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Education expenses  Students’ finances affected by coronavirus lockdown 

closed restaurant

Shut for business: a restaurant in Bern. 

(Keystone / Peter Klaunzer)

Most Swiss students rely on part-time jobs during their studies, but the shutting of restaurants, bars, cinemas and gyms during the coronavirus pandemic has led to many of them losing a source of income. 

Around three quarters of students have a part-time job during their studies, with around half of them working on average two days a week, according to the Federal Statistical Office’s last figuresexternal link.   

+ What a typical Swiss student is like 

But the countrywide lockdown due to coronavirus, which started on March 16, has meant that many have lost their jobs.  

“I lost my part-time job as a promoter, for which I earned on average CHF1,500 ($1,600) a month. I don’t have any other sources of income,” Noemi, 23, who studies business and administration, told the 20 Minutes newspaper earlier this weekexternal link. She is relying on her savings at the moment.  

The newspaper also heard from a 23-year-old student physiotherapist, who is receiving CHF170 a month due to short-time working (instead of her usual CHF600) from her job in a gym. She is also using her savings but could ask her family for help if needed. “This is not great though if you are no longer financially independent,” she told 20 Minutes. 

+ Pandemic pushes more Swiss businesses to short-time working  

Universities: financial aid 

Universities have responded to calls for help by providing emergency funds. On April 24, for example, the University of Zurich announced an emergency assistance scheme of up to CHF6,000 per loan for its students. The criteria: students have no other financial or family support, little or no savings and cannot (yet) benefit from assistance measures provided by the government. Students will only have to pay back the amount that exceeds CHF3,000.external link 

“Our office and other offices at the University of Zurich have been receiving a rise in enquiries over the past weeks from students asking for help due to being in financial distress because of the pandemic. The university then decided to introduce financial assistance for its matriculated students,” Brigitte Ortega, head of the university’s Student Financial Aid Office, told swissinfo.ch via email. 

“Many students work part-time during their studies and have small budgets. So the sudden loss of several hundred Swiss francs can have a real effect.” 

The University of Geneva has a schemeexternal link that includes loans for income replacement and medical expenses, and a look around the other universities uncovers funding in quite a few cases. “The University of Lucerne launched its corona bridging aid two and a half weeks ago for its students and 18 applications have been made,” the university’s head of communications, Dave Schläpfer, told 20 Minutes. Sums of CHF500-CHF1,500 are in play, which won’t have to be paid back, he said. 

Students’ union: more needs to be done 

Responding to the news of the University of Zurich’s measures, the Swiss Students’ Unionexternal link said it welcomed the move. However, the union - which has been fielding a lot of calls from worried students - feels more could be done by the government. Most students in need only have access to university assistance funds, which are limited, it said.  

“We find this every problematic as the responsibility is simply passed on to those affected, the students,” Francesco Bee, co-president of the union, told swissinfo.ch via email. Many students are not eligible for unemployment benefit or short-time working.  

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He said the union had requested more financial help from the governmentexternal link. This could take the form of an assistance fund, run with the cantons (who are in charge of educational matters in Switzerland) and universities, to allow students to receive fast and unbureaucratic help. 

German example 

Students in Germany, who are heavily dependent on part-time jobs, are also feeling the financial pinch. A call for government help has been answered by the federal education minister. Anja Karliczek announced on Thursdayexternal link that students could request a €650 ($712) monthly emergency loan from May onwards from the state development bank KfW. 

In the meantime, there is potential light at the end of the tunnel: retail stores are due to open again from May 11, as well as gyms and restaurants (with special hygiene measures). Theatres and cinemas can re-open from June 8. But how much this will mean a return to normal is as yet unclear.  

SWI swissinfo.ch

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