The impact of the coronavirus pandemic also has social consequences for students. In the Scientific Committee of the Landtag (State Parliament) of North Rhine-Westphalia (NRW), CHE gave its opinion on specific coronavirus aid programmes. In addition to calling for a state student funding system that is capable of weathering crisis, the CHE urged policymakers to utilise the current situation to take stock.
The Social Democratic Party of Germany (SPD) parliamentary group in the Landtag in Düsseldorf considers that insufficient political attention has been given to the social consequences of the coronavirus pandemic for students. In its appeal to the State Government (Parliamentary Paper 17/13402), the parliamentary group therefore calls for a whole catalogue of comprehensive support measures, which were commented on by the CHE Centre for Higher Education in the Scientific Committee of the NRW State Parliament on 23 June 2021.
On the central issue of student funding during the pandemic, CHE is against the federal state taking unilateral action, such as special KfW Student Loan mitigation for NRW’s students. Instead, it would be more important to initiate a long overdue reform of student funding at the federal level. “Previous approaches to state student funding have proven insufficiently flexible and responsive to meet needs during the coronavirus pandemic,” summarised Ulrich Müller, Head of Policy Studies at the CHE Centre for Higher Education.
The expert on student funding advocates a future-proof system that brings together previously disparate elements in a “federal student funding system”. “The first step should therefore be to merge at least the payment flows, and the processing and repayment of BAföG student grants, KfW Student Loans and Education Loans after the 2021 Bundestag elections,” remarked Müller.
In addition to developing the opportunities for online communication, teaching, learning and assessment, CHE fully supports the desire to develop and fund student advisory structures. “Considering the framework conditions under which young people embark on a degree programme nowadays, it is hard to overestimate the importance of guidance,” stated Ulrich Müller.
An increasingly heterogeneous student population and the growing diversity and complexity of offers create a need for transparency, orientation and guidance. CHE believes that the federal state has a duty to work towards ensuring that the key stakeholders in guidance provision are well connected to each other and able to operate in a complementary division of labour. In this connection, the CHE experts expressly advocate creating transparency and guidance on all educational pathways of post-secondary education, encompassing both academic and vocational educational opportunities.
In principle, CHE noted in its statement, higher education institutions (HEIs) in Germany responded well to the specific challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic. It is now a matter of making strategic use of the positive experiences of crisis management and these exceptional times: “The Covid crisis practically lends itself to take stock of the situation. HEIs that embrace this challenge will be better equipped for future crisis situations and the hoped-for return to new normal operations,” remarked Ulrich Müller.