Students at the poverty line – DW – 20/10/2022

For Melissa, cooking for herself is now a luxury. The 23-year-old psychology student prefers to hang out in the cafeteria of her university in Bonn. “You can have lunch there for €2 to €3 ($1.94 to $2.92).”

It’s not that living frugally is new to Melissa. Even during his school years, the weekly shopping budget was €25. But rising prices now make that impossible. “I’m already at €35-40 a week if I really buy food to cook at home. It really shows in your wallet.”

The student receives 750 € per month from federal study grants (BAföG) and receives the 219 € that her parents receive as family allowances. But of the almost €1,000, only €400 is rented for her 15 square meter room in a shared apartment in Bonn.

“Food is the number one thing I save on,” she told DW. “I only have potatoes, cottage cheese and vegetarian schnitzel.”

When his university fees are due at the beginning of the semester, 300 € leave all at once.

Rahel Schüssler speaking into a microphone
Rahel Schüssler says students face tough winterImage: Dirk Lassig

Inflation and energy crisis

According to this year’s poverty report, almost one in three students in Germany lives below the poverty line.

The situation could get worse with current inflation rates and the approaching energy crisis, says Andreas Aust, a social worker with the German Parity Protection Association.

“Parents will now find it much harder to finance their children,” he said. “Federal student grants are not only too low, but more importantly the problem is that many fall through the cracks. Very few students benefit from these advantages.”

In fact, only one in nine students out of almost three million students in Germany receives state support under the Federal Education Assistance Act (BAföG).

By definition, this should allow anyone, regardless of their socio-economic status, to pursue an education.

Maximum allowance still below the poverty line

The German government has now imposed a 5.75% increase in basic student aid from the winter semester 2022/23, as well as an adjustment to the income ceiling for parents.

From October 2022, the maximum allowance is €934 per month, provided students do not live in the same household as their parents.

But that doesn’t solve the problem, says Aust, because the current inflation rate of 8% “just swallows” that increase.

student sitting in front of a laptop with a hat and gloves
Students will need to find ways to keep warm while studying at homeImage: Ute Grabowsky/photothek/picture alliance

Rahel Schüssler of the Free Association of Students (FZS), which represents almost a third of all those studying in Germany, also believes that the increase is not enough. “The maximum student allowance rate is still below the poverty line in Germany,” she says.

In Germany, a person is considered to be at risk of poverty if they have less than €1,251 per month.

Energy subsidies a drop in the bucket

Due to the rising cost of living, it is no longer uncommon for students to take on up to two part-time jobs to fund their studies.

“In fact, you only work so that you can study. However, because of the work, you can no longer study,” says Schüssler.

There are no official statistics on how many students have dropped out of school in the past two years, but Schüssler has heard from many students that financial issues played a decisive role.

“Students are also deciding to drop out because of rising prices. Maybe not just looking for a part-time job, but rather working 40 hours a week right off the bat.”

Experts also consider the €200 flat-rate energy allowance – which will be paid by the federal government as a one-off payment to students – as nothing more than a “token gesture”.

In addition, there is also an administrative problem with the payment of the lump sum. According to Aust, it is still “unclear how the money is supposed to reach the students”.

Study in Germany: from finance to fraternities

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Fewer new registrations

Every second student receives financial support from their parents, according to a study by the German National Association for Student Affairs (DSW).

For Aust, it is clear that rising food and energy prices will also have an impact on educational opportunities in Germany in the medium term.

“Those who are short of money will think twice or even thrice before sending their children to study. Or whether they prefer to choose a more traditional path and earn a living instead of investing more in education,” says- he.

According to the Federal Statistical Office, the number of first-year students continued to fall in 2021. There are demographic reasons for the drop in new enrollments, but it is also partly due to the COVID pandemic — why study when you’re just sitting at home anyway?

More university closures considered

Indeed, universities were the first public places to close their doors when the pandemic began in the spring of 2020. And the last to reopen them.

After a brief return to the lecture halls, students could again be forced to study from home, but this time due to rising energy prices.

According to the German Federal Network Agency (BNetzA), universities are considered part of the country’s critical infrastructure and therefore have priority when it comes to energy supply in winter.

Nevertheless, some universities are already considering shortening opening hours or extending the Christmas holidays due to high energy costs. Again, it would be the students who would suffer.

The Technical University of Berlin, for example, is planning a “year-end shutdown” from December 19 to January 4 during which all heaters will be turned off, lights turned off and doors locked.

Rahel Schüssler is not happy with the prospect of further campus confinement: “If there is a closure of the university, it just means shifting the problem. Electricity costs have to be paid somewhere and in the end , it is the students who will pay more because they study at home.”

This article was originally written in German.

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