Coronavirus: What the BMBF is doing

Corona Viren vor Nase und Mund - Wuhan Virus
Germany is a founding member and has committed to fund CEPI worth 90 million euros for 5 years from 2017 on. © Adobe Stock / peterschreiber.media

There is widespread concern among the public about the rapid spread of the novel coronavirus. The situation in Europe became more acute starting in March. The German Federal Government has joined forces to face the challenges posed by the coronavirus outbreak. The Budget Committee of the German Bundestag allocated additional money for research on the coronavirus.

We are strengthening research

  • We are making every effort to support the development of a new vaccine: Germany is among the founding members of the international Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI). The BMBF has supported CEPI with a total of 90 million euros since 2017. In response to the pandemic, we have provided an additional 140 million euros for vaccine development within CEPI. The German biotech company CureVac is also involved in the vaccine development projects initiated by CEPI.
  • We are launching a special programme with up to €750 million to strengthen and accelerate vaccine development. The aim is to enable forthcoming vaccination trials to start with a larger number of participants and to expand production capacities. This will help to ensure that many people in Germany are vaccinated early on as part of clinical trials and that production in Germany and around the world can be started quickly and on a large scale as soon as a vaccine is found.
  • In early March, the BMBF launched a funding call under which an initial sum of 15 million euros will be available for developing medicines to treat COVID-19 and improving our understanding of the virus.
  • To counter the current pandemic, we are providing an additional 150 million euros for the establishment of a research network which will pool and strengthen the research activities of German medical schools. The aim is to set up a national COVID-19 task force and establish central infrastructure including a patient data base. The rapid exchange of knowledge and new insights will help to identify best practices and to achieve the highest possible quality of treatment throughout the country.
  • Global challenges call for global solutions. The BMBF is therefore supporting the World Health Organization's Solidarity Trial with an initial contribution of 1.5 million euros. This global clinical trial will involve participation by 70 countries and well over 10,000 patients and will focus on whether and how existing drugs may be used to treat COVID-19. The following options will be studied: Remdesivir, which was developed as an Ebola treatment; chloroquine and hydroxychloroquine, which are used to treat malaria; a combination of Lopinavir and Ritonavir used as an HIV treatment; the combination of this HIV treatment with Interferon beta. German research institutions will participate in the trial. The German infection and lung research centers DZIF and DZL will be responsible for coordinating the German participants.
  • For years, we have been providing institutional funding for the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) and the German Center for Lung Research (DZL). The four major research organizations – Helmholtz Association, Leibniz Association, Fraunhofer, and Max Planck Society – are making special efforts in the current situation.
  • We have adapted the conditions for project funding on a short-term basis and will continue to re-evaluate them. In this way, we can ensure liquidity and appropriate processes for those who are already working in BMBF-funded projects.

We are strengthening digital education

  • Digital teaching and learning is a good means to compensate for lost teaching time in schools these days. The aim is to quickly develop digital formats. As a short-term measure, 100 million euros have been  provided from the DigitalPakt Schule which enable the Länder to swiftly establish infrastructures and increase digital teaching provision at a time when schools are closed throughout Germany.
  • We are expanding capacities under the BMBF's ongoing HPI School Cloud project for schools which currently cannot use their own school cloud. This enables teaching and learning by digital means in spite of school closures. The School Cloud enables teachers to provide digital classes while school students can work on their tasks at any time, even in teams. This creates a virtual "classroom feeling". Open educational content can also be included. This is why the "Bündnis für Bildung" and the edusharing network, which are already offering educational content in several Länder, will become involved in the project.
  • We have launched the "Wir bleiben schlau!" alliance together with the Länder, the scientific community and industry to promote STEM education at home. The new, extensive and interlinked web programmes are designed to encourage young people to become involved with mathematics, informatics, science and technology even in home learning settings. We want to demonstrate that it does not take much to engage in experiments, programming, discovery and fascinating STEM work at home and outside school curricula.
  • As a short-term measure, we will make 500,000 euros available for the vhs-Lernportal of the German Adult Education Association (DVV). The online portal offers free digital learning programmes with a focus on literacy, basic education and German as a second language. The funds are to be used to train (additional) online tutors and to offer teaching support for more learners in the vhs-Lernportal.

We are supporting university students

  • Nobody should have to be worried about their training assistance due to the coronavirus pandemic. We have adjusted some of the BAföG rules for the provision of training assistance. BAföG will continue to be paid to students already receiving assistance even if regular teaching has been suspended at schools and universities due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • If BAföG recipients do paid work that is urgently needed in the current crisis, their social commitment will be honoured. Income earned as helpers in the fight against the pandemic and its consequences will not be counted against them in the calculation of their BAföG assistance.
  • The implementation of BAföG training assistance will also be facilitated. The aim is to provide rapid financial support for persons entitled to BAföG, particularly those who now need to apply for assistance due to a change in their own or their parents’ income.
  • BAföG will continue to be paid beyond the maximum assistance period where studies are interrupted due to the pandemic.
  • Numerous arrangements facilitate matters for trainees and students who have spent or are spending periods abroad while receiving BAföG and who are affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • From the beginning of May, students who have lost their jobs as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and need financial support can apply for a loan of up to 650 euros per month from KfW as interim financial help which is interest-free during the payment period up to 31 March 2021. The student loan (Studienkredit) will be opened up to those international students who are particularly affected by the current crisis from July 2020 until March 2021.
  • In addition to this, the German National Association for Student Affairs (DSW) will be provided with 100 million euros for local student services emergency funds. This money will be used to help those students who can prove that they are suffering from particularly acute hardship and who need immediate help and do not have access to other forms of support.

What else is the BMBF doing in terms of infection research?

German Center for Infection Research (DZIF)

The BMBF has been funding the German Center for Infection Research (DZIF) since 2012. The DZIF is an alliance of more than 500 doctors and scientists at seven locations working towards the strategic development of translational research.The DZIF has defined nine areas of research in which the researchers focus on the most pressing issues. This includes the infectious diseases AIDS, malaria, hepatitis and tuberculosis as well as gastrointestinal disorders, all of which affect many millions of people. Another DZIF research focus area addresses emerging infectious diseases that are often transmitted from animals to humans and are referred to as zoonoses. The novel SARS-CoV-2 is one of these zoonoses.

German Center for Lung Research (DZL)

The German Center for Lung Research (DZL) is an association of more than 200 researchers and research groups from university and non-university research institutions at five different sites. The DZL focuses on eight diseases/disease areas. They are: asthma and allergy, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cystic fibrosis (CF), pneumonia and acute lung injury and diffuse parenchymal lung disease, pulmonary hypertension, lung cancer and end-stage lung disease. The DZL has defined three main areas of focus for its research and adopts an integrative approach to its research on the processes typical of lung disease. The first area is infectious processes, which are significant in both infectious and non-infectious lung diseases. The second area is the repair processes that enable nearly complete regeneration of the lung in some diseases. The third area is research into the proliferation processes that occur in both benign and malignant lung diseases and can severely impair the delicate tissue important for gas exchange. Clinical Research Group Unit 309 “Virus-Induced Lung Injury: Pathobiology and Novel Therapeutic Strategies” heads research at the DZL on the COVID-19 infection, its pathogen and a vaccine.

National Research Platform for Zoonoses and Research Network of Zoonotic Infectious Diseases

The National Research Platform for Zoonoses is a platform supported by the Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) together with the Federal Ministry of Health, the Federal Ministry of Food and Agriculture, and the Federal Ministry of Defence. It creates an information and service network for all scientists active in the field of zoonoses research in Germany. Its aim is to enable the cross-institutional exchange and interdisciplinary cooperation at the interface of human and veterinary infection research on a national and international level. It is committed to expanding research activities in the field of zoonoses research and to promoting links between human and veterinary medicine. Starting in 2017, the BMBF has provided funding worth 40 million euros to the Research Network of Zoonotic Infectious Diseases and its seven research networks and six junior research groups. Their research focuses on the different pathogens that can be transmitted from animals to humans. The network includes an alliance coordinated by Professor Christian Drosten which focuses on the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI)

The international vaccine initiative CEPI (Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations) was founded in 2017 to develop vaccines against pathogens with pandemic potential. CEPI is a public-private partnership involving government funding agencies, philanthropic organizations and pharmaceutical companies. Germany is a founding member and has provided CEPI with a total funding of 90 million euros. CEPI has focused its vaccine development efforts among others on the Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS), a disease which, like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) and the new, is caused by coronaviruses. Funding is also provided for new vaccine platforms dedicated to the fast-track development and production of vaccines. The development of a vaccine against SARS-CoV-2 driven by CEPI is based on these research activities.

How is the BMBF ensuring the continued disbursement of BAföG training assistance?

The university has been closed. Will I continue to receive BAföG?

Yes. The time during which universities remain closed due to the pandemic will be considered equivalent to semester break. As such, BAföG will continue to be disbursed until further notice. However, if online courses are offered, attendance is mandatory. For more information visit our BAföG webpages (available in German only).

I am a first semester student. Will I still receive BAföG payments?

Yes. First semester students will receive their grant despite universities being closed. The period of closure is considered equivalent to semester recess. For more information visit our BAföG webpages (available in German only).

I benefit from upgrading training assistance (Aufstiegs-BAföG). Will I now be missing too many semester hours/credits?

No. Your allowances will continue to be disbursed until further notice if you are absent because the educational establishment is closed due to the pandemic. For more information continue reading here.

My exam has been cancelled – will I still receive BAföG?

Yes. If exams are cancelled and you therefore exceed the standard period of study, disbursement of the BAföG grant will continue in most cases. For more information visit our BAföG webpages (available in German only).

My standard period of study ends now – will I still receive BAföG?

If the standard period of study has been exceeded and the exam has been cancelled due to the pandemic, disbursement of the BAföG grant will continue in most cases. For more information visit our BAföG webpages (German).