Equal opportunities:Academic adjustment and accommodated exams at Goethe University

Adjusted Conditions in Exams: Options and Application Procedure

Students with health issues or disabilities usually have to face additional barriers on top of the challenges typical of a course of studies. Similarly, students who take special responsibilities within their families, e.g. as parents or carers, may find themselves in a comparable situation.

The legal option of a Nachteilsausgleich (academic adjustment/ accommodated exams, Ger.: “compensation for disadvantages") is meant to ensure that these impairments and additional burdens do not unfairly affect individual achievements in academic exams, and to thereby provide equality of opportunity.

Function of a Nachteilsausgleich

The key principle of a “Nachteilsausgleich": Changes to the form of the examination, not to the content or level of competence involved. It is possible to apply for the use of this legal instruments with all departments (subjects) at Goethe University. We recommend that you use the form and information sheet provided by the university; however, this is not a mandatory formal requirement.

A “Nachteilsausgleich" will not appear in your certificate or similar documents; it is not made public by the university in any way.

Chancengleichheit: Anpassung der Prüfungsbedingungen bei gesundheitlicher Beeinträchtigung

Meaning and Legal Form of a Nachteilsausgleich

This instrument consists of suitable modifications to the external conditions or the form of an examination with regard to the special situation of the student. In some cases, a Nachteilsausgleich is crucial for students with impaired health to be able to face an exam at all and allow their intellectual competence to manifest in a tangible and intelligible fashion.  

The legal regulations concerning the Nachteilsausgleich specifically address persons with physical or sensory disabilities, persons with a serious (chronic) disease or illness (including mental health issues), and also includes persons diagnosed with dyslexia in some cases.

A Nachteilsausgleich may also be available in connection with certain especially burdensome situations concerning parental responsibilities and family life (e.g. pregnancy and childcare).

Any Nachteilsausgleich follows this fundamental principle: The content and level of competence involved in an exam must remain unmodified; only form of the exam is adapted to accommodate the student's needs.

A Nachteilsausgleich is available on application in any course of studies at Goethe-Universität.

Political and Legal Background

The Laws on Higher Education (Ger.: “Hochschulgesetz(e)") in each federal state (land; Ger.: “Bundesland") require all universities to take the special needs of students with chronic diseases or disabilities into account. Accordingly, the regulations concerning studies and exams at Goethe University have been designed to ensure that students with chronic diseases or disabilities are in a position to obtain a Nachteilsausgleich upon application on the basis of verifiable special needs.

 The legal instrument of a Nachteilsausgleich fosters equality of opportunity between students with and without impairments, and contributes to the creation of a suitable environment for academic study and qualification, taking due account of individual needs.   

The “Rahmenordnung" of Goethe University contains provisions regarding the Nachteilsausgleich. All examination regulations (Ger.: “Prüfungsordnung(en)") at Goethe University include the option to apply for a Nachteilsausgleich.

Concrete Details

    In accordance with its key principle and function, a Nachteilsausgleich is explicitly not designed to make exams “easier" in the sense of an “alleviation" or “advantage", but to provide an adequate adaptation of the academic environment and circumstances, accommodating the impairments and needs of the student. The instrument has the purpose of allowing students to acquire and demonstrate academic qualifications of equal value on an equal basis with others, preserving equality of opportunity.     

    The concrete shape of accommodations implied in a Nachteilsausgleich must be determined individually in each individual case, considering the relevant characteristics of the situation at hand and pertinent regulations applying to the exam itself.

Possible forms of accommodations include for example:

  • Extension of time-limits and deadlines concerning test papers and academic papers/ essays
  • Oral examinations in the place of written examinations or vice versa
  • Modifications concerning attendance requirements (options to compensate for deficiencies in regular attendance)
  • Changes to the examination schedule or temporal order of exams (e.g. taking the required number of exams over a longer period of time)
  • among others.

The examination board's decision on a suitable form of accommodation is based on the impairments and issues of the individual case and the concrete examination situation

It is impossible to be exempted from taking required examinations or parts of examinations altogether on the grounds of a Nachteilsausgleich. Nor may the accommodation affect the core competencies – its “core contents” – meant to be demonstrated in an exam.

Application

Students have to apply for a Nachteilsausgleich in advance of the examination(s) concerned. The application should be filed well ahead of time, as early as possible, especially as some accommodations require extensive preparations on the part of the university or the examiners. You may use the application form provided by the university to file your application and we advice you to do so. The university also provides an information sheet for medical professionals to facilitate communication and ensure the quality of the medical evidence provided.  Supporting your care givers in providing pertinent medical evidence facilitates matters.  However, neither the use of the form nor the of the supplementary information sheet is legally mandatory. Meanwhile, your application should contain all relevant details indicated on the form, as applicable to your situation. 

The application has to be substantiated by suitable means of evidence concerning the relevant condition(s). Usually, this evidence consists of a statement by a specialised doctor or a psychotherapist. A German “Schwerbehindertenausweis" (Ger.: "Disability Identity Card", "Disabled Pass") in itself, however, is generally neither necessary nor sufficiently precise to support an application for a Nachteilsausgleich.

With certain (minor) assessments of coursework (“Studienleistungen"), accommodations may in some cases also be agreed upon directly with the lecturers in charge.  The application for a Nachteilsausgleich has to be addressed to the examination board in charge, depending on the academic subject concerned. The application must be made in a timely manner and in written form; however, there is no specific form you have to use. As a rule, a Nachteilsausgleich cannot be obtained retrospectively after an exam has already been taken.
The examination board evaluates and decides on applications for accommodations. In cases of disagreement, a legal complaint may be filed.

Applications for a Nachteilsausgleich may be filed using a form devised by Goethe University entitled “Antrag auf Nachteilsausgleich" (Ger.: “Application for Accommodations"). However, not all examination boards use this form. If you are considering applying for a Nachteilsausgleich, we advise you to contact the examination board in charge of your academic subject to discuss the particulars of the application process.

For applications concerning teaching degree programmes (“Lehramtsstudiengänge"), the “Zentrales Prüfungsamt für Lehramtsstudiengänge" (ZPL at ABL) is the examination board to contact.

A Nachteilsausgleich must not be mentioned in your university certificate, according to legal regulations. The university will not publicise a Nachteilsausgleich you have used during the course of your studies.

For further information (mostly in German) and details, please consult the website of Deutsches Studentenwerk. [German: https://www.studentenwerke.de/en/content/studying-disabilities.
English: https://www.studentenwerke.de/en/content/studying-disabilities]  For personal guidance and advice concerning matters of accommodation or studying with health issues and disabilities, all students of Goethe University are welcome to address the study advisors Ms. Kirsten Brandenburg and Ms. Christina Rahn.

How to file your application 

Advice and Forms

Recommended form and formal advice on medical evidence:

Advice and Support for Students with Health Issues
Beratung für Studierende mit Beeinträchtigung

Theodor-W.-Adorno-Platz 6
60323 Frankfurt am Main

This is a non-binding translation for the information of our international audience. On details, please consult an expert.

Read reports by students from Frankfurt about their experiences with a Nachteilsausgleich: Authentic reports in German.