BERLIN--The German government will add 1 billion DM (500 million US$) to the public study allowance for German university students (Bafoeg), boosting the total Bafoeg budget by nearly 50%. Edelgard Bulmahn, federal minister for education and research, announced the ambitious plan at a press conference last week in Berlin. "We want to make sure that no adolescent will have to renounce his study intentions because of financial reasons," Bulmahn said. "This is first of all a matter of social justice."

Each student's Bafoeg allowance is equally divided between a scholarship and a long-term, low-interest loan. The total amount a student receives declines as their parents' income rises. Although the number of students in German universities doubled in the last 10 years, Chancellor Helmut Kohl's government (CDU) offered no increases in the Bafoeg budget during the same time period. As a consequence, the number of students receiving the public study allowance has dropped from nearly 40% of the student population to only 15%. They have rendered the Bafoeg almost meaningless, says Bulmahn. But she says that the new government proposal signals a "true comeback" for the Bafoeg system.

Although large debts are forcing the government to cut the budgets of nearly every other ministry, the federal Minister of Finance agreed to put up half of the needed amount (500 million DM). The Länder (state governments) are promising an additional 350 million DM, and the final 150 million DM will be financed by the Deutsche Ausgleichsbank, the bank that handles Bafoeg student loans.

The additional money will augment the individual monthly allowance, and the maximum rate will increase from 1030 DM to 1100 DM per student. In addition, the children of higher income parents will now be eligible for Bafoeg, a recommendation that Bulmahn estimates will raise the percentage of students receiving Bafoeg to over 20%. Bafoeg recipients who agree to spend two semesters studying in Germany will be free to use Bafoeg money to finance studies in any European Union country.

Most details of the minister's plans were broadly praised. Increasing the Bafoeg budget will bring considerable relief for many students, agreed both the University Rectors Conference (HRK) and the German Student Union (DSW). However, the current reform plans do not reach the government's original goal of making the Bafoeg completely independent of parents' income, DSW's general-secretary Dieter Schäferbarthold tells Next Wave.