Bi-national doctoral programmes

Who would benefit from a bi-national doctoral programme, and why?

What exactly is involved in a ‘cotutelle’ programme?

You should consider taking part in a bi-national doctoral programme, if as a PhD student you wish to:

  • Secure your academic links to both participating countries,
  • Decide at a later date which country you would like to work in,
  • Continue in bi-national fields of work, or
  • Maintain a research focus that is strongly connected to the other country.

How does it work?
The bi-national aspects of doctoral programmes relate, above all, to the supervision of the doctoral thesis, time spent working on the thesis at the participating institutions, as well as involvement of the joint supervisor in the final assessment procedure (for example, as an assessor or examiner). The German Rectors’ Conference (HRK) has made recommendations to its member institutions to the effect that these details also be set out in a joint doctoral degree certificate, issued by the German university.

The concept of spending some time working on a doctoral dissertation at one or more other institutions and of having joint supervision from a professor from a foreign institution is not new. Generally, an individual agreement between the participating institutions is required to confirm the conditions of joint supervision of the doctoral studies in question (individual contract of joint supervision, ‘Kooperationsvertrag’ in German).

The thesis will usually be written in one of the respective languages with a final summary in the other language included, if required. At the doctoral defence or viva voce (in German ‘Rigorosum’/ ‘Disputation’) the candidate will be examined by a jury equally representative of both institutions. The exact details will be set out by the institutions involved in the joint supervision contract. The participating institutions must reach a general or individual agreement (at the level of university senior management or at a faculty or department level) on the assessment procedure to be followed. Formal responsibilities in this process may differ from institution to institution. In some specific cases, the supervising professors may be required to check with the faculty / department or with university senior management about the possibilities available for concluding such agreements. This can be made easier if a cooperation or personal contacts with the foreign institution already exist.

In order to correct a widely held misconception: a bi-national doctoral programme does not mean that two separate doctoral degrees are conferred for one doctoral dissertation. Rather, one single doctorate is conferred in accordance with the basic provisions of the German laws governing examinations.

The HRK has produced a Cotutelle-Guide in order to facilitate the drawing up of an individual contract of joint supervision between the participating institutions. Cotutelle programmes have been tried and tested with universities in France many times. Frameworks agreements governing the procedure have also been concluded between the HRK and Italy and Chile, respectively. It is, however, also possible to conclude individual agreements with other countries; the recommendations issued by the HRK can be applied as required.