Academic ranks in Germany

Academic ranks in Germany are the titles, relative importance and power of professors, researchers, and administrative personnel held in academia.

In the 20th century, after their doctorate, German scholars who wish to go into academia usually work toward a Habilitation by writing a second thesis, known as the Habilitationsschrift. This is often accomplished while employed as a Wissenschaftlicher Mitarbeiter or Wissenschaftlicher Assistent ("scientific assistant", E13) or in a non-tenured position as Akademischer Rat ("assistant professor/lecturer", both 3+3 years teaching and research positions). Once they pass their Habilitation, they can work as Privatdozent and are eligible for a call to a chair.

Since 2002 many paths may lead to a full professorship. One can reach a professorship at a university by habilitation, a successful evaluation as a junior professorship (after 5 years), a tenure track period (6 years) or equivalent performance. In engineering this is often attained through expert knowledge in the industry, and in natural science often by the number and quality of publications. While universities and Fachhochschulen ("Universities of Applied Sciences") do not have the same legal status, there are no formal differences in academic ranks except a higher teaching load in the Fachhochschulen as they have no research mandate. Since a new salary scheme was introduced in 2005, both types of universities can appoint W2 as well as W3 professors. In general, a professor at a Fachhochschule has not gone through the process of habilitation or junior professorship; they also cannot supervise dissertations. Instead, a doctorate and at least three years of work experience in research and development outside academia are required. Usually, a professor at a university of applied science is more focused on teaching while a professor at a traditional university is more focused on research.

In Germany it has been debated whether Professor is a title that one may retain for life once it has been conferred (similar to the doctorate), or whether it is linked to an office and ceases to belong to the holder once the professor quits or retires (except in the usual case of becoming Professor emeritus). The latter view has won the day—although in many German states, there is a minimum requirement of five years of service before "Professor" may be kept as a title—and is by now both the law and majority opinion.

Similar or identical systems as in Germany (where a Habilitation is required) are in place, e.g., in Austria, the German-speaking part of Switzerland (however in Switzerland the term is used as a more general honorary title in the Universities of Applied Sciences, the Fachhochschulen), as well as in Poland, Slovakia, Hungary and Slovenia.

In Poland, professor is an academic degree required to obtain the position of full (ordinary) professor. An extraordinary professorship is lower ranked, and does not require the professor title.

In some countries using the German-style academic system (e.g. Austria, Finland, Sweden), Professor is also an honorific title that can be bestowed upon an artist, scholar, etc., by the President or by the government, completely independent of any actual academic post or assignment.