Dear colleagues, staff and students, dear members of the University of Erfurt, dear everyone,
first of all, we hope and wish that you and yours have survived this difficult time in good health and well. We also wish you continued strength and all the necessary luck. Stay healthy.
All in all, we are in the midst of what is probably the most unusual semester since the University of Erfurt was re-founded and re-established. The corona pandemic is leaving a huge mark worldwide and also on our university. Nevertheless, we have mastered the crisis quite well so far. Almost from a standing start, we have managed to set up a largely digital semester and to establish a hygiene protection concept, so that we have not recorded any illnesses so far. For this we have many to thank: the crisis team headed by the head of administration Jörg Brauns, the Vice President for Academic Affairs Gerd Mannhaupt, the team of the University Computer and Media Centre and the "Taskforce Digital Teaching" for our rocket-like launched digital tools, the entire administration for the ongoing operation in difficult times, all teachers for their willingness to accept new and unusual study formats, the student council for its extraordinary cooperation in so many respects, all students for their great openness towards the new digital formats and, in general, all for solidarity and collegial cooperation. Many of you mastered this multiple burden in your home office and often in the balancing act between child care, family obligations and professional demands in a most impressive way. And those of you who were on site to ensure that the company was present also did so under difficult conditions. We would like to thank them all very much for their special commitment. It was and is not easy to keep the training operation running even under pandemic conditions, but we are nevertheless succeeding in the best possible way.
On June 4, the Thuringian Conference of University's Presidents passed a resolution for the ongoing operation of the university, committing itself to an essentially digital summer semester, and passed a corresponding resolution - naturally with reference to various university-specific and required attendance formats, while observing strict hygiene rules, for example in various laboratory situations or in our sports teaching department. In this respect, we will continue to offer the digital courses that have been started until the end of lectures in mid-July. A change in the form of organisation would not only involve risks for us, but would also require far too much organisational effort for only a few remaining weeks, even if the pandemic is currently running somewhat more smoothly. Regardless of this, we have already gradually reopened the university library for use and provided seminar rooms for student work on campus for the use of the local W-LAN.
A particular challenge is, however, the examinations that lie ahead of us. We cannot risk large exams with participants in the three-figure range. Therefore, we want to make online exams possible, for which we have currently purchased suitable software. The Corona Law of the country now provides us with the necessary legal possibilities.
It also helps us noticeably in our ability to act in other respects. The key elements of this and of the federal regulations are as follows:
- All relevant state regulations apply retroactively from the beginning of the current summer semester until the end of the winter semester 20/21.
- The universities are authorised to draw up their own statutes with regard to their teaching and examinations.
- Committees can also be legally valid online; for this purpose, a statute must be issued. A veto is only possible with a majority of the committee members.
- Committee members can be granted extensions of up to twelve months if new elections are delayed.
- Students are granted the right to take examinations from the previous semester into the following semester without extending the semester, even without re-registration.
- Three options are available to help students: the Corona Fund of the state to take over half of the loans from the "Studierendenwerk", an interest-free loan from the federal government, and the Federal Ministry of Education and Research emergency aid fund (not yet adopted).
- The summer semester is not included in the calculation of long-term study fees.
- The statutory health insurance funds will waive the requirement to take out health insurance if students remain abroad for a semester and participate in the online teaching from there. It is also possible to enroll without health insurance, the insurance obligation only arises when crossing the border into Germany.
- Temporary qualifications according to the "Wissenschaftszeitvertragsgesetz" can be extended by six months, provided that they are acquired between March 1 and September 30.
- The state's graduate funding can be extended by six months upon application.
You will be informed about all important decisions and requirements and you will find important information on our website.
The really big question is of course directed at the coming winter semester with lectures starting on November 2 and ending on February 20. This will also be discussed in the Conference of the University's Presidents and in the coordination rounds with the state. Our Ministry of Science and Research is of the opinion that digital courses should continue to play an important role, but that they should be supplemented by suitable classroom events. At present, no one can say for certain how the pandemic situation will develop, although an increase in infections is predominantly expected with the beginning of the colder months. Whether this will be a major wave or rather a single herd remains open.
However, all advisory boards, including the Senate, have agreed that in order to ensure planning security for students and teachers, we should define the broad framework for action early on, at the end of the current lecture period, despite all the uncertainty. Last but not least, we should also do this with regard to international applications and students, who must plan their entry or return early on if face-to-face events take place. As is the case at other universities, we are currently planning a semester in a mixed format with digital courses, supplemented by face-to-face lectures. It is important that a major lock-down does not "destroy" us and that we remain capable of acting. At the same time, we want to be in a position to make decisions regarding the implementation of face-to-face courses by the beginning of the winter semester.
We are currently considering implementing the large courses and lectures in online mode, smaller seminars and, above all, first-semester courses, but also courses for final semesters in attendance format, and we reserve the right to decide at a later date for a number of medium-sized courses. We will still have to do without larger congresses and similar events on site and refer to online versions here as well. With regard to this mixed format, we also agree with the other universities, which are following a similar path, depending on the weighting typical of the universities. We will present a more detailed plan to the Senate by the Presidium at the beginning of July.
The concern occasionally expressed that under the cloak of corona protection measures, the university in attendance could suffer permanent damage and be transformed into digital, as it were, insidiously, is unfounded. There is no such ambition in state and federal politics either. On the contrary, there is an explicit agreement with the head of our ministry regarding the value of the presence university. Although digital teaching formats represent an opportunity here in times of pandemics, they are not intended and wanted as a permanent solution. At the moment, the only thing that matters is to reconcile teaching and the greatest possible protection of all participants under pandemic conditions.
Nevertheless, Corona is not everything, our university continues to operate and we have other reports: For example, the website was recently relaunched with a new look and a new range of services. A big thank you to all those involved and especially to the web team under the leadership of Eric Schümann.
The ZLV talks between the state and the universities have currently begun in a first round, with a total of two to three rounds of talks planned before a joint decision is to be made on this together with the new "Rahmenvereinbarung V" from 2021 to 2025 in autumn. With regard to the framework agreement, the state parliament will refer the draft to the responsible committees for further discussion before the summer break, before it will then decide on a second reading in September or October. We do not yet know whether the additional corona costs will lead to cuts here. So it remains exciting. In addition to these state funds, there will also be federal funds from the "Zukunftsvertrag" (Future Treaty), which Thuringia and the universities are also expected to have clarified by the end of 2020.
As with our last newsletter, let's be patient, strong, inventive and open to improvisation to overcome this crisis together. Remain protected in all dangers and keep your confidence. We wish you all the very best.
Walter Bauer-Wabnegg and the Presidium