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Legal regulations

Links to current and older legal regulations (in German)

as of 28 November 2020

Corona Protection Ordinance (Coronaschutzverordnung – CoronaSchVO) NRW

Current version since 23 December 2020

Corona Entry Ordinance (Coronaeinreiseverordnung – CoronaEinrVO) NRW

Current version as of 28 December 2020

Corona Epidemic Higher Education Ordinance (Corona-Epidemie-Hochschulverordnung)

Current version as of 10 November 2020

General ruling on the holding of courses, practical courses and examinations at universities in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia by the Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs

Current version as of 16 December 2020

Legal basis of the measures taken at the University of Cologne to manage the corona pandemic

The various corona measures of the university are based on a complex legal framework, which is adapted as necessary. . In the course of 2020, a differentiated, continuously adapted regulatory system has developed, which cannot be presented here comprehensively and always up to date. The regulations relevant to the University can be divided into several categories:

  • Infection Protection Law (see no. 1)
  • Occupational Safety Law (see no. 2)
  • University Law (see no. 3)

on which is based the

  • Concrete regulations and measures at the University of Cologne (see no. 4).

1. Infection Protection Law
During the coronal pandemic, the most important legal provisions that apply are the federal infection protection regulations, in particular the federal Infection Protection Law (IfSG). Among other things, it regulates the responsibilities for protective measures.

1.1 Corona Protection Ordinance NRW
On the basis of the Infection Protection Law, the NRW state government has issued the Corona Protection Ordinance (CoronaSchVO) NRW, which is regularly updated. This ordinance regulates most restrictions on public and social life in NRW and also affects universities (e.g. personal obligations, traceability, quarantine for travel returnees, prohibition of conditions for committee meetings, library operation, closure of daycare centres). Most recently, face-to-face teaching (already reinstated by the university from November 2020) was also banned here from mid-December 2020. The latest versions can be found above or at https://www.mags.nrw/erlasse-des-nrw-gesundheitsministeriums-zur-bekaempfung-der-corona-pandemie.

1.2 General disposition of the MAGS NRW
At the same time, the Ministry of Labour, Health and Social Affairs (MAGS) NRW has issued a general decree, directly based on Infection Protection Law, on the ‘Execution of courses and practical events as well as examinations at the universities in the state of North Rhine-Westphalia’, which regulates infection prevention during face-to-face examinations and teaching. The university has to specify the specific requirements. The latest versions can be found above or at https://www.mags.nrw/erlasse-des-nrw-gesundheitsministeriums-zur-bekaempfung-der-corona-pandemie.

1.3°°°° Corona Entry Ordinance NRW
Entry from risk areas into NRW is regulated in a separate set of rules. This regulation is also frequently adapted. After the OVG NRW overturned the central quarantine obligation on 20.11.2020, the application of the VO was suspended until its intended expiry. Under the impression of a more contagious virus mutation, a new Corona entry regulation was issued on 21.12.2020, which only applies to entries from the United Kingdom and South Africa (quarantine obligation with option for free testing), which has also applied to all risk areas since 28.12.2020 (testing obligation for entrants from all other areas).

1.4°°°° Test Ordinance and Quarantine Ordinance NRW
At the federal level, the Federal Ministry of Health has regulated in the Corona Test Ordinance who is entitled to testing and when, and how the costs are distributed. With the Quarantine Ordinance NRW, the state of North Rhine-Westphalia has created a regulation that governs quarantine in the environment of testing (for the time until the test result is available and in the event of a positive test result).

2. Occupational Safety Law
The German Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs has issued an Occupational Safety Standard for SARS-CoV-2, stipulating conditions for infection protection at the workplace. This standard is to be observed by the employer and will be adapted by the Ministry if necessary. As far as it pertains to the university, it gives priority to working from home and requires the employer to create conditions that allow for safe working on campus for those employees who must do so. The employer must also, if necessary, implement additional measures in accordance with the RKI’s specifications.

In addition, the accident insurance funds and employers’ liability insurance associations are authorized to issue supplementary and more specific regulations for their respective members (= public and private employers). With regard to the coronavirus, their activities are currently focused on providing up-to-date information and recommendations (e.g. on ventilation) that are appropriate for the target group.

3. University Law

3.1 Decrees of the Ministry of Culture and Science (MKW) NRW
At the beginning of the corona crisis, the Ministry of Culture and Science of North Rhine-Westphalia issued a decree postponing the start of the lecture period for the 2020 summer semester and initially largely suspended face-to-face classroom teaching, calling for the use of virtual formats.

3.2 Epidemic Law/Higher Education Act NRW
The implemented infection prevention measures to avoid physical presence on campus have led to massive restrictions in everyday university life, especially in teaching, examinations, and committee work. Under these conditions, it is only possible to maintain examination and teaching operations with the massive use of digital technologies, which was not initially envisaged to the extent that is now necessary within the framework conditions of higher education law.

The state parliament has passed an epidemic law (Gesetz zur konsequenten und solidarischen Bewältigung der COVID-19-Pandemie in Nordrhein-Westfalen und zur Anpassung des Landesrechts im Hinblick auf die Auswirkungen einer Pandemie), which has adapted a large number of individual laws, including the Higher Education Act (HG) NRW.

The authority to issue ordinances was introduced into the HG NRW with Section 82a. This allows the Ministry of Culture and Science (MKW) NRW, which is responsible for the university, to regulate important questions regarding examinations, teaching, enrolment, and committees by means of ordinances, deviating from the existing law in order to guarantee the universities’ ability to act under the conditions of the corona pandemic. This power to issue ordinances is limited until 31 December 2020.

3.3 Corona Epidemic Higher Education Ordinance NRW
Based on Section 82a HG NRW, the MKW has issued the ‘Ordinance on the management of the challenges posed to the university operations by the corona virus SARS-CoV-2 epidemic’ (Corona Epidemic University Ordinance):

  • Committee elections can be postponed if they cannot take place as planned due to the epidemic.
  • Committee meetings and resolutions can be held electronically in absentia, in particular by video conference or by circular resolution.
  • Various changes can be made to the examination system in order to conduct examinations despite the epidemic. In particular, electronic examinations may be provided for.
  • Courses may be offered or postponed electronically. 
  • The enrolment procedure may be adapted; submission deadlines may be extended.
  • The individual standard period of study is increased by one semester.
  • Most regulations are made by the Rectorate. Its regulations can be overridden by the Senate or the Faculties. The committee chairperson decides on procedural issues in committees.
  • Upon request, the university must report to the MKW about the regulations and measures taken.

3.4 General management right of the Rectorate

Higher education law also includes the general management right of the Rectorate (Section 16 subsection 1 HG NRW). This allows, within a narrow framework, necessary measures to protect important legal interests (especially health). The more serious and permanent the measures are, the more likely it is that a legal basis will be required for these measures; this has now been established.

4. Concrete implementation of measures

Since the beginning of the corona crisis, the university headship has taken a number of measures to reduce the risk of infection and at the same time to enable the university to operate as far as possible. Initially, these measures were based solely on the Rectorate’s right of management. In the course of time, the state regulations listed above came into force and largely, but not completely, superseded the management law as the legal basis.

All measures of the university take into account the above regulations, the hygiene requirements of the RKI and the SARS-CoV-2 occupational health and safety standard of the Federal Ministry of Labour and Social Affairs (BMAS). They will be adapted as necessary and announced on the central corona information homepage of the university. In addition, the university provides detailed and up-to-date information on all important questions concerning the corona epidemic. It has set up an information office that can be reached since the beginning of the crisis.

4.1 Basic prevention measures

The University has summarized its key prevention regulations in the Hygiene and Protection Directive (HygSchRL), which includes

  • issued a house ban for infected persons, close contact persons and people returning from trips abroad 
  • largely discontinued face-to-face examinations and classroom teaching, and 
  • minimized physical presence at the University for examinations and teaching, and generally on campus.

These measures now fully comply with higher-ranking law. 

The provisions of the Hygiene and Protection Directive are only rarely overruled by higher-ranking regulations or by deviating decisions of the Rectorate. This concerns the current ban on face-to-face teaching.

4.2 Implementation of the Corona Epidemic University Ordinance

The Rectorate has made extensive use of the regulatory powers of the Corona Epidemic University Ordinance and has issued special regulations on examinations and teaching as well as on enrolment and student status and published them in its Official Notices. These regulations allow for digital examination and teaching formats and facilitate the enrolment procedure with regard to the obligation to provide proof and meet certain deadlines. Please note that many important deadlines (e.g. application deadlines, registration deadlines, beginning/end of the lecture period) cannot be regulated by the university, but only by the state of NRW.