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S: External Examiners for Undergraduate and Taught Postgraduate Degrees

Note: the references to "degree" shall throughout also be taken to include Diplomas, Certificates and any other qualifications awarded by the University where an External Examiner is appointed; the words "department" or "departmental" include as appropriate Schools, Joint Schools or Graduate Schools of the University; "second year" shall be taken to include the third year of a four-year degree course and any other intermediate year.

Except as indicated all conventions are based on Senate minute 31a/84-85.

The Role of the External Examiner

1. The Role of the External Examiner is to ensure that:

 a. degrees awarded are comparable in standard to those in similar degree programmes in other universities in the United Kingdom;

 b. the assessment system is fair and is fairly operated in the classification of students;

 c. degrees awarded are at the appropriate level as set out in the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications (Chapter A1 of the UK Quality Code) and take appropriate account of the relevant Subject Benchmark Statement;

 d. students achieve the learning outcomes for the degrees set out in the relevant Course Specifications.

 Eligibility for Appointment

 2. At its meeting on 6 July 2011, the Senate has approved the following guidelines for the appointment of new External Examiners for taught courses, to be effective for new appointments from the 2011/12 academic year (these are in accord with the “National Criteria for the Appointment of External Examiners” set out in the Universities UK Review of external examining arrangements in universities and colleges in the UK (2011)):

(1) Every external examiner will be expected to have: 

  • knowledge and understanding of UK sector agreed reference points for the maintenance of academic standards and assurance and enhancement of quality
  • competence and experience in the field covered by the course
  • academic qualifications/professional qualifications to at least the level of the qualification being externally examined
  • experience of setting examinations and running assessment procedures (either externally or internally)
  • sufficient standing, credibility and breadth of experience within the discipline to be able to command the respect of colleagues. Appointees should normally have experience in a university or department that is comparable in reputation to that of Warwick
  • familiarity with the standard to be expected of students in the course to be examined
  • fluency in English
  • met the criteria set out by professional and accrediting bodies
  • awareness of modern developments in the design and delivery of the flexible curriculum
  • expertise in the enhancement of the student experience

(2) Former staff and students of the University can only be re-appointed as external examiners after a period of not less than five years has passed since they left the University.

(3) Retirees can be considered provided they have sufficient evidence of continuing involvement in the academic area in question.

(4) External Examiners should hold no more than two external examiners appointments at any point in time.

(5) To avoid potential conflicts of interest, external examiners should not be appointed if they are covered by any of the following categories:

  • Court or Council member
  • governor
  • near relative of a member of staff or student involved with the programme of study
  • an examiner on a cognate course in the institution
  • anyone closely associated with the sponsorship of students on the course
  • anyone closely associated with placements or training
  • anyone required to assess colleagues who are recruited as students to the programme of study
  • anyone in a position to influence significantly the future of students on the programme of study
  • anyone involved in collaborative research activities with a member of staff (noting that external examiners may be appointed from within fields in which large-scale collaborative research projects are common and integral to the field)
  • anyone who has been directly involved as an external examiner of the validation panel for the programme.

(6) Reciprocal arrangements between institutions are not allowed.

(7) The replacement of an external examiner from an institution by a colleague from the same department in the same institution is not allowed.

(8) There should not be more than one person from a single department of the same institution appointed to act as an external examiner at one time.

(9) The duration of an external examiner’s appointment shall be four years.

(10) An external examiner may be reappointed in exceptional circumstances but only after a period of five years has elapsed since his/her last appointment.

(11) The appointment of an external examiner can be terminated by the institution, approved at a senior level, if he/she fails to fulfil his/her obligations at the end of any single year of appointment, or if a conflict of interest arises which cannot be satisfactorily resolved.

(12) Colleagues who are new to external examining or have professional experience relevant to a professional or vocational programme can be appointed provided they are part of a team and mentored by an external examiner who meets the criteria outlined under 1-9 above.

(13) Once appointed, institutions should make it clear to external examiners what their duties and obligations are, including those relating to attendance and feedback, and any legal obligations.

(Senate minute 100/10-11).

3. Where the multiple commitments of an External Examiner would necessitate his or her absence from a joint honours examining board, departments shall normally consider making alternative arrangements to cover the subject areas in question, for example, either by replacing one of the examiners for the corresponding single honours course by special joint degree appointments or by finding one External Examiner with sufficient expertise in both disciplines to make a single appointment (Senate 35/78-79 appx.IIb(iii)).

Information for External Examiners

4.

a. Each External Examiner, on appointment, shall be sent by the Academic Registrar a written statement about the role and functions of External Examiners, and the Regulations concerning External Examiners.

b. Each External Examiner, on appointment, shall be sent by the Secretary to the relevant Board(s) of Examiners a written statement about the place of the degree examination in the University's system of education in that subject, and on the organisation and phasing of the relevant curriculum, together with details of the marking scheme, conventions, course handbooks and other materials specific to the degree(s) being examined.

Rights and duties of External Examiners

5. In order to carry out the duties under paragraph 1 above, the External Examiner may:

a. participate where appropriate in assessment processes for the award of degrees, and in some cases have an involvement in the setting of questions or papers;

b. comment and give advice on course content, balance and structure; on degree schemes; on assessment processes and on schemes for marking and classification;

c. advise on problem cases;

d. moderate and approve examination question papers which contribute to final classification, including courses where the external examiner is not a member of the Examiner's Board for that year of study;

e. consider any work undertaken outside the University and written reports of such work, and report on the appropriateness of its standard and content for the course.

6. External Examiners shall be a member of the relevant Final- year Board(s) of Examiners, and, at the discretion of the Board, the Boards of Examiners for earlier years which also contribute to final classification, and shall attend meetings of the Board of Examiners to consider final examination results.

7.

a. An External Examiner shall have access, on request, to any scripts and assessment material contributing to final classifications so that a report can be made to the Board of Examiners on the standard of marking.

b. In those cases where it is agreed that the inviting department should make a selection of scripts to be sent to an External Examiner, the principles for such a selection should be agreed in advance. Where an External Examiner sees only a selection of scripts in this way, he or she should normally see the scripts of borderline candidates. The External Examiner shall also have the opportunity to request to meet candidates should he/she wish. In such instances the purpose of the meeting should be agreed in advance.

c. The External Examiner shall ensure that special consideration is given to candidates whose performance places them at the top and bottom of the group as a whole, or whose performance falls on the borderline between two classifications;

d. The External Examiner shall participate in any viva voce conducted with respect to paragraph c. above (noting that viva voce examinations will not be conducted for students on undergraduate courses who commenced their studies in autumn 2008 and later). In all other oral examinations the External Examiner shall monitor any selection procedure and shall attend by mutual agreement with the Department. The principles for the selection of candidates for viva voce or oral examination should be agreed with the External Examiner(s).

e. The External Examiners shall satisfy themselves that work undertaken outside the University and written reports of such work, are of an appropriate standard and content for the degree or diploma concerned.

f. f. The External Examiner shall, in the case of undergraduate students reading “end-on” degrees at the end of their second year (e.g. a student in Physics and Business Studies whose second year would be substantially as the Physics second year, and whose third year would consist entirely of Business Studies modules), prepare, at the end of the student’s second year, a report for the Final-year Board. This procedure is necessary to ensure that the second-year examination for the first subject is given appropriate weight in determining the overall final class list. However, this report may be prepared at any time between the time the second-year examinations are taken and the meeting of the relevant Final-year Board the following summer.

Procedures for Boards of Examiners

8.

a. No University degree shall be awarded without the participation in the examining process of at least one External Examiner.

b. All External Examiners shall normally be present at each meeting of a final- year Board of Examiners, and no meeting of a final- year Board of Examiners shall be held without the presence of at least one External Examiner, except in the case of a very small postgraduate degrees or very small undergraduate joint degrees where if the External Examiner is unable to be present a written report on all candidates from the External Examiner for the Board of Examiners shall be acceptable, provided that any such arrangements have the prior consent of the Senate or of the Vice-Chancellor acting on behalf of the Senate (Senate 35/78-79 appx.IIb(iv), 56a(i)/78-79).

c. Each External Examiner shall confirm by joint signature with the Chair and Secretary of the Board of Examiners, endorsement of the outcomes of the assessment process they have been appointed to scrutinise. Such endorsement indicates not that the External Examiner agrees with every individual assessment decision, but that he/she is satisfied with the conduct of the assessment process. External Examiners have the right to withhold their signature if they have strong concerns about the assessment process. In the event of an External Examiner withholding a signature, a full report should be made by the Board of Examiners to the Senate.

d. In the event of a disagreement on the mark to be awarded for a particular unit of assessment or on the final classification to be derived from the array of marks of a particular candidate at an examiners’ meeting, very careful account shall be taken of the views of the External Examiner.


External Examiner's Reports

9. All External Examiners are required to submit an annual written report on a standard form. The report, which will not be published, remaining confidential to the University, seeks explicit responses to the topics listed below:

(a) The standards demonstrated by the students;

(b) The extent to which standards are appropriate for the award or award element under consideration;

(c) the design, structure and marking of assessments, including any good practice observed;

(d) The procedures for assessments and examinations;

(e) Whether or not external examiners have had sufficient access to, and the power to call upon, any material needed to make the required judgements;

(f) Where possible, students’ performance in relation to their peers on comparable courses 

(g) The coherence of the policies and procedures relating to external examiners and their consonance with the explicit roles required of them;

(h) The curriculum, its aims, content and development, including any good practice observed;

(i) Resources as they impact upon student performance in assessments;

(j) The basis and rational for any comparisons of standards made;

(k) The strengths and weaknesses of the students as a cohort;

(l) The quality of teaching and learning methods which may be indicated by student performance, including any good practice observed;

(m) The functioning of the collaboration between the University and partner institution(s) (for collaborative courses only);

(n) Any recommendations the External Examiner may have;

(o) Whether issues raised in previous report(s) have been or are being addressed.

External Examiners’ reports should be sent to the Vice-Chancellor within one month of the meeting of the relevant Board of Examiners. Reports will be copied to the Chairs of the appropriate departments and Chairs of the Boards of Examiners and will be made available on request to an incoming External Examiner. In line with Warwick’s normal quality assurance and enhancement policies and processes the report will be discussed at a departmental meeting (or equivalent) at which student representatives may be present. Reports will be made available to such other bodies and persons within the University as is deemed appropriate. Copies may also be provided to external bodies which request them and which have a legitimate concern (e.g., professional accreditation bodies), unless the External Examiner explicitly indicates that he or she does not wish this to be done. We cannot guarantee that the contents of your report would not be released if requested under the Freedom of Information Act. External Examiners may, if they wish, submit a further report in confidence to the Vice-Chancellor for the Senate, on any matter relating to the degree or its examinations.

When External Examiners’ reports are circulated to Chairs of Departments, they will be asked to complete a pro-forma noting any action taken in response to any recommendations the reports may contain or the reasons for no action being taken; these responses will be forwarded to the relevant External Examiner.

The University makes publicly available the names, positions and institutions of its External Examiners. The University will make clear to students that it is inappropriate to make direct contact with External Examiners. Should this occur, External Examiners should not enter into any correspondence with the student but should notify the University immediately.

12. External Examiners’ fees are only paid following receipt of the annual report

13. External Examiners' reports shall be circulated:

i. to the Chairs and Secretaries of the appropriate Board of Examiners for consideration of comments pertaining to the examination marking procedures;

ii. to the Heads of the appropriate Department for consideration of comments about course content and structure;

iii. to the Registrar for consideration of comments relating to administrative procedures for examinations (Senate 66a(i)/85-86, 37(d), (i)/89-90.

14. The general assumption is that departments will identify the key issues in reports themselves and act appropriately, but the Board of Undergraduate Studies and the Board of Graduate Studies will highlight issues of particular concern in reports and require responses from the relevant department.

15.

a. (Reserved) reports are to be prepared each year (w.e.f. 2002/03) in the Spring Term by the Board of Undergraduate Studies and the Board of Graduate Studies covering the issues raised in External Examiners’ reports. These reports should include:

-Contextual reference to first degree classifications data (local and national) or relevant postgraduate information contained in the Academic Statistics publication.

-A summary of the process of report consideration.

-Commentary on the general issues raised in reports in areas including: standards and comparability; student achievement; methods of assessment; curricular matters; examining arrangements and operation of External Examiner system.

-Particular examples of good practice highlighted in reports.

-Significant issues raised in individual reports on which a response was required from the department together with an indication of any action taken.

-A summary chart, by department, highlighting key issues from year to year (to provide a visible means of gauging the broader significance of a particular issue and to track recurring themes).

(The Board Secretaries are expected to use their discretion in the compilation of these reports to ensure that mechanistic commentary or irrelevant material is avoided.)

b. The above reports (but not the actual External Examiners’ reports) are submitted to the AQSC with any additional comments made by the Boards.

c. The above procedure will also apply to the Partnerships and Distance Learning Sub-Committee which will identify issues of particular concern in relevant External Examiners’ reports for transmission to the relevant meetings of the Boards of Undergraduate/Graduate Studies in the Spring Term (the Boards of Undergraduate/Graduate Studies will also receive the reports of External Examiners for partnership/distance learning courses alongside the reports for all other courses).

(Senate minute 87(b)/01-02).

Associate External Examiners

16.

a. For the degree in Mathematics, Operational Research, Statistics and Economics, there shall be an External Examiner(s) (normally the External Examiner in Statistics) together with Associate External Examiners (Senate 30f(i)/79-80).

b. The Senate, on the recommendation of the appropriate Faculty Boards, may appoint Associate External Examiners for other degrees.

c. Associate External Examiners shall be full members of the appropriate Board of Examiners, but shall not count against the quorum.

Fees

17. The fees payable to External Examiners and Associate External Examiners shall be adjusted each year in line with the average percentage increase in academic salary scales, on the basis that any adjustment would take effect from 1st August next following any revision of pay scales from 1st April (Senate 35c(ii)/82-83).

18. The fee structure for taught Masters' programmes approved by the Senate at its meeting on 28th November 1990 requires departments to keep accurate records of dissertations graded by examiners and to communicate this information promptly to the Academic Office in order that the fees might be calculated (Senate 32/90-91).