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What is an Habilitation?

Emma G.
Emma G.

In some European countries, the highest academic qualification a person can achieve is known as habilitation. In order to achieve this level of qualification, the candidate must have already earned a doctorate degree. The candidate must then perform intensive independent research and write a thesis outlining his or her work. In some countries, habilitation is required before a professor is allowed to teach unsupervised or becomes the supervisor of doctoral candidates. Completing the process usually takes from four years to a decade.

The tasks a scholar must complete to earn habilitation are similar to those required to earn a PhD or professorial tenure, but they tend to be much more strenuous than either achievement requires. The candidate must act entirely independently without the guidance from a faculty supervisor or board that a PhD candidate would receive. A strong record of research and contribution to the field is essential. To earn habilitation in one of the sciences, the candidate must publish dozens of research papers in recognized scientific journals. If the candidate's field of study is humanities, he or she may be required to write a book that is accepted for publication.

Man with hands on his hips
Man with hands on his hips

European countries that offer habilitation include Spain, the Czech Republic, and Austria. Most countries in the former Soviet Union also offer this type of certification, including Russia, Lithuania, and the Ukraine. Requirements vary from country to country. In some countries, habilitation is used as a way to prove the ability of prospective professors.

In some parts of Germany, it is considered a certification for professors rather than an academic degree. The certificate confirms that the holder is qualified to teach at a university without supervision. Upon earning the certification, the professor is given permission to teach a specific subject for the rest of his or her life. In this case, it is similar to earning tenure in the United States or Great Britain. In France, earning habilitation allows a professor to oversee research being performed by doctorate students. In both countries, teaching ability is analyzed along with the other requirements.

In Poland, habilitation is essentially a second-level doctorate degree. In order to earn it, the candidate has to publish a dissertation after years of research and study in the field. Technically, the law allows a professor holding a first-level doctorate degree to teach at a university, though a teacher is rarely hired without the second-level degree.

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