Joint communication of the minister and university presidents

Dear Students,
Dear Professors and Instructors,
Dear University Employees,

The unusual circumstances in which we currently find ourselves due to the spread of the coronavirus pose unique challenges for our universities. University members are meeting these challenges with exceptional commitment. Science and university medicine are making an invaluable contribution to society on the front lines of this crisis for sake of all of our health. Volunteers in healthcare, public offices and social initiatives are also holding our society together during this difficult time.

But it is also about the day-to-day management of this crisis at all levels of the universities and the willingness to look for new solutions and pitch in. We respect your commitment, and the commitment of the students, of professors and instructors, of administrative-technical personnel, artists and scientists. We thank you for the mutual trust that is so greatly needed during this time.

Our task is to create reliable framework conditions to provide security for everyone affected, but which also leave enough leeway to respond to unique local situations

For this reason we are today communicating guidelines to mark our common path in the coming semester. We want to provide clarity, while remaining flexible enough to quickly respond to current developments.

We are aware that there are currently still many open questions that cannot be answered at this time. We will do everything in our power to quickly reach solutions together with the federal government and the other states, and communicate them transparently.  

1. We are taking new paths

University lives from interaction among people. Since the current situation goes right to this core, the coming semester will be an unusual one. Together, we are counting on flexibility in shaping the operation of teaching, study and exams. Teaching and research will be carried out in forms that meet epidemiological requirements. Primarily, this means: with temporarily limited in-person operation and new formats. Our common goal is that as far as possible, all students who wish to complete the semester will also be able to do so.

2. We are starting off together

On 20 April the lecture period will begin at the universities in the state of Hessen, initially with digital courses. This is also the starting date in many other states. We are enthusiastic about how many new digital courses and other ideas have been developed over the past weeks within the universities. Depending on governmental regulations, classroom teaching will also again presumably take place in the course of the semester. In Hessen, we have decided together to flexibly postpone the end of the lecture period within the summer semester. In doing so, we will take into account the need for a period of regeneration, and family situations during the Hessian summer vacation. We want to determine concrete dates together soon, depending on individual circumstances.

3. No one should be left behind

Categorically, students who cannot complete any or all of their planned coursework due to the consequences of the Covid-19 pandemic should not suffer any disadvantages. This applies in particular with regard to regulations that have to do with standard periods of study. The state education and science ministers will advocate with the federal government to find flexible regulations that do justice to the real life situations of students in the time of the Covid-19 pandemic with regard to BAföG, child benefits, health insurance and more.

4. We are working hard

Together we want to provide as many and as high-quality courses as possible in spite of the limitations. The unusual formats require everyone to make significant adjustments. For this reason, professors and instructors above all, but administrative-technical employees as well, will have to make their contribution in these new formats. Students will also have to be willing to trust in, and engage with, these new formats. Thank you for the significant efforts that have already gone into this. We will continue to support you. But there are changes beyond teaching as well:  regarding the important issue of the libraries there will be adjustments to secure lending operations and expand digital services. Since the universities have more available rooms, some of the exams that were cancelled over the past weeks can be made up during the summer semester under observance of the required physical distance. Research will also be continued at full strength to the extent possible. We will particularly support early career researchers and artists and advocate that this group does not suffer disadvantages due to the current situation. We will advocate at the federal level for an adjustment to the Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz (law on academic fixed-term contracts), and corresponding exemption clauses with regard to third-party donors.

5. We will keep our eyes on the next stage

The postponements within the universities during the summer semester and of the Abiturprüfungen (school-leaving examinations) will also affect the coming winter semester 2020/2021. We have reached an agreement at the federal level to find unified solutions. These should be fair to students, who require lecture-free periods for regeneration, work or practical course units, as well as to first-semester students who expect reliable admission procedures, reliable suitability tests for art academies, a place at university, and a smooth start of their studies. We currently expect the lecture period for the winter semester to begin on 1st November 2020.

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