Master grant possible: ÖH clarifies important legal question

4. March 2021
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Unobjective exclusion of a master’s student from the study grant: ÖH clarifies legal issue in the area of study grants

Ms. J applies for tuition assistance for her master’s degree. Your application will be denied by the Student Financial Aid Office. The Senate of the Student Aid Authority also upholds the rejection on appeal. Ms. J had taken too long to complete her bachelor’s degree, the reasoning goes.

J is completing her bachelor’s degree in the 10th semester. She states that the late completion was due to her illness. However, the authority takes the view that her illness should not be taken into account because J fell ill in the 8th semester of her studies. According to the law, the authority states, only illnesses that occurred up to the 7th semester of study can be taken into account.

Unsettled, J turns to the social counseling service of the Austrian Student Union (ÖH) and describes her situation. The ÖH has a different opinion on this and supports Ms. J in formulating a complaint to the Federal Administrative Court (BVwG). For J, the stakes are high; after all, her entitlement to the monthly allowance for her entire master’s degree is at stake.

The applicable Study Support Act (StudFG) stipulates that Master’s studies can be supported if the Master’s study is taken up at the latest within 30 months after completion of the first completed Bachelor’s study and the legally stipulated study duration of the Bachelor’s study is not exceeded by more than 3 semesters (as a rule: within 9 semesters). This allowable 9 semesters does not include periods for which important reasons for prevention are demonstrated. The law states that an illness of the student confirmed by a medical specialist leads to an extension of this deadline if the student proves that the delay in studies was caused by this.

However, the authority does not even examine this causality. She is of the opinion that the disease occurred “too late” in J and therefore should not be taken into account at all. The reasons for extension had occurred “only after the expiry of the scheduled period of study for the completion of the bachelor’s degree (six semesters) and the tolerance semester (…) and this (does not) extend the scope of overruns (…).”

J actually falls ill in the 8th bachelor’s degree semester. She suffers from severe migraines and is undergoing medical treatment. The migraine is associated with nausea, dizziness and concentration problems, which is why attending lectures is sometimes difficult and sometimes impossible. Their performance is reduced, their academic success deteriorates, and their progress is delayed. At 9th semester, lung pain is added. Pain and shortness of breath are the result. Once again she consults a doctor.

Overall, her physical condition is delaying her graduation. J accurately states that, without illness, she took her final exams in the 9th semester could have passed positively. Because already in the 8th semester she prepares for this, in the 9th semester she enters several times, unfortunately unsuccessfully.

About 10 months after the appeal was filed, the decision of the Federal Administrative Court (BVwG) is available. The court agrees with the ÖH’s interpretation of the law and confirms that the “three-semester rule” with regard to a claim for aid in a master’s program can very well be extended by illness, regardless of the time of the illness. The study grant authority had failed to investigate whether Student J’s illness was causal for her exceeding the study time limit in her bachelor’s degree program.

Shortly after the pleasing court decision, J will now be paid the study grant for the entire last year of study, which has already passed, in the amount of more than 9,500 euros. On an ongoing basis, she now also continues to receive the student grant.

Won by the ÖH: With the support of the ÖH, the student is awarded study grants for her master’s degree.

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