A voice from Germany:
My response to kat's question is basically a mixture of what Bruce and Mousethief have been saying with some qualifications.
In theory, everybody can have 'academic success' in Germany independent of affiliation. In practice, it has never (qualifications later) happened in basic science since about one century. It has happened and still happens in applied sciences and especially arts that e.g. a very successful and creative architect gets a tenure in architecture or a painter without any degree gets a tenure in arts. The very few exceptions in science are men (nearly exclusively jews) who were happy to survive Nazi Germany and had no opportunity to study the normal way. Some of them, having only been able to study privately at home, took over the tenures from Nazi professors. Extreme (and correct, I add) decisions in extreme times.
150 years ago, it was not uncommon, even in science, that a privately trained scholar published such a great finding that he got tenure. The reason that this does not happen anymore (though it could, in theory), is that nowadays (1) the basic training you need just to be able to read the papers of your peers takes so much time that you hardly could do it untutored and (2) the equipment for experiments is so expensive and/or elaborate that you'd often not be able to pay for it. Some of of the equipment takes a very long training by experts before you can use it without making errors.
So the in-a-nutshell response for Germany is: Kat is right, in theory, her son for all practical purposes.