German Universities Against Government’s Decision to Go Back to Remote Classes for All

The University Rectors’ Conference (HRK) has objected to Germany’s new Infection Protection Act, which prohibits in-person classes due to high rates of  COVID-19 infections in the country, effective since last week.

HRK demands from the federal government to include more clarification on the act as well as to apply the same rules of restrictions in lower education schools too.

“One hopes for a quick clarification through the announced ordinances,” the HRK President, Peter-André Alt said.

With the consent of the Bundestag and Bundesrat, the federal government could issue “specifications, simplifications or exceptions” to the emergency brake rules.

The Science Ministers of federal states made the same request for the federal education minister, Anja Larliczek, and health minister, Jens Spahn, asking to provide exemptions for “research activities, activities in laboratories and similar institutions, and all practical training phases and components in the course,” in a letter.

In response, Karliczek said there would be a few changes made.

The current law determines that if the cap of 100 people per class is reached, the teaching method must be adapted remotely. A gathering of 165 people is completely forbidden, and this applies equally to schools and universities, including exams, practice teaching, artistic activities, and access to university libraries.

President Alt said that HRK supports the previous regulation with additional minimal practical opportunities in teaching and studies, insisting that universities have demonstrated that such rules can be respected even in a pandemic.

“The law ignores the specifics, requirements, and possibilities of university teaching in the pandemic and jeopardizes the previous performance of the universities,” Alt said.

According to him, the new regulations can be detrimental for many students, especially the ones that study medicine, sport, art, and music.

Moreover, the Baden-Württemberg State Rectors’ Conference chairmen, Stephan Dabbert, said that the Emergency Brake Act means that many students in science, technical and medicine courses will not be able to attend a regular semester, which will force them to collect their degrees later.

On Wednesday, the law was passed by the Bundestag and should now further be passed by the Federal Council on Thursday, and then lastly, the Federal President should sign it. Individual regulations for the universities must be renegotiated within the framework of their own institutions.

“Should deficits in the new law come to light in practice, there is still the possibility of “reworking” at the state level, said the health policy spokeswoman for the SPD parliamentary group,” the health policy spokeswoman for the Social Democratic parliamentary groupSabine Dittmar said, on Tuesday.

On the other hand, Dabbert hopes that the state of Baden-Württemberg will interpret the law in universities’ favor so that “these courses can continue to operate.” Science Minister Theresia Bauer announced on Thursday that she would readjust accordingly.

In addition to this, a survey conducted by the German Centre for Higher Education Research and Science Studies (DZHW) and AG Hochschulforschung has revealed that students experienced a not-so-pleasant studying experience during the pandemic, with two-thirds of them admitting to being stressed during the 2020 summer semester.

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