In just a few weeks, the pandemic triggered by the coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 has led to an economic crisis on a global scale in Germany, Europe and worldwide. Things we believed were certain and secure were replaced by a life marked by numerous restrictions that we could not have imagined a few weeks ago.
To pick up on a figure of speech that has been around recently: The world we know seems to have come apart completely and won’t be the same after the crisis. After overcoming the coronavirus, it will have to be put together and built anew. Also for us at the DAAD, as the world's largest funding organisation for international exchange, the world will have changed.
We are observing a great dilemma these days:
On the one hand, rigid national measures – even inside the European Union – are completely suspending the freedom of travel. Rules to keep a distance between people and other measures for social distancing, including lockdowns, will minimise contact and make exchange more difficult. In Germany, too, we are suspending fundamental rights - such as freedom of movement and freedom to travel. We rely - and there is no other choice in this situation - on a variety of mechanisms of partition and isolation.
On the other hand, we are becoming brutally aware of how interconnected we are on this one planet and that we cannot close ourselves off from development in other countries. We also realize that we can only meet the global challenge of COVID-19 if scientists work together internationally to develop therapeutics and vaccines together - incidentally also with scientists in countries such as the People's Republic of China, which are considered "difficult partner countries".
What does this mean for us? What are the challenges facing the DAAD in this world that has gone out of control?
Firstly: We can be certain that international exchange and scientific cooperation across borders is and will remain the key to solving common global problems - this fundamental insight must be represented with verve, especially in these days.
Secondly, we want to intensify our focus on how international cooperation and intercultural exchange of experience can be achieved without physical contact and in a virtual environment. Digital technology is currently being used to maintain international exchange as far as possible. We have to think further ahead. Not only for climate policy reasons as in recent years, but also in the light of the current pandemic, which will not be the last.
Thirdly, we must think comprehensively about the post-Corona world. Huge changes are to be expected, including the willingness to spend time abroad, mobility between countries and continents and the economic conditions for mobility in numerous countries. Also the individual and institutional assessments of whether travel is necessary and urgent, as well as the importance of digital technologies and coming together virtually will have to be taken in account. This, again, means that the essential parameters for the DAAD and our fields of action will change.
We now have the task of preparing for the world after the coronavirus. Since its foundation, the DAAD has always adapted to new conditions, indeed to new worlds. We can therefore all together be confident that we will succeed again. The world after the coronavirus - it will be different, but it will also be a world in which progress can only be achieved through cooperation and change can only be achieved by exchange.