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

The Federal Ministry of Education and Research (BMBF) has launched numerous measures in response to the COVID-19 pandemic which aim to mitigate its immediate effects on school students, students in higher education, schools and the science system.

We are strengthening research

  • We are making every effort to support the development of a 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 between 2017 and 2021. In response to the pandemic, we provided an additional 140 million euros in 2020 for vaccine development within CEPI. The Federal Government also pledged to make additional funding available for CEPI at the international pledging conference of the European Commission on 4 May.
  • A BMBF special programme worth 750 million euros is accelerating the development of vaccines. This programme supports three companies working with different technologies to develop a vaccine: BioNTech, CureVac and IDT Biologika. The goal is to enable upcoming vaccine studies to start off with larger numbers of trial participants and to expand production capacities. The point is to ensure that many people are vaccinated in Germany at an early stage as part of the clinical trials. The programme also aims to enable speedy vaccine production on a large scale in Germany and worldwide as soon as a vaccine has been found.
  • In early March, the BMBF launched a funding call which provides 45 million euros to develop medicines to treat the respiratory disease COVID-19 and improve our understanding of the virus.
  • 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 to counter the current pandemic. 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.
  • 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 also 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, the DigitalPakt Schule (Digital Pact for Schools) provided 100 million euros to enable the Länder to swiftly establish infrastructures and increase digital teaching provision at times when schools are closed throughout Germany.
  • Education that is digital calls for digital devices. This is why we have once again extended the Digital Pact for Schools: we have earmarked 500 million euros in an immediate action programme to procure digital devices for school students. We are advancing another 500 million euros, which are to be provided from the European Recovery Programme for the technical equipment which teachers will need. The Federal Government has pledged a further sum of 500 million euros to train and fund IT system administrators when the Länder increase their support for continued training in digital technology for teachers. In total, the Federal Government is investing 6.5 billion euros in the digital transformation of schools.
  • We have expanded 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 potential new 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 edu-sharing 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 have made 500,000 euros available for the VHS Learning Portal operated by the German Adult Education Association (DVV). The web 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 support for more learners in the VHS Learning Portal.

We are supporting university students

  • Nobody should have to be worried about their BAföG 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.
  • Implementation of BAföG has also become easier. It is now possible 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.
  • 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. The loan is interest-free during the payment period up to 31 March 2021. The student loan (Studienkredit) was opened up to international students, who are particularly affected by the current crisis, from July 2020 until March 2021. We also made up to 100 million euros available to the student services organisations through the end of September to help students who demonstrated pandemic-related hardship.
  • We also want Germany to emerge from the crisis stronger than before and to thrive in the long term. This is why the stimulus package adopted by the governing coalition focuses specifically on education and forward-focused technologies. Nearly half of the funding in this stimulus package will be invested in future-oriented areas.
  • The extensive scope and size of this stimulus package for Germany’s future as a country of innovation is the first of its kind. The impetus it provides will lay the groundwork for this decade to become a decade of education, research and innovation.

We are investing in science, research and forward-looking technologies

  • Climate change will remain a challenge of the next several decades. The aim of the National Hydrogen Strategy which Germany has adopted is therefore to secure our role as a key global player in green hydrogen as an energy carrier of the future.
  • Seven billion euros have been allocated to the National Hydrogen Strategy. The BMBF will make 700 million euros of that sum available to support green hydrogen research and innovation. Also, the Federal Government is providing two billion euros in funding to support the establishment of foreign trade partnerships in hydrogen technology based on international partnership agreements
  • Artificial intelligence (AI) is one of the key technologies for Germany as a centre of innovation. We will therefore increase the planned investments in AI for the period up until 2025 from three to five billion euros. This investment, together with our AI strategy, lays the foundation for a European AI network and the competitiveness of "AI made in Europe".
  • As a further leap in technology, we are providing funding in the amount of two billion euros for quantum technologies. In this context, we are relying on the close link between research and transfer to industry. The Federal Government will directly commission the construction of at least two quantum computers to suitable consortia.

We are advancing education and training

  • We are expediting the expansion of full-day schools and programmes with a sum of 1.5 billion euros. The German Länder which draw down funds for investments in 2020 and 2021 will also receive the corresponding amounts in the subsequent years of the dedicated programme. This package gives young families dealing with exceptional circumstances during the coronavirus crisis new hope that their children will receive a good education, and it improves the conditions for balancing work and family. The Federal Government’s budgeted investments in the expansion of full-day care for primary school children have thus increased to a total of up to 3.5 billion euros.
  • The pandemic may not be allowed to jeopardize the opportunities in life for trainees. The national programme to save traineeships (Ausbildungsplätze sichern) with a budget of 500 millions euros supports companies providing training that have been particularly hard hit by the pandemic. It motivates them to keep offering training places and to enable young people to carry on and complete their traineeships. In this way, training capacities can be retained without resorting to short-time work for trainees. It also encourages contract and collaborative training and creates incentives to take on trainees from companies which have to declare insolvency.

We are increasing Germany's attractiveness as an environment for innovation

  • Companies conducting research, and SMEs in particular, are receiving additional support since the amount of the eligible expenditure covered in the tax concessions to support research has been doubled. The targeted companies can now claim up to one million euros instead of (the former) 500,000 euros per year for research expenditure.
  • We are funding research through extensive measures to strengthen Germany's ability to meet future challenges. We are supporting the large non-university research organizations from a fund of 800 million euros to maintain and enhance research cooperation with industry.
  • Research and production in Germany also receives critical stimulus for the development and production of pharmaceuticals and medical products and the further digitalization of the healthcare system.

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).