Between 500 and 700 PhD degrees awarded in Germany every year are illegitimate. The days when Ph.D. degrees were mainly awarded to scientists and scholars in Germany are long gone. The title is in high demand among managers, lawyers and politicians – many with little time for the required research writes Deutsche Welle.
The zu Googleberg affaire has focused the spotlight on Germany’s new PhD consultantcy industry. New cases of corrupt practices are being found regularly.
One former law professor from Hanover, for example, is currently serving three years in prison after he was found guilty of issuing doctoral titles in exchange for bribes and sexual favors in 2009. It seems the prestige and the higher salary an academic title confers is a temptation some career-minded Germans find difficult to pass up.
Guttenberg is hardly alone when it comes to ambitious people with high goals battling time restraints. In German corporate circles, where a Ph.D. means more status and a higher salary, busy managers have little time to study. While the defense minister stands accused of failing to provide the proper attribution for certain passages of his thesis, others have been known to turn to a relatively small industry of so-called “doctorate consultants.”
The consultants demand anywhere from 10,000 to 30,000 euros to help aspiring doctorate holders with all the formalities and contacts needed to be accepted into a Ph.D. program – and more. It’s the “more” that can cause problems, however. Doctorate consultants specialize in providing assistance in labor-intensive areas such as research and writing – tasks Ph.D. aspirants are normally expected to master on their own.
“We’re aware of the criticism of our line of business but we aren’t doing anything criminal,” said Thomas Nemet from ACAD Write, a company that employs around 250 staff and serves a customer base of 1,500.
“Our clients are mostly managers, lawyers and others in the medical profession, who have little time. We help them optimize their time to earn a Ph.D. But let me make one point very clear, we don’t sell doctorate degrees.” Some of his rivals in the doctorate consulting branch, like the “Institut für Wissenschaftsberatung” in Bergisch Gladbach, have been accused of doing exactly that, however, by paying large bribes to corrupt professors. …..
Manuel Rene Theisen, an economics professor at the Ludwig-Maximillian University in Munich, estimates that between two and three percent of the Ph.D. degrees awarded in Germany are illegitimate. So that’s between 500 and 700 degrees annually.
…. German prosecutors revealed that they are investigating around 100 academics at some of the country’s top universities on the suspicion that they granted doctorates to dozens of unqualified students after taking bribes from a consultancy firm. The investigation follows a raid on an academic consultancy called the Institute for Scientific Counselling in the western town of Bergisch Gladbach in March 2008. .. Prosecutors in the city of Cologne say the institute helped doctoral candidates find a supervisor and paid lecturers to take on Ph.D. students. “Some Ph.D. students paid up to $30,000 to get their doctor titles,” Günther Feld, a senior prosecutor in Cologne tells TIME. “Many people had received mediocre results in exams and they weren’t eligible to do a Ph.D. in the first place.”
…. One former director of the Bergisch Gladbach consultancy was convicted on bribery charges in July 2008 and sentenced to three and a half years in prison. He was found guilty of illegally helping more than 60 students get their doctor titles. A law professor at the University of Hanover who received money from the consultancy for accepting doctoral candidates was given a three-year jail sentence. ….. ”We recently stripped nine Ph.D. holders of their titles,” Henning Radtke, Dean of the Law Faculty at the University of Hanover. Those students are now appealing the decision.
“The investigation in Cologne is just the tip of the iceberg,” says Manuel René Theisen, professor of business administration at the Ludwig-Maximilians University in Munich. “Around a dozen academic consultancies have been on the market for years offering Ph.D.s for money.” Theisen says he estimates that of the 25,000 doctorates awarded each year in Germany, up to 1,000 are obtained through illicit means. “The consultancies advertise in trade magazines and they pretend to offer coaching for would-be Ph.D. students, but it’s a fairy tale,” he says. “People know when they read the adverts they can get their Ph.D. for money and not for their [academic] work.”
The Googleberg affaire might accelerate the decline of the reputation of German PhD’s. On the other hand if it leads to more rigorous award processes it could help in restoring some of the shine that a German PhD once conferred — but that is by no means certain.