The core (inherent or essential) requirements are those that students must pass in order to complete a course/unit/program. They are those components which if removed or substituted would substantially impact on the learning outcomes.
For example the requirement that a student complete specified practicum subjects/units in order to qualify for an Education degree or the requirement that a student demonstrate the ability to perform drug calculations accurately in order to pass a unit of a Nursing degree.
Determining what is a core requirement is often difficult but it is only when these are clearly defined that questions about whether adjustments can be made to meet the needs of individual students can be addressed. Requirements imposed by external agencies (eg professional bodies, registration boards, external fieldwork agencies, etc) can only be considered as core requirements if they are also considered by the university as essential to the academic program itself.
The decision about what constitute the essential elements of a unit/course, are a matter of academic judgement, and must be justified on other than historical or employment based grounds. Core requirements must be reasonable and staff should carefully consider whether alternative approaches to achieving learning objectives are possible and seek expert advice if necessary before coming to a decision.
What is core...
In determining the requirements for a course/unit it is important to be clear about:
- What are the key learning objectives; and
- How students will demonstrate achievement of these learning objectives
It is also useful to clarify whether the course/unit uses any particular methods of instruction eg participation in an online task or fieldwork; forms of assessment eg formal examinations; or has any other requirements eg attendance requirements.
The following questions may assist in identifying which of these course requirements are core or essential:
- Would the learning outcomes be substantially changed if a particular requirement were removed or substituted
- Is there any particular impact of the requirement on people with disability eg participation in field trips may be more difficult for a student who uses a wheelchair.
- Have changing circumstances, practices or technology made a previous requirement redundant? eg the capacity to physically lift a patient is no longer required by nurses as lifting aids are available.
- Could the learning objective be achieved by an alternative requirement that would have a less discriminatory impact? eg Could students complete an oral viva rather than a written paper in order to demonstrate their knowledge of a topic?
- What is the pedagogical purpose behind a particular requirement, how does it achieve that purpose and are there other ways of achieving this? eg Are formal examinations the best or only method to assess particular learning outcomes?
- If a requirement involves a particular skill, is it the actual skill that is required or is it the application of knowledge to the task? eg is it necessary for a chemist to conduct an experimental procedure rather than have the knowledge to instruct another person to do so.
- Are there alternative ways that students could demonstrate that they meet the learning outcomes. eg time limited exams require students to work under pressure in addition to them demonstrating their knowledge.
One of the skills required in a course may be for a student to be able to examine a specimen, describe and identify it. As a lecturer you may decide that this should be a core learning outcome for the course. Let us work through some of the questions above to better understand the requirement:
- As the requirement is currently stated the outcome is that the student to be able to see and describe the specimen as well as identify it. A student who has a severe vision impairment may not be able to see enough detail in the specimen to be able to identify it and therefore this requirement will be more difficult for them to meet.
- It may be that changing technology or practices means that the emphasis is now more on specimen identification. You may then decide on reflection that the core requirement is actually the capacity of the student to identify a specimen and make decisions based on that.
- If this is the case the student with vision impairment may be able to demonstrate their competence in identification of the specimen based on a description by another person. The decision would also need to be made about whether there was a need for the identification to be made within time constraints.
- A reasonable accommodation of this student's needs may be the provision of an aide to describe the specimen. A more inclusive (and cost effective approach) may be to have students work in pairs and could have the added benefit of improving the standard of students’ specimen descriptions.
- If the requirement for being able to see and describe the specimen is set by the registration body it may be that the university may choose only require the identification competence.
- Of course the purpose behind this requirement will vary depending on the nature of the course. For instance in medicine, the context may be a surgical procedure and the requirement to see the specimen clearly and describe it in order to make decisions around treatment may be critical. In this case the core requirement may be seen as reasonable even though the student with the vision impairment may not be able to meet it.
What if a student is not be able to meet the inherent course requirements?
You should not lower academic standards of the course/unit in order to accommodate the needs of any student but you may need to be flexible in relation to the way in which the program is delivered or assessed. The DDA through the Disability Standards for Education requires institutions to take reasonable steps to enable the student with a disability to participate in education on the same basis as a student without a disability. An adjustment is reasonable if it balances the interests of all parties affected.
Students should be given as much information as possible to enable them to make an informed decision about whether they can undertake a course with or without reasonable adjustments. Ensure that the core requirements of the course/program are are clearly stated. This makes it easier to determine the reasonableness of any accommodations that may be required.
If the student is unable to fulfil the core requirements of the course after reasonable accommodations have been made it may be reasonable in these circumstances to reject the student's application. Remember that it is not illegal to discriminate if this is done fairly but you must demonstrate that you have consulted with the student, considered all possible adjustments and sought expert assistance in coming to a decision.
The student may be able to complete an alternative course of study more appropriate to their abilities. Your organisation's disability service can assist in making this assessment.