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Universities oppose ‘premature’ return to campus teaching

Rising Covid-19 cases mean that online teaching and services must be extended, says association

The DHV, Germany’s university association, has called on politicians to support online teaching and operations throughout the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.

In a statement issued last week, the association said it was too soon for students to return to university full time. The DHV expressed concerns over universities’ large-scale exemption from a renewed lockdown across Germany, which is provisionally scheduled to last all of November.

“In the regulations governing compulsory courses, in-person and electronic teaching should be put on an equal footing,” said DHV president Bernhard Kempen. He added that lecturer remuneration should be based on the effort and time spent on preparing lectures and following them up, to improve the student experience of online learning.

Although the universities thrive on personal exchange, a return to this normality during the Covid-19 pandemic “is only possible cautiously and gradually, while strictly adhering to the medically required safety distances and hygiene standards”, Kempen said.

The DHV said that in-person teaching should be prioritised for first-year and international students, and those needing access to a laboratory or practical exercises as part of their course.

In his statement, Kempen advocated the introduction of what he termed corona traffic lights. These would be based on infection rates and different scenarios for academic teaching, and would offer universities clearer guidelines on how to keep students and staff safe, he said.

In the long-term, the aim must be to expand the formats now increasingly used in digital teaching, and to link up digital and analogue events, the DHV recommended. “The two are not irreconcilable opposites, but can and should complement and enrich each other,” said Kempen.

Kempen also proposed to finance the necessary digital expenditures at universities through a “digitisation flat rate” per student, paid by the government directly to higher education institutions.