requirement for appointment to a professorship in Germany and some other countries. However, there are increasingly alternative paths, such as junior professorships or tenure-track positions, which can enable a professorship without a habilitation.

How long does the habilitation process take on average?

The duration of the habilitation process can vary, but is generally between two and six years after completing the doctorate. This period depends on various factors, including the subject area, institutional requirements and the habilitation candidate's individual situation.

What are the alternatives to a habilitation?

Alternatives to the traditional habilitation include junior professorships, tenure-track positions and the possibility of obtaining a professorship through non-university research experience or significant contributions to a subject area. In some cases, many years of teaching and research activity without a formal habilitation can also lead to a professorship.

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