Skip to main content

Academic Adjustments

Academic Adjustments for Coursework and Examinations

Students with a disability or chronic illness, no matter if physical or mental, are often directly disadvantaged during their studies. Academic adjustments intend to counterbalance those disadvantages. Academic adjustments for coursework and examinations refer to the format of the required coursework, the quality standards are not affected by this. It is not, therefore, a matter of simplifying examinations, but of changing the general conditions. Affected students are legally entitled to corresponding provisions.

Who is Entitled to Academic Adjustment?

All students who are affected by impairments in their studies can claim this adjustment. It does not matter whether it is a visible or non-visible impairment, a physical or mental illness, or whether or not the impairment is officially recognized (disability ID card). Students with specific learning disorders (dyslexia/dyscalculia) or attention deficit syndrome (such as AD(H)S) are also entitled to academic adjustments.

Legal Provisions for Academic Adjustment According to the Higher Education Act of the State of Bremen

“Disabled and chronically ill students [...] should be able to complete their studies and examinations under conditions equivalent to those of any other student. For this purpose, as far as possible, all study and examination-related offers of universities are designed to be barrier-free. Disabled and chronically ill students are entitled to academic adjustments, especially in the organization and design of their studies and during examinations. In particular, consideration must be given to study and examination-related effects, for example, the need for special aids or personal assistance, and the provision of study and examination conditions in a form other than the intended organization.” ((Bremisches Hochschulgesetz – BremHG (Higher Education Act of the State of Bremen)), section 31 (1)).

“The academic content-related requirements for coursework and examinations will not be affected.” (BremHG, section 31 (2)).

The general part of University of Bremen’s bachelor’s and master’s degree examination regulations (ATBPO and MPO) takes up these provisions: 

“The nature and severity of a disability must be taken into account in the examination process. If the student can document that they are not able to take an examination wholly or partially in the intended form because of continued or chronic illness or disability, this can be compensated by extending the examination time accordingly or by organising the examination process differently.  For this purpose, the submission of a medical certificate may be required.” ( ATBPO and MPO, section 14).

How Can Disadvantages Because of a Special Need be Counterbalanced?

Academic adjustments can relate to all coursework and examinations. They can be granted once or permanently. They are always to be tailored individually and in line with needs; there are no standard solutions.

Examples of Academic Adjustments for Examinations:

  • replacement of written exams with oral examinations
  • replacement of oral exams with written examinations
  • extra time for the completion of homework, transcripts, exercises, the bachelor’s thesis, etc.
  • extra time for timed examinations
  • permission to use a special examination room
  • replacement of a presentation with written homework
  • taking individual breaks during an examination
  • permission to use technical aids
  • possibility to withdraw from examinations due to illness
  • spreading examination phases over a wider period of time
  • non-consideration of spelling mistakes/miscalculations during homework/examinations

Examples of Academic Adjustments for Coursework:

  • replacement of compulsory attendance times (e.g. laboratory work or excursions) with other coursework
  • modification of internship periods
  • provision of sound and video recordings of lectures
  • provision of lecture scripts and handouts for preparation and follow-up

This list is only meant as an example and as a source of ideas. Which academic adjustment is appropriate in individual cases depends on the specific special need. There can be no such thing as a one-size-fits-all solution in this context.

Privacy

  • The application for academic adjustment is treated confidentially by the examination office and the examination board.
  • The decision on an application will be communicated in writing.
  • The academic adjustment granted will not be mentioned on the degree certificate.

What is the Application Process for Academic Adjustment?

In the interest of all parties involved, a lean procedure should be chosen with little bureaucratic effort. The following procedure has proven effective:

  1. The student describes in an informal letter how the concrete impairment hinders their studies. This requires information on the symptoms, but not information on the diagnosis. The application should clearly indicate in a way that is comprehensible to a medical layperson which restrictions – related to the course of study – exist. In addition, proposals for solutions should be made regarding what academic adjustments might look like in the specific case.
  2. A medical certificate must be enclosed.
  3. The application is to be submitted to the responsible examination office.
  4. The examination office forwards the application to the examination board and, if applicable, to the chairperson of the examination board (if this function has been assigned).
  5. The examination board decides on the application in a timely manner and notifies the examination office of its decision.
  6. The examination office will send a written decision to the applicant.
  7. The applicant contacts the lecturer in good time with the notice of approval.

Requirements on Medical Certificates

  • If possible, the certificate should be issued by the treating doctor or therapist (with license to practice). This can be a specialist, but also a general practitioner.
  • The medical certificate must clearly explain to medical laypersons which study-related impairments exist. It is not necessary to mention the exact diagnosis or medical history. However, the symptoms that lead to a special need in the study situation should be described as precisely as possible. The report may also contain suggestions for academic adjustments.
  • Diagnostic tests, e.g. for dyslexia, should not be older than 5 years.
  • The PBS – Psychological Counselling Centre of the Bremen Students Services Organization conducts tests for dyslexia and dyscalculia. These are free of charge for students of the Bremen universities.
  • Due to the high costs and effort involved, official medical certificates should be avoided, if possible.

Information for Students

  • Think about how your impairment concretely affects your studies: For which coursework or examination do you need academic adjustment and what might it look like?
  • Do you need academic adjustments for coursework (in courses, internships, work groups, lectures, etc.)? In these cases, please contact the respective teaching staff directly. Visit them during their office hours or at a time when there is an opportunity for a confidential conversation.
  • You do not have to justify your special need or describe details of your illness. Describe clearly how your impairment hinders you in your studies and make your own suggestions as to how this disadvantage could be compensated. Ask that the conversation be kept confidential.
  • Do you need academic adjustments for your examinations? Then submit your request directly to the responsible examinations office – not to individual teaching staff.
  • An application for academic adjustment must always be made in good time before an examination, usually at the latest when registering for the examination, but often earlier.
  • In the case of permanent special needs, an application for several examinations at once may be submitted in order to keep the administrative burden low. If, for example, it is predictable that someone will always have problems with handwritten exams due to a motor impairment, the use of a laptop can be requested for all future exams.
  • As a rule, students with disabilities or chronic illnesses themselves know best where special needs exist and how these can be compensated. Sometimes, however, it can also be useful to discuss the situation with a representative specialized in the subject or a neutral advice center (e.g. the Office for Students with Disabilities or Chronic Diseases – KIS) to find a solution.