Universität Potsdam, Griebnitzsee, Babelsberg, Uni, Potsdam, Studenten, 25.08.2020 Foto: Sebastian Gabsch

Students have always been short of cash. Now the situation is getting even more serious: According to a study by the Parity Welfare Association, almost every third of them is affected by poverty. According to a study by the Paritätischer Wohlfahrtsverband, 30 percent of students are affected by poverty. In the case of students living alone, the figure is even 79 percent.

The situation for students is likely to worsen due to inflation, which affects people with little money in particular. “We would like more political support for this disadvantaged group,” says Stefan Grob from the Deutsches Studentenwerk in an interview with the Tagesspiegel.

With the 27th Bafög amendment, payments were increased by 5.75 percent, but they are far from being able to compensate for inflation, which is now 7.9 percent. “The increase is already completely eaten up.”

Students are even affected twice by the price increases,” says Grob. “By their own expenses, which are increasing significantly. In addition, 89 percent of them are financially supported by their parents, who are also affected by inflation.” The price increases are now also being felt on the university campus. In the canteen, meals cost up to 25 percent more.

“In the dormitories we try to keep the pollution as low as possible, but in the long term the costs will rise here too due to the high energy prices. Around 50 to 60 percent of the students are dependent on the open housing market and things will certainly become even more uncomfortable there in the coming months.”

He demands that the precarious situation of the students must be politically cushioned by higher state subsidies. Paul Wienands from the social counseling service at the Technical University of Berlin goes even further with his fears.

The number of counseling cases in which students no longer know how to finance their studies is increasing significantly due to the aggravated situation, he told the Tagesspiegel.

“I assume that many will have to give up their studies because they can no longer afford it. We have students in counseling who are acutely thinking about it or are already in the process of doing so because the money is not enough despite the Bafög rate and the parents cannot support them.”

In October, the Bafög rate will rise to Hartz IV level, and the housing benefit will be increased from 325 to 360 euros. “But where in a city like Berlin can you still find a room in a shared flat for 360 euros, that’s hardly possible even in the outskirts.”

Even supposed relief such as the 9-euro ticket has two sides, says Wienands: “The students have paid large sums for a semester ticket, the difference is to be reimbursed, but nobody knows when. There hasn’t been any confirmation yet. And that is definitely an amount that could help to pay the semester fee.”

It is similar with the heating subsidy. “It’s supposed to be there, but it’s unclear when it will be paid out. Students just fall off the back.”

The poverty and wealth researcher Christoph Butterwegge is also alarmed. “Students are hit particularly hard by inflation, not least because they often lost their mini-jobs during the Covid 19 pandemic and received neither unemployment benefit I nor unemployment benefit II or short-time work benefits. That’s why they had to attack or use up their financial reserves – if they existed at all,” he told the Tagesspiegel.

“Students, trainees and pensioners don’t get the energy price flat-rate of 300 euros from the federal government’s second relief package either, unless they have a part-time job and are therefore liable for tax.”

Even after the Bafög reform, the money is hardly enough to live on, especially since the housing allowance is too low to compensate for the galloping rents in the university towns.

When asked, the Federal Ministry of Education and Research said that another Bafög reform was currently being discussed in Parliament. “With this reform, we want to anchor an emergency aid mechanism in the BAföG, which can then be activated if we should one day experience another crisis situation in which – similar to the Covid 19 pandemic – sideline opportunities for students are lost to a considerable extent in the short term”, said a spokesman.

With this mechanism, access to BAföG could be significantly expanded for a limited period of time for the duration of the future crisis situation, thus preventing emergency situations that threaten the existence of students and possible dropouts.

Another measure: in the fall, the allowances, especially those of parental income, are to be increased by 20.75 percent. According to Laura Kraft, member of the Greens in the Bundestag and chairwoman of the Committee for Education, Research and Technology Assessment, the planned changes could initially cushion the worst peaks.

However, it should not stop with these. “Due to the current situation, we in the traffic light coalition have decided to implement a procedure for regularly increasing the requirement rates.” Nicole Gohlke, vice-chairman of the Left Party and spokesperson for education and science, the government’s measures do not go far enough. “We won’t get very far with a policy of one-off payments based on the watering can principle,” she told the Tagesspiegel.

“Honestly calculated social benefits are needed that are enough to live on.” Your party calls for a needs-based increase and an automatic adjustment of the requirement rates and parental allowances to the inflation rate, as well as a rental subsidy that covers the actual rents and an appropriate flat rate for digital and learning materials.

Gyde Jensen, deputy leader of the FDP parliamentary group, is satisfied with the measures taken so far. “It was important to us that students get more money this winter semester.

For the first time in many years, this will also be noticeable with an increase of over eight percent despite inflation,” she told the Tagesspiegel. “As the governing coalition, we have an unambiguous view of the huge challenges that people will face in the coming months due to inflation, especially energy prices.

That is why we are currently discussing various proposals for discharge. However, the heating subsidy has made one thing clear: no matter what happens, students and trainees have a strong advocate in our Minister of Education, they will not be forgotten.”

The stresses of the past few months have not only had an impact on students’ wallets, says Stefan Grob. “The psychological counseling centers of the universities are currently being run over.” The concerns have changed significantly, he says.

“It’s no longer primarily about exams, but really existential fears, depressive flare-ups, suicidal thoughts, loneliness and feelings of isolation.” His big concern: a return to online operations. “We face so many uncertainties. A possible autumn wave and the energy crisis give rise to dire fears.”