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Coronavirus (COVID-19): FAQ on legal issues (state aid, education law)

Do I have to pay back the study grant if I undertake coronavirus-related paid work?

On top of the study grant, you can earn an additional €10,000 per year (a monthly average of €833) if you receive the grant for the whole year*). This is the same amount as the highest grant, and the grant will not be reduced as a result of your additional earnings. Only if you earn more than an additional €10,000*) per year will you have to pay back the amount above this limit to the Austrian Study Grant Authority.

If you reach the additional income limit, you will not have to pay back the study grant received or your own income of €10,000*).

If you undertake coronavirus-related paid work that may result in you exceeding the additional income limit in 2020, you will therefore have to decide whether to do some of the work without being paid, if need be, or whether to give up or limit other existing work so that you do not exceed the additional income limit.

Please note that any income from employment, i.e. including income from coronavirus-related work, counts towards the additional income limit.

*) If you do not receive the grant for the whole year, the additional income limit is lower. For one year, it amounts to €833 multiplied by the number of months in which you receive the grant.

How does civilian service affect the study grant?

If you perform emergency civilian service (außerordentlicher Zivildienst), the study grant is suspended in the months in which you predominantly (for more than two weeks) perform civilian service since other income will replace your study grant. However, this income is not taken into account in the additional income limit for the study grant. Therefore, please inform the Austrian Study Grant Authority of the dates when you start and end your civilian service.

As a student, I am entitled to participate in all university and higher education institution activities. Why do restrictions currently apply to me?

The measures have been adopted with consideration for the health of the population and are designed to protect students. Lectures will be moved online as far as possible or postponed if necessary. Where possible, students should not suffer any disadvantages. Ultimately, there is no alternative but to enforce the current restrictions.

What happens if I don’t achieve the ECTS credits required for grants/allowances or I exceed the funding period due to classes being postponed?

A legal solution is currently being developed for student funding so that no one receiving a study grant will be disadvantaged as a result of teaching and exam restrictions at the universities and higher education institutions in the summer 2020 semester. As soon as the relevant legal regulations are available, the solutions will also be announced here.

In individual hardship cases, students can also receive financial support from the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research. However, this only applies if you previously received a study grant (Studienbeihilfe).

Information is also available on the Austrian Study Grant Authority website at www.stipendium.at. If you wish to contact the Study Grant Authority, please do so only via the contact form at www.stipendium.at/kontakt.
The grant offices cannot currently be contacted by phone.

How will missed university learning activities and internships be rescheduled/compensated?

University learning activities that cannot be replaced by distance learning and have therefore been cancelled will be rescheduled where possible, depending on the specific situation. For instance, grouped lecture blocks or other potential learning methods within periods in which lectures are not usually held are possible. The university senate can enact regulations regarding the structure of the academic year. 

With regard to internships, different formats and circumstances of the individual case have to be considered. In many cases, internships are carried out outside universities and higher education institutions and are therefore not necessarily covered by the current limitations. At present, internships at schools cannot be carried out and need to be rescheduled for a later date. On the other hand, internships in the clinical practice year of a medical degree should be pursued. 

Research activity is to continue, but various libraries have been closed. How is this possible?

The Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research has recommended that universities and higher education institutions close larger reading rooms in libraries for the time being. Depending on the specific local circumstances, the closure of lending systems is not mandatory. Books can therefore still be borrowed at various universities. Additionally, some reading material has been made available online.

My university does not have the technological means of enabling distance-learning activities. Are any countermeasures being put in place?

Universities and higher education institutions are normally well equipped in the area of digital infrastructure. In the area of university education, in particular, numerous investments have been made. No further short-term measures are currently feasible. 

My scholarship is about to run out and I cannot complete my studies in time because of the limitations due to COVID-19. Who can help me?

It is important to distinguish whether the problem can be solved by the university or the higher education institution, or if a binding legal provision is preventing a “fair” solution. The Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research understands that universities and higher education institutions are using the provisions available to cover special cases. Should this not be possible in an individual case, the Federal Ministry will engage in finding a legal solution. 

What happens if the measures against COVID-19 extend the duration of my studies and I therefore have to pay tuition fees?

Universities and higher education institutions have the option to waive tuition fees. This obviously applies only to cases directly affected by the restrictions. 

Why do universities and institutions of higher education have different approaches to handling COVID-19? Would a unified approach not be more sensible?

The Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research made unified recommendations to universities and higher education institutions. However, institutions are free to decide upon the implementation of a specific course of action in line with the local situation. This is appropriate and necessary. 

My lectures have been replaced with distance learning, but I do not have the necessary technology. What can I do?

Unfortunately, the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research cannot provide technological support. Moving teaching activities online is designed to minimise the impact of COVID-19 on universities and higher education institutions. Unfortunately, restrictions cannot be fully avoided. If problems arise, it is recommended that you contact the head of the study programme. Individual solutions can potentially be considered further. 

The head of the study programme does not want to offer distance learning, citing academic freedom as his/her reason. What can I do?

In such cases, it is recommended that you contact the leadership team of the university/higher education institution.

Our university is considering an amendment rescheduling university learning activities for the study-free period in July. Is this feasible/desirable on a national level?

The structure of the academic year is a decision for the university. Learning activities may therefore be postponed until the summer. For now, it is not possible to estimate how long the current measures will be enforced. If necessary, postponing teaching activities until the summer will be necessary in order to allow students to properly complete the semester.

At our university or higher education institution, student representatives are not included in the consultations of the institution’s leadership team on the further steps to be taken. What can we do?

First and foremost, please speak to the institution leadership team in question and inform the Austrian National Union of Students’ Federal Body of Representatives (Bundesvertretung der Österreichischen Hochschüler_innenschaft). They are in constant contact with the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research.

How will registration deadlines be extended?

There is currently no need for action on this matter. The Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research is monitoring the situation on an ongoing basis and if necessary will adopt the appropriate measures. 

What about the entrance examinations for the upcoming winter semester? Will these be postponed? 

As things stand, it is likely that at least some dates will have to be postponed. The universities and higher education institutions and the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research will provide information on respective measures in good time.

Can exams be taken via video conferencing?

This option may be considered provided that the exam can be properly completed. 

At art universities, many students are losing a large part of their income since concerts, art projects, etc. are being cancelled. Individual universities and student representative bodies are trying to counteract this with an emergency fund. 

15 March 2020

Cancellations of concerts, art projects, etc. are currently affecting the entire cultural sector; as a result, compensatory measures do not just fall within the remit of the Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research (BMBWF). Should the current situation last beyond Easter, the BMBWF will consider a variety of measures to support music and art universities.

At the medical universities, around 1500 students will be starting their clinical practice year on Monday. During this year, they normally receive monthly pay of €650. There are two issues here: a number of students will not be able to start their clinical practice year due to caring responsibilities (as a result of school closures), while others are being told by hospitals that “we can’t take on young medics at the moment” and aren’t being accepted. In both cases, the students will be missing out on income.

15 March 2020

The Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research is in contact with the management teams at the medical universities in order to ensure that appropriate and, wherever possible, standardised solutions to these issues are implemented as soon as possible. If students are required to assist at healthcare facilities, they are advised to make use of the childcare facilities in place in nurseries and schools. Ultimately, however, students must personally decide for themselves what takes priority, since individual circumstances will vary. 

What will happen to Erasmus students whose exam could take place on a date when they are no longer in Austria?

15 March 2020

At present, it is assumed that exams at Austrian higher education institutions will be postponed or taken online. If Erasmus students cannot take exams due to them being held on a date when they are no longer in Austria, the following applies: Erasmus students do not need to achieve the minimum requirement of 3 ECTS credits per month of study. Achieving sufficient ECTS credits will therefore not be linked to the receipt of financial funding in the Summer 2020 semester. No random recognition checks will subsequently be carried out by the National Agency. The international office at the student’s home university will advise him/her on the recognition of academic achievements that he/she has already attained.

If classes and exams are postponed until the summer by individual universities or higher education institutions, some students are worried that they will not be able to attend as they have arranged holiday jobs, placements, etc. What possible solutions might there be?

15 March 2020

At present, it is not clear whether and to what extent classes and exams will have to be postponed until the summer months. The Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research has already asked universities and higher education institutions to demonstrate as much goodwill as possible when dealing with students’ concerns. Appropriate solutions must be developed with this in mind.

I am worried that if my civilian service is extended, I will not be able to prepare for the upcoming entrance exam. Will the exams still go ahead on the scheduled dates?

17 March 2020

Unfortunately, we cannot currently say with certainty how long COVID-19 will continue to cause disruption for schools and universities. As things currently stand, it is likely that at least some admission procedures will be postponed. Only when this issue has been clarified can valid statements be made about the preparation times available.

I would like to volunteer for emergency civilian service (ausserordentlicher Zivildienst), but am worried that I will lose my student grant or similar (family allowance, housing allowance, etc.) as a result. How will the payment I receive for civilian service affect the additional earnings limit? If this results in my studies being extended, what will happen about tuition fees if I am liable for contributions?

17 March 2020

Students are not normally entitled to receive student grants for the months in which they perform more than two weeks’ civilian service. This means that if you perform emergency civilian service between now and Easter, you will not lose any money because there are fewer than two weeks in both March and April during this period. If you carry out emergency civilian service for longer than two weeks in April, your student grant for April must be stopped or paid back.
The period of entitlement is extended automatically by one semester if you perform at least six months’ civilian service (including emergency civilian service). If you cannot achieve the required academic success as a result of performing civilian service, this situation can be recognised as an important factor. If necessary, student support may also be granted. Payment received for civilian service is not taken into account in a student’s income. The Federal Ministry of Labour, Family and Youth is responsible for family allowance.
Universities and higher education institutions generally have the option to specify cases in which tuition fees can be waived. Of course, this also applies in particular to hardship cases of this kind.

I have paid tuition fees for the current semester and am no longer receiving anything in return. How will this be dealt with?

18 March 2020

At the moment, it is not possible to conclusively assess the impact of COVID-19 on higher education – in terms both of what is taught and when. Where possible, classes have been moved online; there is also a possibility that classes could be made up at a later date. Moreover, universities and higher education institutions generally have the option to specify cases in which tuition fees can be waived. Of course, this also applies in particular to hardship cases. The Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research is carefully monitoring the situation and is in constant contact with the universities and higher education institutions. Should further measures be required to mitigate the current situation, these will be taken in good time.

General recommendations for stays abroad

The Federal Ministry of Education, Science and Research is bound in all of its recommendations by the specific regional government recommendations of the Federal Ministry of European and International Affairs. 

In general, it is recommended that Austrians who are abroad register via the following link: https://ias.bmeia.gv.at/reiseregistrierung/. As soon as registration is completed, you will be contacted by the relevant embassy in the event of an emergency. Those who are currently in affected countries should contact the competent Austrian representation authority (Austrian embassy or consulate general) so that the embassy has the necessary contact information. 

Interruption/postponement of an actual study visit abroad

Please contact the international office of your university or higher education institution and – if you are receiving a scholarship from the Austrian Exchange Service (OeAD) – the OeAD at anfragen@oead.at

Information on mobility funding from the Austrian Exchange Service (OeAD GmbH)

Mobility programmes will continue to be funded as before. Current stays in countries affected by COVID-19 can be interrupted or postponed. Any costs incurred can be claimed from the OeAD on the basis of force majeure if they are within the amount of the grant. This also applies if the minimum academic requirement has not been achieved due to earlier departure. 

Student accommodation 

For the time being, there is no legal reason to terminate accommodation contracts that have already been concluded. In the case of guests who have visited affected areas within the last 14 days, the precautionary recommendations of the Federal Ministry of Health should be followed.