Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on German universities – Latest information and news

In mid-March, the German Rectors' Conference (HRK) set up a special page on its website with selected information and news regarding the situation of German universities in light of the COVID-19 pandemic and its current effects on studying, teaching and research. The page is continually updated (current status: 28/8/2020).

HRK statements on the COVID-19 pandemic

The latest HRK press releases dated 13/3, 24/3, 7/4, 8/4, 20/4, 27/4, 30/4, 7/5, 22/5, 28/5, 2/7 and 18/8/2020 are available for download in PDF format in the right-hand column of this page and in the overview.

Joint statement by the presidents of DAAD, DFG and HRK calling for improvements for education and research funding to the new EU budget; dated 24/7/2020. (more)

Joint Press release with the KMK (i.e. the Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder) on the central application and admission procedure for the 2020/21 winter semester; dated 28/5/2020. (more)

Press release from the Alliance of Science Organisations in Germany, in which the HRK is the leading organisation in 2020; dated 7/5/2020. (more)

Effects on the HRK’s work

In light of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, the HRK has taken the following measures, which were introduced in mid-March 2020 and will provisionally apply until 31 January 2021, in the interest of public health care and in due consideration of the current risk assessment of the competent authorities and specialist institutes.

All planned public events and conferences of the HRK that require the physical attendance of participants have been cancelled up until the end of May 2020. Since then, such events have been organized in digital form or will be held on a later date. Where physical attendance is necessary, events with smaller groups may be organized in accordance with the rules of physical distancing and the required hygiene requirements.

The working capacity of the HRK's secretariat has been safeguarded at all locations. The team at the secretariat is working from home where possible. The switchboard and the reception in Bonn will be staffed between 8.30 am and 1.00 pm until further notice. There may be capacity issues in the telephone system due to call forwarding. If necessary, please try again or send an e-mail to the desired contact partner.

The HRK’s library is closed to the public until further notice, but is available for all inquiries and research via bibliothek[at]hrk.de.

Requirements and regulations of the federal states for teaching and examinations in the 2020 summer semester and the 2020/21 winter semester

In mid-March 2020, the federal states, in consultation with the federal government and universities, imposed or recommended numerous requirements and regulations aimed at preventing the further spread of the novel coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 in order to support the nationwide measures taken against the current coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19). The fundamental measure was to immediately suspend ongoing lectures or postpone upcoming lectures in the form of face-to-face teaching in the 2020 summer semester until at least after Easter (i.e. until 20/4/2020 in most federal states; until 4/5/2020 in Saarland, Saxony and Thuringia).

On 2/4/2020, the federal states agreed on the following key points at a meeting of the leaders of the Standing Conference of the Ministers of Education and Cultural Affairs of the Länder (KMK):

  • The dates of the 2020 summer semester will not be postponed.
  • The lecture timetables for the 2020 summer semester can be arranged flexibly.
  • Deadlines for the application and admission procedure for undergraduate degree programmes will be adjusted for the 2020/2021 winter semester.
  • Lectures at universities and universities of applied sciences are to begin uniformly on 1/11/2020 in the 2020/2021 winter semester.

The 2020 summer semester will “be an unusual semester, but it will not be lost”. The objective is to create the necessary framework conditions for universities so that teaching and research can run as smoothly as possible in the 2020 summer semester. (more)

On 15/4/2020, the Prime Ministers of the Federal States, together with the Federal Chancellor and members of the federal government, decided on the initial easing of the previously applicable contact restrictions; the steps described will initially apply until 3/5/2020. The following was agreed for the universities:

  • “In university teaching, practice-oriented events requiring special laboratories or working areas at universities can be resumed in compliance with special hygiene and protective measures, in addition to the organisation of examinations. Libraries and archives may be opened subject to requirements to maintain hygiene, manage access and prevent queues.”
  • Major events played a significant role in the spread of the infection, “which is why they remain prohibited until at least 31 August 2020”.
  • The following was also noted: “In addition to vaccine development, research will make other important contributions towards overcoming the pandemic. With the support of the research institutions at the federal and state level, a SARS-CoV-2 database is being created to document and analyse hospital treatments. In conjunction with studies on various medications, this will help to identify the best strategies for preventing and treating serious cases of the disease.”

For the period ahead, the principle guiding the actions of the federal and state governments is to protect everyone in Germany from infection as far as possible. “This is why infection prevention and hygiene measures are a priority everywhere and particularly in places where contact is necessary, such as in certain work environments.” (more)

It was agreed that lectures at German universities will predominantly be held in a digital, online format in the 2020 summer semester until further notice. The lecture period can be extended into August; the summer semester will end on 30 September, as usual.

Following the easing of pandemic-related contact restrictions initiated by the federal and state governments at the beginning of May 2020, regulations for examinations and lectures requiring the physical attendance of participants are currently being drawn up at the federal state level or within the framework of university autonomy. They may take place in accordance with the special hygiene requirements and infection prevention guidelines; universities will develop a suitable concept for this. Nevertheless, lectures will continue to be held digitally in the summer semester.

In late May 2020, the application and admission procedure through the Stiftung für Hochschulzulassung (HfS) (Trust for Higher Education Admissions) has been facilitated for the 2020/21 winter semester thanks to the joint efforts of the universities, the Stiftung für Hochschulzulassung (HfS) and the federal states. The following dates have been established:

  • On 1 July 2020, the Stiftung für Hochschulzulassung (HfS) will open its application portals. The final application date for new school leavers with the Abitur for the centralised procedure is 20 August 2020 for the 2020/2021 winter semester. This date is also valid for other study programmes for which the allocation of study places is coordinated by the Stiftung für Hochschulzulassung (HfS).
  • In spite of final examinations being postponed due to the coronavirus, this will enable those leaving school this year with the Abitur to apply for the winter semester. 2 November 2020 is the target start date for lectures for new students in these study programmes.
  • The federal states, the universities and the Stiftung für Hochschulzulassung (HfS) are working flat out to clarify the final details. As of 2 June 2020, applicants who acquired their higher education entrance qualification in previous years (those who left school with the Abitur in previous years) can find out about the amended dates for the centralised allocation process on the website of the Stiftung für Hochschulzulassung (HfS) at www.hochschulstart.de.

In view of the rules of physical distancing and the hygiene regulations that will probably still apply in autumn, courses in the winter semester 2020/21 will probably only take place to a limited extent as physical meetings at the universities. The German states and universities are therefore currently preparing for a mixture of digital and classroom teaching; this will be done by taking into account the specific needs of the universities, of the subjects and the respective teaching and learning formats, while respecting the priorities of health protection.