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Germany: barriers to Covid-19 financial support

Students in Germany have said that they are struggling to access financial aid from the €100 million coronavirus fund set up to support them, with 38% of applications being rejected and less than half the earmarked money having been used.

GermanySome international students are now relying on donations to support themselves. Photo: Pixabay

200,000 applications have been made, but almost four out of 10 get rejected

The scheme was recently extended by one month and is available to both domestic and international students with less than €500 in their bank account.

“We are still waiting for the drop out rates for this semester but we expect them to be significantly higher than usual”

To date, 200,000 applications have been made but narrow eligibility criteria and technical issues have left many students without financial support and unable to pay for rent and basic necessities.

A Studentenwerk spokesperson told The PIE News that 50-60% of the requests rejected by Studentenwerk – who are managing the fund – were not granted due to students’ financial problems being caused by “structural student poverty” as opposed to the pandemic.

While students who had lost their income due to Covid-19 may qualify for help, those who were unable to find work due to the pandemic or had recently returned from studying abroad and were therefore unemployed were not eligible.

Other reasons for rejection include missing documents (in the case of 44% of applications, more evidence was requested), a lack of evidence of a financial crisis in students’ bank accounts, and students not replying after being asked for more info.

Students have also claimed there were issues in the system, although Studentenwerk told The PIE that there was “absolutely” no bugs or “evil algorithms”.

“Applications were marked as incomplete by the online tool which were in fact not incomplete. If an application is marked as incomplete the local Studentenwerk which processes the applications has no access to the documents,” FZS (Free Federation of Student Unions) board member Leonie Ackermann told The PIE.

“The bug was only revealed because a student complained and a Studentenwerk employee asked the company which programmed the tool to send them the application for review.”

When asked about this case, Studentenwerk added that they “haven’t heard from such a case so far” but said “there have been more than 180,000 applications successfully processed” and that “cooperation and dialogue between the Studentenwerke and the IT company providing the system run rather smoothly and constantly”.

Student loans have also been made available for students of up to €650 month via state-owned development bank Kreditanstalt für Wiederaufbau. Around 10,000 German and 15,000 international students have taken out loans so far.

“One of the impacts is of course dropping out entirely. We are still waiting for the drop out rates for this semester but we expect them to be significantly higher than usual,” Ackermann said.

“There is always the possibility to go into debt, either lending from friends and family or the bank. I heard about an international student in Leipzig who is deeply in rent debt now, because since April he wasn’t able to pay. He gets by on donations at the moment.”

In some cities, initiatives have been set up to collect money for students in need, including one in Leipzig specifically for international students. But for domestic students in trouble, Ackermann now has to recommend that they apply for a holiday semester so that they become eligible for unemployment benefits.

“The student emergency fund pales in comparison to billions of euros granted to struggling businesses,” added Study.EU founder, Gerrit Bruno Blöss.

“It’s surprising that the government did not use the opportunity to offer more support to so many potential voters about a year before the next federal elections.”

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