Corona policy: The time for emergency solutions in universities must end

DrThe university scene is – again – in Corona mode. After the winter term got off to a promising start in October with low case numbers and a relatively high vaccination rate among students, we students are sitting alone in front of our laptop for the third semester in a row rather than in the lecture hall following our fellow students. Most of the lecturers moved their seminars and lectures to distance learning, and some had planned the entire classroom digitally from the start anyway. Few of them hold their courses in person.

Students, it became clear again after the federal state meeting at the beginning of January, they fell “behind” in the planning of Corona. In the January 7, 2022 decision, universities are not even mentioned. Universities are still not given any criteria by which a decision can be made about whether or not to teach in the classroom.

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Bundestag and compulsory vaccination

In many federal states, the decision on attendance or distance has been passed from one level to another, from science ministries to universities, from universities to departments, and from departments to individual lecturers.

Nobody, it seems, really wants to take responsibility. Science ministers are essentially ensuring that Corona regulations continue to allow classroom teaching. At the same time, they do not want to set a clear path. Therefore, the decision-making responsibility rests with the universities. Those, in turn, tend to take the cautious route.

In this case, the university bureaucracy is trying to act with the best of its knowledge and faith in order to get out of the crisis chapter relatively unscathed. This does not always work. For example, the introduction of the 2G rule at some university sites at the end of last year has led to extensive discussions about whether it is justified to exclude unvaccinated people from their right to education. Especially in light of the advanced concepts of hygiene.

‘Hybrid’ teaching is not a panacea

The pandemic situation also poses a challenge to professors and lecturers. Some are still eager to experiment with new digital teaching concepts, and others haven’t made friends with online formats to this day. And “blended” teaching, where each student can decide for themselves whether they want to participate in person or just in front of their laptop, is not a panacea for this epidemic.

Try to get microphone and video functions to work with the technical equipment of a German university, to transmit a Power Point presentation to the screen and to a Zoom meeting at the same time and to answer questions from 80 students in the lecture hall and 170 students in the video meeting.

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Everything is different since the outbreak of Corona

“Asynchronous” teaching as an aggravation of self-study—the lecturer provides videos and PowerPoint presentations at the beginning of the semester, and the online exam is written at the end of the semester—is daunting. If you have a question, you should send it to the lecturer by e-mail. Observing students may wonder why the uploaded material matches the last semester.

The time for temporary solutions in universities must be over. There is a higher than average vaccination rate among students. The three million German students quickly and responsibly went into isolation, switched their studies and technical equipment online, and took their exams digitally overnight. They are a group without a direct lobby. Corona’s fourth semester starts now – and there are no solutions in sight.

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Studies, training, FSJ?

Students urgently need reliability to plan their studies, but also their own lives. This applies to the implementation of planned exams, the limitation of free classes or your financial situation. Uncertainty burdens students more and more. Many of those who started their studies three semesters ago have not seen their university from the inside. They cannot build on existing connections nor can they form new relationships.

The longer the epidemic lasts, the greater the psychological stress among students. Many suffer from depressive moods, loneliness in digital isolation, questions about the viability of their studies and financial concerns.

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Students in the large lecture hall at the University of Bremen

First year students in particular are already overburdened and not settling for lack of prospects. Various studies show that the psychological stress caused by the epidemic has increased. The need for psychological and social counseling is growing, and the German Student Union reports a sharp increase in demand and waiting times for psychological counseling centres.

These tendencies are also evident in the results of a Forsa survey conducted by the Commercial Health Insurance Company (KKH) in October 2021. According to the study, 40 percent of those surveyed feel very stressed by the crisis, and 74 percent said they are concerned. About the new connection restrictions. This is coupled with a fear of loneliness: 44% of about 1,000 participants stated this.

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The new Federal Minister for Education and Research, Bettina Stark-Watzinger, now has a lot to do. Universities need a clear path through the pandemic without undermining the university’s autonomy. The minister should campaign for a unified national approach to crisis management and advocate the priority of direct teaching in federal states – especially given the high rate of vaccination.

Above all, it is their responsibility to ensure that their studies are reliable and planable. The psychological stress experienced by students should be taken seriously. Young people should not suffer much from the case of Corona.

The commitment of professors and lecturers is also essential. In the coming semester, it should be important for all of us to have the best ideas in the exchange of opinions and the best research results in the lab, thus promoting innovation in Germany. This only works if everyone comes together, and education, whether face-to-face or digital, is in no way inferior to this claim.

Franka Bauernfeind is the Federal President of the Christian Democratic Student Circle and a member of the CDU. She studies political science at the University of Erfurt.

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