Studying abroad during COVID-19?

This German Law School is making it happen.

At Bucerius Law School, one of the top-ranked law schools in Germany, Professor Clifford Larsen, the Dean of the international Master of Law and Business Program (MLB), has found a pragmatic solution for the dilemma that prospective students of his international graduate program face.

Prospective international students face great uncertainties

The COVID-19 pandemic has upset the plans of any student or professional intending to continue their education in 2020. Especially those who were looking forward to pursuing a study program in another country are now being forced to reconsider their plans and face unanswered questions and uncertainties.

Dean Larsen understands their predicament. "For the past fourteen years, our program has attracted lawyers and businesspeople from some 100 countries worldwide. When the scope of the COVID-19 pandemic became clear, we were of course concerned at first what this would mean for our applicants who had already been admitted to the 2020-2021 MLB Program, which is due to start in the fall. We knew that they needed quick answers for some pressing questions, for example, what will happen if they are not able to travel to Germany because travel restrictions are not lifted in time or because they cannot get a visa."

Shift to digital teaching format within a matter of days

When the law school's campus in central Hamburg had to close quite suddenly in mid-March after a suspected case of COVID-19, all operations shifted to a digital format within a matter of days. "At the time, our current MLB students were on break from classes doing their internships, which many of them were then able to complete while working from home", says Larsen. The program staff and the law school's IT experts used the absence of the MLB class to prepare for a continuation of the on-campus part of the program in virtual space, coaching staff and faculty in the use of different video conferencing tools and revising syllabi to fit the new teaching format. 

At the beginning of May, Bucerius' MLB students took up their studies again as planned – only remotely. Bucerius library staff are now providing MLB students, who are currently working on their master’s theses from home, with access to research materials through special agreements with online database providers, by using interlibrary loans, and even by purchasing the books needed by individual students and having them delivered to their homes. Larsen: "Such a feat is only possible with a very capable and motivated team and top-notch facilities at your disposal. Luckily, at Bucerius Law School, we have both."

Developing a Plan B

After seeing the agility with which the organization was able to adapt to the current situation, the MLB staff and faculty are continuing their planning for the start of the 2020-2021 Program this fall, making use of the experience and expertise that they have gathered over the past months. As the number of COVID-19 cases in Germany decreases and restrictions are lifted, they are preparing to have courses taught in-person, as well as in digital format to those students still in their home countries as they await the opportunity to travel to Hamburg.

Larsen: "Of course the current situation prevents 100% planning certainty regarding the upcoming program, but our faculty and staff will be able to switch quickly to complete online teaching if needed, depending upon the number of students who will be able to arrive in Hamburg on time and the restrictions put in place by the German government. The point is: We have a Plan B. And it's a good one."

The limits of online programming

Despite the many solutions Bucerius Law School and the MLB Program staff have developed to teaching during the COVID-19 pandemic, Dean Larsen is aware that the MLB Program offers experiences that go beyond online programming: "Our students come to our campus here in Hamburg from around the world not only to be challenged by a demanding curriculum, but also to experience a different culture, to explore the wonderful city of Hamburg and, as they prepare for their futures, to network and interact with fellow classmates from diverse cultural and academic backgrounds. We are acutely aware that a digital format for any program cannot offer all these unique experiences. We therefore very much hope that, next year, we will be able to offer the Master of Law and Business in its original form again."


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