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Agreement on the long-awaited 23rd amendment to the BAföG (or in English, the Federal Training Assistance Act) has finally been reached. The BAföG is a government-administered half loan, half grant scheme designed to assist students who could otherwise not afford the cost of studying. The new amendment, which was debated for some months, sets out the budget sharing arrangement between the federal government and the Länder; stipulates the overall increase in the funds allocated to the programme; expands the upper age limit for BAföG funding available to master’s-level students; and introduces some BAföG support for the overhead costs associated with students conducting research. These new changes will enter into force as of the beginning of the 2010/11 academic year.
Overall, the BAföG budget has been increased by 2%. The federal government will provide 65% of the funding and the Länder 35%. The tax-free allowances on parental income are increased by 3%. In addition, the upper age limit for support to students pursuing master’s degree has been raised from 30 to 35. Meanwhile in a move that has pleased both the beneficiaries and the German Rectors’ Conference (HRK), some BAföG funds may now be accessed by beneficiaries involved in research projects financed by German Research Foundation (Deutsche Forschungsgemeinschaft), to be applied to a percentage of overhead costs. In such cases, an allowance may be equivalent to 10% of the overhead costs, rising to 20% in the next year. The increase of this particular funding is expected to contribute to a larger effort to strengthen the university research.
Research indicates that BaföG beneficiaries make up around one quarter of the student population in Germany, with more than two-thirds (81%) of BaföG recipients indicating they would not have been able to afford their studies without these grants. Moreover, results of a survey in 2009 showed that 22% of those who studied abroad were beneficiaries of financial support through BaföG. Given grave economic uncertainties in Europe and very real resource deficits, it is encouraging to see that programmes such as BaföG continue to show signs of life.