Government report calls for review of student support

The latest government report on Germany’s ‘BAFöG’ student support system reiterates its vital role in higher education and recommends a future government to review support levels.

The federal government’s report, covering the period from 2012 to 2016, emphasises that Germany’s federal education assistance act – Bundesausbildungsförderungsgesetz or ‘BAFöG’ – has played a key role in higher education. The grant system uses fixed spending levels to calculate financial requirements for students, with grants then being awarded on a means-tested basis.

Around 19% of Germany’s nearly three million students receive government support. BAFöG payments are provided to the students via the German National Association for Student Affairs or DSW. Part of the BAFöG grant is a loan that has to be repaid in small instalments on graduating.

The federal government took over the states’ share of BAFöG grant funding in 2015, raising its spending on student support to a total of almost €2.9 billion (US$3.4 billion). The report points out that this step has taken an annual €1.17 billion off the financial burden of state governments, putting them in a position to spend much more on investing in the education sector, especially in higher education.

However, the report also concedes that there has been a 16.7% drop in the number of students eligible for support in the period under review. It puts this down to rising income levels and more people in employment. BAFöG support – part grant, part loan – increased on average by 3.6%, from €448 to €464 per month. The report stresses that the significant increase in the educational participation rate is a clear indication that the BAFöG system works well.

Nevertheless, the government report concedes that there are problems that the BAFöG system needs to deal with, among them a shortage of affordable housing for students in university cities. Soaring rent levels, it acknowledges, can put school-leavers off opting for studying.

Also, previous reports showed a continuing increase in international mobility, but that trend appears to have stalled. This counteracts the federal government’s declared goal of having 50% of students spending part of their studies abroad and giving them the opportunity to do so independently of their parents’ income.

The report concludes that a future federal government ought to review means-testing criteria as well as maximum support levels.

The DSW already called for an increase in government grant support for students in response to the findings of a survey by the Berlin-based Institute for Education and Socio-Economic Research and Consulting last summer. On the basis of a ‘consumer basket’ developed by the DSW to assess student needs, the survey found that BAFöG support for students was falling short of their requirements by an average of €70 to €75 per month.

“The federal government’s new BAFöG report arrives at the right conclusion,” says DSW President Dieter Timmermann. “It is up to the new federal government to redefine needs rates and allowances as well as maximum support levels. But nobody is stopping the acting government from getting this off the ground now.”

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