Lone Grotheer is standing in front of one of the large, glass parliament buildings in Berlin’s government district, directly on the Spree. She is excited. It’s Wednesday, 9 a.m., and Grotheer, 25, a student of journalism and communication science in Hamburg, is about to address the education committee. As an expert, she is to make recommendations for the planned Bafög reform. And answer the parliamentarians’ questions.
In doing so, she will pay attention to two perspectives: On the one hand, she represents the interests of all students as spokeswoman for the “free union of students” (fzs), on the other hand, she is more or less affected herself – until recently she received student loans herself.
Grotheer knows how complicated the Bafög application is. How long it can sometimes take for the payment to arrive in the account. How it feels to let the juice wander from one hand to the other in the supermarket for a long time and then not to put it in the shopping trolley. “There is this romanticization of the student years, when you just live on the back burner. But it’s not that romantic when some people can afford things and others can’t,” she says.
Now, at the beginning of April, the traffic light government launched a comprehensive reform of training grants, the first step being the 27th change since 1971. But Grotheer does not think that this can eliminate the entire conglomerate of uncertainties associated with the application process .
The amendment provides for the parental allowance, i.e. the limit on how much parents can earn, to be increased by 20 percent and the rates to be increased by a total of five percent. In the future, you should be able to submit an application until you are 45 years old and you are entitled to draw up to 45,000 euros in the account. That’s the plan for the change, but it’s still up for discussion. This takes place in Parliament in the Education Committee.
And so a total of eight experts were invited for Wednesday. Outside the building, she and an fzs colleague who came along for “psychological support” quickly take a photo for an Instagram post. “Is there a parliament emoji?” asks the colleague. “Dunno, just take the cool one, the one with the sunglasses,” says Grotheer.
Inside the committee, all experts have three minutes to present an opening statement. Grotheer puts her papers in order and begins: “The planned increases in the requirement rates are too low.” Not even inflation is compensated for in this way. “The other adjustments to this amendment are simply not ambitious enough.” The obligation to take on debt actively keeps students from applying for student loans. From their point of view, the reform could only be a beginning for equal opportunities. The 25-year-old presents her points of criticism in a factual and highly concentrated manner.
Grotheer and fzs are not the only ones who are massively questioning the planned Bafög reform. The DGB has also spoken out in favor of a clear increase in the rates, as has the left. Even the Union caused a surprise during a parliamentary debate last Wednesday when several MPs said that the planned reform did not go far enough.
So far, the Union has not exactly been known as a student representative body. It was former Chancellor Helmut Kohl (CDU) who pushed through the full loan in 1982. As a result, a few years later only 18 percent of the students made use of the funding. In 1972, shortly after it started as a full subsidy, it was still 44.6 percent of all students. In the meantime, only eleven percent of the students receive the funding.
“It sounds almost cynical when these forecasts for the increase in funding are repeatedly talked about how big a step this reform is,” says Grotheer in the committee. She is then asked by the SPD deputy Jessica Rosenthal why many students are afraid of going into debt. “They ask themselves whether they can find a job at all – and they don’t know that in advance either.” The fzs therefore calls for a return to full subsidies.
Grotheer would also like to go into parental independence again: First of all, many still fell through the cracks. You yourself, for example, only received a very low Bafög rate. But her parents couldn’t top up the rest of the money, so she only had her child benefit in addition to the small amount. Secondly, the Bafög is currently completely dependent on having good contact with your parents. But there are legal guardians who are simply not willing to pay.
After three and a half hours the hearing is over. Grotheer is exhausted but also satisfied: “I think I was able to make our points clear.”
But while the Education Committee is still discussing fundamental issues of the 27th amendment, the Federal Minister of Education in the BMBF is getting ready for a Bafög statement. The cabinet already approved the 28th amendment to the law on Wednesday. It is intended to anchor the long-demanded permanent emergency mechanism. In crisis situations such as the pandemic, students who are otherwise not entitled to Bafög can also be funded in the future.
“If you can prove that you had a loss of income due to a part-time job, you get access,” explains Minister of Education Bettina Stark-Watzinger (FDP).
A concession for the student lobby? “No, the emergency mechanism is again too bureaucratic and too inflexible,” says Lone Grotheer. In addition, international students would not fall under the regulation, “so we cannot welcome it”.