Optional Semester – Equal opportunities for all students!

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In light of the dynamic spread of the novel corona virus, the Federal Government and States of Germany have taken far-reaching measures that also affect university operations, research and studies: At all universities in Germany, presence lecturing has been discontinued and postponed until further notice. All lecturers are called upon to offer their teaching in digital form as soon as possible - also in view of the uncertainty as to whether presence lecturing can even take place this semester.

The Corona crisis and its consequences do not stop at the 2.9 million students in Germany: The restrictions in everyday life and in the university, the psychological and financial burdens on students and the uncertainty about how things will continue affect them to a considerable extent. The digitalisation of lecturing is an important and forward-looking aspect of higher education; however, its extremely rapid implementation is creating new burdens and unequal conditions for students.

As it is not clear whether it will be possible to carry out presence lectures again this semester, significant uncertainties and planning risks arise for both teachers and students. In view of this dynamic development, it is clear that the summer semester 2020 can under no circumstances be counted as a regular semester. We therefore call on all decision-making bodies to focus on the students' issues and to implement guiding solutions:

Issues:

  • Social disadvantages due to burden, stress and uncertainty
  • Economic disadvantages due to extension of the study period
  • Academic disadvantages due to lack of access to scientific information
  • Educational disadvantages due to unequal conditions

Due to the foreseeable delays of lectures and exams, the workload for students will be intensified and the individual workload will increase during the course of study. Many students will no longer be able to acquire the study and examination credits planned for this semester in a way that is suitable for study. In particular, students who are gainfully employed, looking after their children, caring for family members, being stuck abroad or helping out in the event of a disaster are exposed to considerable burdens.

Students who are unable to complete all the modules scheduled for the semester must retake them. The consequence is that they generally study longer and suffer financial losses in both the short and long term due to exceeding the standard period of study. The implications of the extension are that students exceed their BAföG funding period, fall off the grid for scholarship funding, and are considered less "employable" on the labour market.

Science is also facing major challenges: Students are dependent on being able to access the scientific information in library literature as well as the practical knowledge gained in laboratories and the industry. However, the Corona crisis has resulted in libraries being closed, online material has yet to be expanded, the universities have imposed bans on entry, and companies are largely unreachable or have had to shut down completely.

In addition, in the short time available, not all students will be able to acquire the knowledge required for each module via online teaching and achieve the competence goals that have been set - depending on the respective learning type and the limited learning scenarios available. Knowledge acquisition in e.g. digital laboratory exercises is currently difficult to imagine. Universities are doing an amazing job, but are still far from being able to offer online lecturing at the level of presence lecturing.

The main issue is the unequal availability of online courses due to the different technical possibilities of lecturers and students to create or use online courses. These differences can be expected within the university, but also within a department and module. In addition, some lecturers are themselves affected by the effects of the Corona crisis and therefore the availability of courses will vary as a result of staff shortages, too.

These social, economic and academic disadvantages inevitably lead to unequal conditions among students. The equal opportunities demanded by Article 3 of the German Basic Law do not exist. Some students will experience far greater educational disadvantages than others. This is unacceptable for us!

Solutions:

  • Suspension of the standard period of study
  • Voluntary use of lecture offerings
  • Postponement of all submission deadlines
  • Right to repeat examinations

To ensure equal opportunities among students, the semester may not count as a regular semester. We therefore call for an "optional semester" in which the online lecture offerings, which can be provided by the lecturers according to the circumstances, can be used by students according to their individual possibilities. It must be clear that everyone does what they can. This model provides immediate clarity and better planning for the summer semester for both lecturers and students.

The semester should not count as part of the standard period of study, and the regular dates and deadlines that would depend on it should be postponed accordingly. Thus, students can study regularly even if they would "lose" a semester due to the missing completion of individual modules. Students who would have had a second or third attempt tied to the semester would also be spared due to the postponement of the regular dates. Support through BAföG or scholarships would not be endangered. And the ability to transfer students into employment would also be maintained.

Students should be able to use the online courses provided by the lecturers on a voluntary basis. Thus, students should be free to decide according to their own capacities and individual circumstances whether and to what extent they make use of the online courses. Students who, for example, have to help out in a disaster, look after their family or secure their livelihood will be given the flexibility to fulfil their important obligations.

The deadlines for module and final theses are to be postponed by one semester. In a situation in which libraries are closed and companies do not keep their practice contracts, it is unreasonable to require students to submit academic papers. In particular, students who are about to graduate need security in this regard: for the transition to a Master's degree and to business, exceptional rules must be found to avoid losing time.

Examinations are to be conducted as "free attempts", i.e. they are considered not to have been taken if students fail and can be repeated to improve their grades if they pass. Students should be able to take their examinations on a voluntary basis. It must also be possible to repeat examinations that have been passed, since only then can it be ensured that no students are disadvantaged in comparison to others. Only the students themselves can judge whether the assessment of their examination performance is justified under the special circumstances or whether the examination should be repeated.

We call on all decision-making bodies to enable the 2.9 million students in Germany to spend a semester without disadvantages!

Supporting organizations:

Student representation University of Applied Sciences Coburg | Student representation University of Applied Sciences Landshut | Student Council University of Music FRANZ LISZT Weimar | Student Council University of Fine Arts Dresden | Student representation Fachhochschule Kiel | Student representation Ludwig-Maximilians-University Munich | General Student Committee University of Applied Sciences Koblenz | Student representation University of Applied Sciences Kempten | Association of Liberal Students Groups Bavaria | General Student Committee University of Art and Design Offenbach am Main | Student representation City University of Applied Sciences (Bremen) | Campusgrün Association of Green-Alternative University Groups Bavaria | Student Parliament Catholic University North Rhine-Westphalia | Student representation East Bavarian Technical University Regensburg | Student representation University of Applied Sciences Weihenstephan-Triesdorf | Student representation University of Applied Sciences Heilbronn | General Student Committee University of Music and Performing Arts Frankfurt am Main | Student representation Julius-Maximilians-University Würzburg | General Student Committee University of Music Freiburg | Student Council Hochschule für Technik und Wirtschaft Dresden – University of Applied Sciences | Student Council University of Applied Sciences Ulm | Student representation Department of Biology Leibniz Universität Hannover | Conference of Student representations in Bavaria | Conference of Student representations in Thuringia | Conference of Student representations in Hamburg | Federal Association of Die Linke.SDS | Federal Association of Foreign Students | General Student Committee University of Bonn | Free Association of Student Committees in Germany (fzs e.V.) | Student representation University of Music and Performing Arts Munich | General Student Committee TH Mittelhessen University of Applied Sciences | General Student Committee University of Passau | Representation of German-speaking Geography Students | Student Council Harz University of Applied Sciences | General Student Committee Niederrhein University of Applied Sciences | General Student Committee Folkwang University of the Arts | Student representation Technische Hochschule Ingolstadt | Campusgrün Federal Association of Green-Alternative University Groups | General Student Committee Katholische Stiftungshochschule München University of Applied Sciences | Student Council Hochschule Mannheim University of Applied Sciences | General Student Committee Saarland University | General Student Committee University of Fine Arts Saar | General Student Committee University of Music Saar | General Student Committee Carl von Ossietzky University of Oldenburg

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Deutsche Version: https://www.change.org/kannsemester
English version: https://www.change.org/optionalsemester