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Professors call for term delay as lock-down tightens

Image: Ivan Radic [CC BY 2.0], via Flickr

Students must not be penalised for badly prepared universities, states open letter

Germany’s academics have begged the government to declare the current university term a “non-semester”, as classes and teaching fall behind in a nationwide lockdown.

Universities have not engaged in face-to-face teaching since early March to help contain the spread of coronavirus, which has so far infected nearly 30,000 people in the country. Professors have called for help as technical infrastructure is overloaded and teachers and students are not familiar enough with online tools to teach efficiently, according to an open letter signed by leading academics.

In order to act in the interest of students, teaching and examinations should not be restored as soon as possible—instead the current term should simply declared as non-sufficient, with teaching taking place in a reduced form. This means students would not suffer any disadvantages due to not having completed all modules, and could easily repeat missing elements in future terms, the signatories said.

“We think teaching during the summer should take place, but the semester should not count formally,” wrote the academics, who are based at the Ludwig Maximilian University Munich, the University of Trier and the Leibnitz University Hanover. “Students who were not able to perform as expected should not be disadvantaged.”

Universities have already postponed the start of the summer semester to the end of April.

Over the weekend, the country announced sharper lock-down measures, forbidding any assembly of more than two people and urging citizens not to leave the house. Chancellor Angela Merkel is self-isolating after coming in contact with a doctor who later tested positive for coronavirus.

On Monday, the Robert Koch Institute, which advises the government on medical science, said that an unprecedented data donation by German telecommunications provider Telekom had shown that  mobility has decreased during the outbreak. The country’s learned academy Leopoldina asked for more research on the extension of the outbreak, mirroring a call by the German Network of Evidence-Based Medicine that bemoaned a lack of evidence underlying the far-reaching interventions by the government.

The sharper measures have led funders to create additional safeguards for scientific projects. The Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft (DFG), Germany’s largest public funding body, announced it would prolong scholarships and grants for up to three months in case the beneficiaries struggle to complete the work or cannot start their placements.

In a separate statement, the DFG issued a call for research on the topic. Funding will be provided for projects dealing with the prevention, early detection, containment and causes of epidemics and pandemics, and how to deal with them.

Meanwhile, the German Trade Union for Education and Science (GEW) called for more financial security for honorary teachers in Germany. “The federal government as a public employer must assume the risk of force majeure for the cancellation of lessons due to the corona crisis,” said Ansgar Klinger, GEW board member for vocational education and training.

The GEW said this should apply to integration courses, for which the federal ministries are responsible, as well as professional language courses and training provided through the Goethe Institute, which educates on German culture.

A version of this article also appeared in Research Europe