The University of Mainz General Students’ Committee have provided a financial support service to students in crisis for the past 15 years. This includes grants and scholarships, financial counselling and free legal advice.

Objectives of the Intervention

Often students do not only face challenges and obstacles while enrolling for higher education, but also through their whole student life. In many cases students are for the first time responsible for them and have to organize their lives on their own. This includes handling a budget, organizing a place where ones child is taking care of or coping with psychological pressure, which was unknown before. Challenges also might surface unexpectedly – such as an unforeseen overspend budget and no possibility to pay for the next meal.

The here presented intervention provides an easy accessible consulting offer for students. The social affairs committee of the local student union of the Johannes Gutenberg University of Mainz tries to provide a counseling opportunity which reflects all possible needs. This should ensure that at least contacts for a more in depth counseling can be provided and also that the student is not confronted with a feeling of helplessness.

The counseling offer combines two activities: Within the first activity four social affairs officers offer several consulting hours where students can present any kind of problem and receive a first help. These might be very practical aspects like a voucher for a free meal or how to find a child care facility. The counseling itself is as peer counseling created to ensure a safe and easy to access environment. The social affairs officers are also students from the same university and the student parliament elects these officers on a yearly basis.
The second activity offers very specific counseling on either legal or financial issues. For this activity a lawyer is employed by the local union. The lawyer offers his consulting hours in an office of the local union.

Origins and rationale of this initiative

The local student union is the executive body of the student representation structures at the university. This executive body is elected on a yearly basis by the student parliament, which is the legislative and highest decision taking body. All students can vote once a year for the members of the student parliament. The student parliament creates committees that are formed within the local union and elects the people within the committees. The counseling opportunity has been a key element of the social affairs committee. As soon as the counseling was implemented all factions of the parliament were more and more in favor of it. As the counseling is seen as an important offer it was included in the statutes and standing orders as mandatory offer of the student union. The student population, its composition and its needs, are constantly changing therefore there is an ongoing demand for the counseling.
Student Unions in Rhineland-Platinate are according to the higher education law independent legal entities. Therefore statutes have to be approved by the ministry.

Target groups intended as beneficiaries of this initiative

The easy to access peer counseling offer is open for all students of the Johannes Gutenberg University and its future students. Legal and financial advisory hours are only open for already enrolled students of the university.

The main group seeking for help and the main target group of this intervention is students from a low socio economic status background. Since the intervention is running it became clear, that there is a diversity of problems and not all of them are related to the socio economic status background of students. Counseling can include support for finding an affordable accommodation or to get working permission for a third country student.

In short: all kind of social affairs related problems are part of the peer counseling program. Even if the peer counseling is not able to provide a concrete solution on the spot, the officers enable students to face the problems and to find the needed contacts or structures, which can provide help.

Also the legal and financial consulting hours face a strong demand. Usually it is relative expensive to consult a lawyer, but the offer of the student union is free of charge.

Political and socio-economic factors that you believe have been important enablers for your initiative

The key force behind the initiative is explained by the nature of the academia circles. As mentioned above the student population changes constantly. Students are often facing very individual problems but also very common challenges. To help individual students and to provide them with a feeling of belonging and understanding the peer counseling is used. As it would be Utopia that there are no social problems in the world there is an ongoing and never ending need for this offer. All status groups of the university are supporting this program

The student union is a legal entity holding an own budget. The university is supervising and controlling the student union. As the annual budget needs to be confirmed by the university, it is possible to say that the University is supporting the expenses for this service.

Another important and prominent supporter of the initiative is the Studentenwerk (a social service provider for e.g. housing and food), which is working hand in hand with the elected officers to ensure an overall consultation and a close exchange.

Overall Programme design and the methods and tools used to reach the goals

The main tool are the consulting hours which provide a safe space environment to ensure that the person which is looking for help, fells secure to open up. The common consulting hours of the officers are four times a week for 3 to 5 hours. The consulting hours of the legal adviser is once a week, a whole afternoon and the financial advisor is offering counseling twice a month.

The counseling offer goes beyond talking as the student union has also the opportunity to provide financial aid. This money can be used if a student lust unexpected a job, or is suffering an injury which does not allow to work or the family abroad is too poor to provide help. This financial support is just provided for actual and short-term financial problems. The union provides aid grants from 200.00 up to 1,000.00 €. Also more material support can be provided such as food or book vouchers.

If the financial grants of the student union do not apply or are not sufficient the union is also supporting students to get grants, loans or scholarships from elsewhere. This means the client is guided through bureaucracy and application processes.

Describe if the project ensured its sustainability

The main tool are the consulting hours which provide a safe space environment to ensure that the person which is looking for help, fells secure to open up. The common consulting hours of the officers are four times a week for 3 to 5 hours. The consulting hours of the legal adviser is once a week, a whole afternoon and the financial advisor is offering counseling twice a month.

The counseling offer goes beyond talking as the student union has also the opportunity to provide financial aid. This money can be used if a student lust unexpected a job, or is suffering an injury which does not allow to work or the family abroad is too poor to provide help. This financial support is just provided for actual and short-term financial problems. The union provides aid grants from 200.00 up to 1,000.00 €. Also more material support can be provided such as food or book vouchers.

If the financial grants of the student union do not apply or are not sufficient the union is also supporting students to get grants, loans or scholarships from elsewhere. This means the client is guided through bureaucracy and application processes.

Resources used in the initiative

The budget is 190,000.00 € per year for the financial support and is paid by the students with their semester dues. Per student and semester this is 200 €.

The consultation-hours are provided by the social committee officers, who get an expense allowance of 30,000 € per month.

The officers benefit from training offers of the national union of students in Germany (fzs e.V.) and participate in network meetings.
The lawyer and the debtor counseling are paid out of the student unions budget according to regular payroll schemes.

Did the intervention reach its objectives?

According to informal feedback and the budget figures the counseling achieves its This opportunity saves a lot of students every year from having to suspend their study because of monetary problems. Furthermore we support especially the underprivileged students to manage everyday problems with taxes or insurance regulations and thus promoting social justice.

The main indicator for the success, or better the need, of this activity is the number of students that seek guidance and come to the consulting hours every week.

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