The Rural Consultation Event for the region of Saxony-Anhalt was scheduled for the 1st October, hosted by the Anhalt University of Applied Sciences in Bernburg. The event was organized by the Univations GmbH, together with the Kompetenzzentrum Soziale Innovation Sachsen-Anhalt (KomZ) bringing together 13 experts from relevant stakeholders and bodies in a Rural Council format. Discussions took place on the challenges that rural areas in Saxony-Anhalt are faced with, and, given the pandemic situation, strictly under the state-wide imposed preventive practices. The participants were representatives from our associated partners, such as the KomZ, the start-up centre of the University, teaching staff, project managers with background in mobility and logistics, a local Development and Business Development Corporation and from different directorates of the regional public authority were invited to join into the event and exchange valuable knowledge and ideas.

After a brief introduction to the project and an update on its the status Univations´ CEO Mr. Daniel Worch explained the aim of the day – defining economic and social challenges of the rural areas in Saxony-Anhalt. Subsequently, the group was split into three separate workshops to cover as many topics as possible and thereby use the available time in the most efficient manner. Each workshop has had its own topic and headline to which the respective group defined economic and social challenges.

The first workshop dealt with the topic of mobility, infrastructure, and the use of hydrogenin this context. Mobility and a good infrastructure are prerequisites for the attractiveness and future viability of a region as a residential and business location. With a lack of good accessibility of the centres, young families in particular do not want to move to the region, and companies looking for skilled workers remain absent as well. Climate protection is an example of the changing conditions that will influence our mobility of tomorrow. Another one is an ageing society that is increasing the demand for infrastructures that accommodate the needs of the elderly.

The second workshop was dedicated to the topics of education and digitization, which have become relevant especially in the current pandemic situation. The region of Anhalt-Bitterfeld shows a high proportion of school dropouts, above the national level. Educational provision has become a challenge that is intensified by the dynamics of the demographic change such as outward migration, a decreasing number of pupils and an aging population. Lifelong learning possibilities, knowledge transfer, digital education and (individual) support, cultural education, and solutions for cases where face-to-face teaching is not possible are required. The opportunities of digitization for rural areas were discussed in this format as well, being the possibility of networking, proximity, local anchoring, dynamics, independence, and overall taking new paths.

Workshop number three dealt with the aging and declining population especially in rural areas and the deteriorating density of medical care in these regions. The demographic development and the flight of young people to the cities, causing the depopulation of rural areas, is a double-edged sword. It poses problems and entirely new challenges for rural regions. A growing elderly community demands increasingly for access to medical care. An issue to be tackled not only in Saxony-Anhalt’s rural regions but nationwide.

All of the workshops had lots of potential for a vast amount of underlying challenges. Therefore, the discussions in the workshops went on lively and it turned out that discovering one problem was often just the tip of an iceberg revealing others. The groups presented their results to the remaining Rural Council members afterwards.

It is envisaged that these challenges will be offered to the student community of the Anhalt University of Applied Sciences in a respective module during summer term 2021. Their ideas to solve some of the problems are to be pitched to the Rural Council by the end of the semester. Saxony Anhalt has a lot of potential when it comes to economic and social development and thus requires liveable and attractive rural areas.