When student jobs become scarce, as recently due to the pandemic, international students without entitlement to student loans, social welfare or housing benefits are hit particularly hard. Besides the university, the Student Communities offer advice.
As usual at the beginning of a semester, Master student Luisa Molkenthin has had a lot to do in her part-time job. Nevertheless, some things are different because of the Corona pandemic. The 30-year-old who studies English and Spanish holds a scholarship of the Protestant Student Congregation (ESG) supporting association. As part of her engagement she has been advising and accompanying international students with all kinds of requests and concerns since 2015. “Often these are about financial matters, but also about intercultural activities or simply practical help, for example in finding accommodation or re-registration at the university," she says. Since the corona pandemic reached Germany, the online counselling has replaced the personal meetings in her weekly office hours, events are no longer possible - but above all, the situation of students in financial difficulties has become even worse, says Luisa Molkenthin.
When losing their part-time job, foreign fellow students who spend their entire studies in Oldenburg quickly find themselves in financial straits. "It becomes difficult to pay insurance, rent and radio fees," says Molkenthin. "Some say: 'I only eat rice and noodles and don't know what to eat next week'." More than 850 students at the University of Oldenburg come from countries outside the European Union - for example from Cameroon, India, Iran or Afghanistan. Each semester, Luisa Molkenthin usually advises about 30 of them. So far, no more than usual have turned to her. But for those in need of advice, the situation is particularly precarious at the moment, she reports.
Alleviating the situation
Katja Kaboth-Larsen from the International Office (IO) of the university shares this experience. She is currently in contact with more than 30 foreign students who are in need, and aware of dozens other requests for help at the Studentenwerk, the Student Service Organisation. "Those affected are neither entitled to the governmental student loan ‘BAföG’ nor to social welfare or housing benefits," she emphasizes. In order to be allowed to enrol at a German university and receive a so-called residence permit, all students have had to prove that they could finance themselves for one academic year with a corresponding sum in a blocked account. "But anyone who touches this financial cushion now risks an early end to their studies, as students have to re-apply for a residence permit every year," adds Kaboth-Larsen.
In order to alleviate the situation, the IO has at least been able to award a few emergency scholarships and grants. "Now we are waiting with the students for the emergency aid fund of the German National Association for Student Affairs, the Studentenwerke, to take effect", Kaboth-Larsen adds. Unfortunately, other bridging funds have already been exhausted, reports Molkenthin. "For example, the money from an emergency fund of the Diakonie, the social welfare organisation of Germany’s Protestant churches, for the summer semester 2020 was already depleted after a few weeks. Timely help is not so easy."
Supporting network is knit even closer
Another option is an emergency student loan temporarily open to people from countries outside the EU, as announced by the German Federal Government. But this instrument does get her wondering, says Kaboth-Larsen, "how those international students who keep their heads above water with jobs should then realistically be able to repay these additional debts.” The IO is therefore in contact with the General Students’ Committee AStA, among other things, in order to think about practical relief for needy students. "We are working, for example, to ensure that the AStA's food sharing offer can continue. That would help many people," says Kaboth-Larsen. "We also refer students who are insufficiently equipped with laptops to the AStA's computer workshop to enable them to participate in online learning".
Despite these challenges, Luisa Molkenthin thinks it is "positive that the network supporting international students is knit even closer". And although German students have substantiated concerns as well, she notes time and again that they are “still privileged”. For example, when she advises a foreign student who has to be suspended from her side job because of a high-risk pregnancy and is therefore hardly able to finance herself. Or when she meets students who regularly work night shifts in production before the morning seminars. "They are fighters, I take my hat off to them," says Molkenthin.