"It's high time that life came back to the campus after three online semesters! It is not yet back to the old normality, but it is back to a common university life with meetings and exchanges, getting to know new people - all the things that make up studying," said Science Minister Theresia Bauer in Stuttgart on Monday (18 October).
The Minister visited the University of Stuttgart and the Stuttgart University of Applied Sciences to find out how the universities organise and run the winter semester. She was accompanied by Rector Prof. Dr. Wolfram Ressel, Rector Prof. Dr. Katja Rade and other university members and also exchanged views with students. As the HFT Stuttgart - like all universities of applied sciences - had already started the semester two weeks ago, it was already possible to take stock of the start of the semester and talk about experiences.
The Ministry of Science has created the framework with the Corona Ordinance Studienbetrieb so that as much teaching as possible can take place in presence again in the winter semester. "I would like to express my sincere thanks to all those involved at the universities who, with a great deal of organisational effort and commitment, have once again made it possible for their students to study face-to-face - no semester has ever been so complex to prepare," emphasised the Minister.
Universities allow a large number of face-to-face courses
The Corona Ordinance had already set the course for more extensive face-to-face courses in the winter semester, on the basis of which the universities have been pressing ahead with their plans in recent months. "I am pleased that the universities are now filling this framework with many face-to-face events," said Minister Bauer.
The proportion of classroom teaching varies from university to university and also depends on subject cultures and the spatial conditions. Particularly at the universities of applied sciences (HAW), the goal of predominantly returning to face-to-face teaching is being achieved. Some HAW have even returned up to 95 percent in attendance. At the Stuttgart University of Applied Sciences, 80 percent of courses are to be held in presence. The University of Stuttgart allows its students to return to presence on a weekly basis. The nine state universities are expecting attendance rates of well over 50 percent of courses on average.
Pleasingly high vaccination rate
Bauer emphasised that she was pleased to receive a lot of positive feedback from students and lecturers at universities that have already started the semester, such as the universities of applied sciences or the universities of teacher education - "Encounter and direct exchange, that's what studying should be like." Now, he said, it is important to continue to work together to look after each other and make the semester as safe as possible for everyone. "We have a gratifyingly high vaccination rate among students and faculty," Bauer said. University surveys of students conducted on a voluntary basis show high to very high vaccination rates, well above 80 percent. Among lecture hall pass holders at the University of Mannheim, the figure is as high as 98 percent. "Vaccination is the key to the attendance semester," the minister emphasized.
Another prerequisite for safe campus operations are hygiene concepts and 3G control, which can also be carried out on a random basis in the university sector - unlike in all other social sectors in the country. With the Corona Ordinance on Study Operations, which has been in force since 15 October, the Ministry has extended the possibility of random checks to learning rooms outside libraries, thus taking up the request of the universities.
Making 3G checks as practicable as possible
"It was of great concern to me from the outset that the on-site 3G check could also be implemented in a pragmatic manner. To this end, we have been and continue to be in close exchange with the universities and will also make adjustments on an ongoing basis. In order to make the 3G strategy viable, the universities will certainly break new ground. We will evaluate these in order to gain insights into which models are the best and most practicable for regular operation," said Bauer.
The state will provide the universities with additional funds totalling 13.5 million euros to cover the increased costs and additional personnel required to carry out studies under pandemic conditions. Since the beginning of the pandemic, the state has supported its universities with a total of 83 million euros.
"We are now setting out together with the universities and students to gain experience in this new normal, the first attendance semester under pandemic conditions," Bauer said. The Minister thanked the university administrations in particular for the good exchange - "wherever possible, we take up what is reflected back to us. However, we must not forget: The pandemic is not over yet."