Since the mid-1990s, Leipzig University has offered German and international doctoral researchers the opportunity of pursuing a “cross-border” or “binational” doctorate. This approach is often found in France, hence the common name cotutelle de thèse. This page explains what it means to pursue a binational doctorate – and under what circumstances this form of doctorate might be suitable for you.

enlarge the image: Eine junge Promovierende mit zwei Frauen im Gespräch.
Pursuing a binational doctorate involves supervision in both countries. Photo: Swen Reichhold

What is a binational doctorate?

Are you interested in doing your doctorate at both Leipzig University and another eligible university abroad?

If you opt for a binational doctorate, you can expect the following:

  • You will be accompanied by two supervisors (one in each country).
  • The doctorate will usually be written in one of the two national languages.
  • You conduct your doctorate at Leipzig University and by spending one or more periods abroad working at the foreign university.

Once you have successfully completed the doctoral procedure, you will be awarded a certificate issued jointly by both universities. In some cases you will receive two national documents instead of one, in other words one from Leipzig University and another from the partner university, both indicating the binational nature of your doctorate.

After successfully completing a binational doctorate, you must decide which of the two titles you wish to use. You are not allowed to use the titles awarded by both degrees simultaneously. A binational doctorate must not give the impression that you wrote two separate dissertations and underwent two doctoral procedures in parallel.

What are the advantages of a binational doctorate?

A binational doctorate has several advantages. Nevertheless, please bear in mind that the procedure involves an increased workload.

In terms of the content of your thesis, the cotutelle de thèse procedure allows you to ensure a scholarly link with both participating countries. It also gives you the opportunity to conduct research abroad, creating a close link between your research focus and the other country.

As regards your professional career, a binational doctorate is an ideal opportunity to improve your career prospects – after all, it gives you qualifications recognised in two countries. Equally important in practice are the added linguistic and intercultural skills as well as knowledge of different academic systems and university cultures. These qualifications can also help you to embark on an international career.

The binational doctoral procedure in detail

Below you will find information on the requirements you must meet in order to qualify for a binational doctorate and how the procedure works.

The requirements for binational doctorates at Leipzig University or a foreign institution depend on the faculties’ own doctoral regulations. These regulations govern cross-border doctoral research and must be observed.

Your contacts

In each case, the assistant to the dean is the primary point of contact for binational doctorates. Please note that a supervisor must recommend you for a binational doctorate. Some faculties issue standard agreement templates.

Please note:

Unfortunately, it is not possible to pursue a binational doctorate at the following faculties:

  • Faculty of Medicine
  • Faculty of Veterinary Medicine
  • Faculty of Law

Have you already started your doctorate?

If you have already started your doctorate at a university outside of Germany and your supervisor at that “home university” now recommends a binational procedure, we advise you and your current supervisor to look for a supervisor here at Leipzig University. This is where it often helps to have existing academic and personal contacts. Present your dissertation project to the Leipzig professor and request written confirmation of their intention to supervise your doctorate. As soon as you have received this, you are free to apply to our university.

If you meet all the formal requirements, you will receive a letter of admission, which you can then use to apply for a visa (if required). Applying as an individual doctoral researcher is possible at any time and not subject to fixed deadlines.

Please check whether you have to enrol in order to be eligible for a residence permit, a doctoral contract or a scholarship. In any case, we recommend that you enrol at Leipzig University if you plan on doing a doctorate here. This lets you benefit from all the advantages of student status (e.g. semester ticket, halls of residence, discounts, use of the refectories). Please contact Stefanie Kölling from the International Centre.


In addition, please remember to register with the faculty’s assistant to the dean so that you are added to its list of doctoral researchers.

If you have already started your doctorate at Leipzig University and your supervisor now recommends a binational procedure with an institution outside of Germany, we advise you and your current supervisor to look for a supervisor at the foreign university. The second university must also have the right to award doctorates. This is where it often helps to use the existing academic and personal contacts of your supervisor in Leipzig. Present your dissertation project to the potential supervisor and request written confirmation of their intention to supervise your doctorate.

Your agreement on the binational doctoral procedure

Have you consulted your supervisors and decided in favour of a binational procedure? The next step is to prepare an individual agreement with both of the universities that will be involved. This agreement sets out the formalities for your binational doctorate. Please note the doctoral regulations of the Leipzig University faculty at which your binational doctorate will be conferred.

The primary point of contact at the faculties for binational doctorates are the assistants to the dean, some of whom have standardised agreement templates.

Please note: You are solely responsible for coordinating the individual agreement texts. The assistants to the dean at the faculties will be happy to advise you, as may the office of the Vice-Rector for Campus Development.

Below you will find a summary of what you need to bear in mind when drawing up the necessary agreement.

Information about the participating universities, faculties, supervisors, as well as on admission and enrolment procedures: 

  • Both universities, including the respective rectors/presidents, the deans of the faculties or the heads of the corresponding institutions of the other university, and the supervisor of the dissertation must be named.
  • The German Rectors’ Conference (HRK) recommends that doctoral researchers comply with the registration requirements at both universities. However, any fees should only be paid at the university where the doctoral researcher actually spends time. 

Leipzig University does not require the agreement to specify the planned stays at both participating universities. Some foreign universities, however, stipulate a minimum length of stay.

Language used for the dissertation, summary position paper and defence:

  • As a rule, the dissertation is written in the language of one country, and the summary in the language of the other.
  • The summary position paper should be available in both languages, as representatives of the other university are also present during the defence.
  • The defence should be conducted in the language of the country in which the defence takes place, with a summary in the language of the other country.
  • It should be possible to conduct the discussion in both languages.

Submission of the dissertation, viva voce, number of reviewers:

  • As a rule, the work is first submitted to the university where the defence will also be carried out. Once it has been accepted along with the translated expert opinions, the work and the translated expert opinions are passed on to the partner university to continue the procedure.
  • The number of reviewers, two of whom must be the two supervisors, depends on the respective doctoral regulations.
  • It must be determined whether a viva voce will take place or not. At some faculties, it is possible to recognise achievements completed, for example, under structured doctoral programmes at the Graduate Academy Leipzig. This can replace the viva voce.

Course of the defence, grading and reference to the “either/or” rule governing the use of titles, issue of the certificate:

  • Arrangements must be made for the location and what will happen during the defence, which, for example, must be public according to Leipzig rules.
  • It must be clarified whether the defence is mutually recognised.
  • Depending on the individual doctoral regulations, a viva voce is part of the defence (see above).
  • Rules must be put in place concerning grading in the case of different grading systems and on the use of the academic title.
  • The issue of the doctoral certificate must be regulated. There are two possibilities here:
    • A bilingual document with reference to the binational procedure and signatures and stamps of both institutions: Please note that at Leipzig University this form must be signed by the Rector. The certificate offered by the HRK requires the signature of the respective dean.
    • Each institution issues its own certificate, whereby each must refer to the binational procedure with the other university (dovetailing of the certificates).

Before the contract can be submitted for signature, it must be checked by Leipzig University’s legal affairs team in consultation with the relevant assistant to the dean. The following points should be observed:

  • At least three copies of the agreement should be submitted. Foreign universities may have different requirements.
  • As soon as the agreement has been signed by the doctoral researcher as well as the supervisor and the dean of the respective faculty in Leipzig, it must be sent to Moritz Waschbüsch at the office of the Vice-Rector for Campus Development. He then submits the agreement first to the Vice-Rector and then to the Rector for her signature. All of the documents are then returned to the faculty.

The signing of the agreement by the foreign university depends on the requirements there. As a rule, the agreement is signed by the supervisor, the director of the institution responsible for the doctorate, and the rector or president.

Financial support for a binational doctorate

You can apply to the German Academic Exchange Service (DAAD) for funding for your binational doctoral programme. In the case of a binational doctorate with France, funding via the Franco-German University (FGU) is also possible.

Please note:
Applications should ideally be submitted by starting a cotutelle de thèse procedure. This is necessary because the grant provider can only pay out the grant if it has a signed agreement.

Further information on financial support for binational procedures is available from Ms Jane Moros at the International Centre.

Our recommendation

We recommend that you enrol at Leipzig University if you plan on doing a doctorate here. This lets you benefit from all the advantages of student status (e.g. semester ticket, halls of residence, discounts, use of the refectories, etc.). International doctoral researchers who wish to enrol should contact the International Centre. German doctoral researchers who wish to enrol should contact the Student Office.

Would you like to find out more about how to organise a binational doctorate? The website of the German Rectors’ Conference summarises information and recommendations on binational doctorates.

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