Habilitation is the highest-ranking university examination in the German-speaking area. People who habilitate are granted the venia legendi for a certain academic field – the "permission to lecture in this field" – and are thus authorised to give lectures and run seminars in their own field without any supervision. Habilitation serves to check whether the academic is able to represent her/his field of research in research and teaching.
Habilitation may be applied for by people who hold a doctor's degree from a Swiss university or an equivalent degree from a foreign academic university. Applications are supported by a letter of recommendation from a mentor, who then supervises the applicant during the habilitation process. Applications are submitted to the School of which the mentor is a member.
The School Conference of the School to which the application has been submitted decides whether the applicant will be admitted to the habilitation process. When doing so, the School Conference takes into consideration the documents submitted and the minimum grade of 5 or magna cum laude for the doctoral thesis, as well as the applicant’s relationship with the University of St.Gallen.
People who have been admitted to the habilitation process have to pass a written and an oral test. The written test is a qualified thesis, written on their own, of significant academic value in the field in which they aspire to the venia legendi. This thesis should display a substantial furtherance of academic insight and provide evidence of the habilitating person's ability to conduct research. A doctoral thesis or an extended doctoral thesis cannot be accepted for habilitation purposes. The habilitation thesis can be submitted within two years after admission to the habilitation process. After it has been submitted, three academics – at least one from the School, as well as an external expert – will draw up an assessment about the continuation of the habilitation process. If the thesis is rejected, a later submission in the same academic field will be precluded.
If the habilitation thesis has been accepted, the dean of the school invites the habilitating person to give a test lecture. The habilitation person proposes three topics for the lecture, from which the dean selects one. This lecture is intended to test the person's specialist and didactic ability. As a rule, the lecture lasts 30 minutes and is open to University members. The School Conference then decides whether this oral test has been passed. If the applicant has failed, any repetition will be precluded. If the feedback is positive, the school conference will request the Senate to accept the habilitation. If the Senate decides to declare both habilitation tests as passed, it will award the venia legendi and the degree of a Privatdozent(in) or habilitated lecturer. This academic title is the outward sign of a successful habilitation.
Habilitated lecturers can be appointed full professors at a later stage.