Chapter 12 - Handbook for Examination of Postgraduate Research programmes

  1. Introduction
    1. The Handbook for Examination of Postgraduate Research Programmes replaces the ‘Code of Good Practice: Boards of Examiners for Degrees by Research’.
    2. It covers the QAA requirements on assessment as laid out in Chapter B11 of the QAA Quality Code.
    3. The handbook provides staff and students with the University’s requirements related to the assessment of Postgraduate Research degrees. It should be consulted in conjunction with other relevant documentation, including:a)     Statement of Procedures: Presentation of theses/dissertations for degrees in the Faculty of Graduate Research.

      b)     The Credit and Qualifications Framework.
      c)     Academic Regulations and Ordinances within the University Calendar.

    4. There are some generic principles that underpin the requirements specified in this Handbook. These are:
      a)     The equitable treatment of students
      b)     Transparency
      c)     Consistency
      d)     Maintenance of the academic standards and integrity of University of Exeter awards.
    5. To ensure that the expectations of Colleges, students and staff are clear the following verbs are adopted and highlighted in the text.
      a) Must: to indicate a regulation that will be adhered to in all circumstances. Exceptions to such regulations would only be granted by the Deans in exceptional circumstances. For example “The examiners must be agreed that the candidate will be able to complete the amendments necessary for the thesis to meet the assessment criteria for the award in question within no more than 6 months from notification”.
      b) Should: to indicate a regulation that should be adhered to unless sound pedagogical reasons prevent this. For example “Examiner(s) should be nominated three months before the expected submission date”.
      c) May: to indicate a regulation where action is discretionary but Colleges are expected to demonstrate that taking the action has been considered. For example “The viva may be conducted in accordance with this agenda.” May is used both as an indication of good practice and also in the permissive sense.
    6. References to ‘thesis’ throughout this handbook refers to requirements for both dissertations and theses submitted as part of a postgraduate research programme.
    7. Responsibilities: Where reference is made to the Pro-Vice-Chancellor & Executive Dean of College in this document, unless otherwise specified, they may delegate their authority to the Associate Dean (Education) or the Associate Dean (Research and Knowledge Transfer)/ College Director of PGR students as relevant. No further delegation of authority may occur unless explicitly specified within this document.
  2. Award Specific Information
    1. The following information is specific to the award in question and is contained in the Regulations for that award:
      - Requirements pertaining to length of thesis
      - Award assessment criteria
      - Recommendations of the Board of Examiners
    2. 2.1 Regulations Governing the Degree of Master of Philosophy
      2.2 Regulations Governing the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy
      2.3 Regulations Governing Professional Doctorate Degrees
      2.5 Regulations Governing the Degrees of Master of Arts by Research and Master of Science by Research
      2.6 Regulations Governing the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy by Publication
      2.7 Regulations Governing the Degree of Master of Philosophy by Publication
      2.8 Regulations Governing the Degree of Master of Arts by Research and Master of Science by Research by Publication
      2.9 Regulations Governing the Degree of Doctor of Engineering (EngD)
      2.10 Regulations Governing the Degrees of Doctor of Medicine and Master of Surgery
      2.11 Regulations Governing the Degree of Doctor of Engineering (EngD) in Offshore Renewable Engineering

  3. Assessing Candidates with Disabilities
    1. Overview
      1. It is the responsibility of students to inform the University if they have a disability, either during application, registration or following the subsequent onset of a disabling condition.
      2. Students experiencing physical or mental impairment need to be assessed by AccessAbility/ Inclusive Learning or the Wellbeing Services (Exeter or Cornwall campuses). At this assessment the student’s needs will be considered in relation to their programme of study. Individual learning plans (ILPs) will be put in place, which may include specific assessment arrangements. Where a student has had a Disabled Students’ Allowance (DSA) study needs assessment, the ILP will also detail the recommendations for reasonable adjustments arising from that assessment.
    2. General Arrangements
      1. Colleges, in consultation with AccessAbility/ Inclusive Learning or the Wellbeing Services (Exeter or Cornwall campuses) where necessary, should comply with the ILP put in place for each individual student by the Wellbeing Service/AccessAbility. ILPs may indicate that adjustments should be made either to the requirements specified in the  Presentation of Theses/Dissertations for Degrees in the Faculty of Graduate Research: Statement of Procedure or to the arrangements for the viva.
      2. Requests for adjustments to the requirements for the presentation of the thesis should be made as early as possible in a student’s programme of study or following the subsequent onset of a disabling condition.
      3. A viva is normally required for doctoral degree examinations but may, on exceptional medical or personal grounds, be waived with the express approval of the Dean of the Faculty. Alternative options for holding the viva or deferral of the viva should be considered first.
      4. Requests for specific arrangements pertaining to the viva should be made via an ILP, prior to submission of the thesis to the Postgraduate Administration Office. Requests received after submission cannot be guaranteed to be met.  Where adjustments to the examination process are required:
        a) The Postgraduate Administration Office will inform the lead internal examiner;
        b) The lead internal examiner is responsible for taking the ILP into account when making arrangements for the examination;
        c) An NEIC should be appointed (see 4.4 below).
      5. Candidates with short-term injuries/health issues, which are supported by medical evidence, may be able to have specific arrangements made for their viva if their injury or health issues have occurred for the first time since submission. They would need to be assessed by or be in contact with AccessAbility/ Inclusive Learning or the Wellbeing Services (Exeter or Cornwall campuses) and make a request to the Postgraduate Administration Office. However, these candidates may need to have the date of their viva deferred if it is not possible for alternative arrangements to be put in place.
      6. Where there is some dispute as to the recommended specific arrangement, the case should be referred to the Dean of the Faculty. Liaison should then take place with AccessAbility/ Inclusive Learning or the Wellbeing Services (Exeter or Cornwall campuses) to ensure all issues are given due consideration.
      7. A disability that has not been declared prior to an assessment cannot be taken into account retrospectively, unless the candidate can provide a reasonable explanation and properly documented evidence for not having declared it (see also the University’s procedures for Student Academic Appeals).
    3. Further Information
      1. This Chapter is adapted from ‘Chapter 4 - Assessing students with disabilities’ of the ‘Assessment, Progression and Awarding: Taught Programmes Handbook’ which contains useful details on specific arrangements that might be required.
      2. For requirements for Aegrotat Awards see Ordinance 16: Aegrotat Awards.
      3. For requirements for Post Obitum Awards see Ordinance 15: Post Obitum Awards.
  4. Nomination of the Board of Examiners and the Non-Examining Independent Chair (NEIC)
    1. Boards of Examiners
      1. The Dean of the Faculty appoints all members of the Board of Examiners on behalf of the Board of the Faculty and Senate.
      2. In accordance with the Ordinances, this must comprise at least two examiners of whom at least one shall be external to the University. Further specific appointment requirements are set out in 4.4 below.
      3. The Dean of the Faculty is responsible for determining and resolving any conflicts of interest that might arise in the appointment of examiners. Colleges should ensure that there are no conflicts of interest in the nomination of examiners, and should notify the Dean of the Faculty in any situation where a potential conflict of interest is not otherwise resolvable.
    2. Timeframe
      1. It is advisable to give early consideration to the nomination of examiners.
      2. Examiner(s) should be nominated three months before the expected submission date, via MyPGR.

        ProgrammeNominatorCollege ApprovalFinal Approval
        All Graduate Research programmes (excluding the DClin Psy) Lead Supervisor Pro Vice-Chancellor and Executive Dean Dean of Faculty
        DClinPsy Research Director
      3. For candidates for whom submission in an alternative format has been approved it is important to ensure that examiners are appointed as early as possible, to ensure that an appropriate Board of Examiners may be nominated.
    3. Nominator Responsibilities
      1. The responsibilities of those nominating examiners are:
        a) To give early consideration to the appointment of the Board of Examiners giving consideration to the criteria for nomination (4.5 outlined below).
        b) To discuss with their College DPGR any nominations where the eligibility of the nominees in question is not clear.
        c) To informally approach all nominees prior to their formal appointment to elicit informal agreement to take up the appointment should their nomination be confirmed.
        d) To maintain contact with the Board of Examiners prior to submission of the thesis, to ensure that the examiners are aware of any potential delays in the date of submission.
        e) To ensure that they have sufficient information about the nominees to allow them to complete the nomination process, including a copy of the proposed External Examiner’s CV, which should be uploaded to MyPGR as part of the nomination, unless the examiner has previously been approved for a prior examination at the University.
    4. Specific appointment requirements

      CircumstanceExaminer RequirementsNEIC Requirements
      Internal External  
      By publication programmes At least one internal examiner should be appointed.  See  column ‘NEIC requirements’ for exceptions to this requirement.

       Two external examiners must be appointed.


      Where the Pro-Vice-Chancellor & Executive Dean of College is satisfied that the role of the staff member is such that undue pressure would not be placed on the examiners if only one external were appointed, approval for the appointment of only one external examiner may be sought from the Dean of the Faculty. Where the Pro-Vice-Chancellor & Executive Dean of College is satisfied that a candidate, who is registered as a member of staff for stipendiary purposes, is not required to undertake any duties concomitant with appointment as a member of staff they may make a note of this when recommending the nomination in MyPGR and recommend to the Dean of the Faculty the appointment of one external examiner only.

      In the case of candidates who hold positions within the academic job families in their College for whom no appropriate internal examiner can be appointed, an NEIC must be appointed who will also undertake those administrative duties, which would normally fall to the internal examiner.
       Examination of staff members: This applies if a candidate is appointed to an academic position at any point prior to the award of the degree the only exception to this being where a candidate is appointed to an academic position after receipt of the report of the Board of Examiners where the outcome is pass or minor amendments.
      Theses submitted in an alternative format.

       At least one internal examiner must be appointed.

      The requirements specified under ‘examination of staff members’ above apply where a member of staff is submitting a thesis in an alternative format.
      The requirements specified under ‘by publication programmes’ above apply where a candidate is submitting a thesis in an alternative format for a by publication degree.

      At least one external examiner must be appointed.

      The requirements specified under ‘examination of staff members’ above apply where a member of staff is submitting a thesis in an alternative format.

      The requirements specified under ‘by publication programmes’ above apply where a candidate is submitting a thesis in an alternative format for a by publication degree. 
      An NEIC must always be appointed.
      Thesis submitted in an alternate language. In addition to the criteria listed in 4.5 (below) the Board of Examiners must be fluent in the language in which the thesis has been submitted and that in which the viva will be conducted.

      The NEIC must be familiar with the language in question.
      Adjustments to the examination process are due to be made as a result of a student’s ILP (see Chapter 3 above)   An NEIC should be appointed, unless reasonable justification can be given to the Dean of Faculty as to why this is not necessary.


    5. Criteria for Nomination
      1. Examiners must be sufficiently expert to enable them to make an assessment of the thesis against the assessment outcomes for that programme. The external examiners should be sufficient experts in the field of study, whilst an internal examiner need only be expert in the broader disciplinary field.
      2. Where the suitability of a nomination is not immediately apparent, the case must be made as part of the nomination process in MyPGR to the Dean of the Faculty as to why the nominee is the most appropriate. Where such a case is approved an NEIC may be required.

        Examiner nominations should comply with the following requirements: External Internal
        Employment status:    
         

        Hold a post at senior lecturer level or above.

        An examiner who does not comply with this requirement may be appointed, but in such cases an NEIC should be appointed.

        n/a
         

        Work at a research intensive organisation1 with consideration given to the bearing that might have on their familiarity with postgraduate research;

        An examiner who does not comply with this requirement may be appointed, but in such cases an NEIC should be appointed.

        n/a
          May be employed at an organisation based outside of the UK. n/a
          Should have a contract of employment2 with the University. x
         

        Individuals engaged on a self-employed/consultancy basis or on a claims basis by the University, or who have an honorary appointment at the University.

        With the exception of members of NHS staff who have an honorary appointment with the University, who may be considered for appointment as an internal examiner.

        x x
         

        Must either be able to take lead supervisor responsibilities as specified in the Code of Good Practice - Arrangement for the Supervision of Research Degree Students, or,

        be members of the Education and Scholarship or Research job families, or,

        be members of the Education and Research job family on a fixed term contract,

        who can demonstrate successful supervision (as lead supervisor) of a student through to completion within the last 5 years.

        n/a
          May be a visiting professor at a research-led University.  √  x
         

        May be an emeritus professor at a research-led University, provided their CV demonstrates that they remain research-active.

        Internal examiners:

        A College may make a case to the Dean of Faculty for the appointment of an emeritus professor as an internal examiner. Where approval is given, detailed approval would not need to be sought for additional appointments of that individual as an internal examiner for one year from the date of the approval.

        Colleges must appoint an NEIC in such instances.

         √  x (see note)
         

        Experience:

           
         

        Should have previously supervised to completion at the level of the award in question or at a higher level.

        An examiner without such experience may be appointed, but in such cases an NEIC must be appointed.

        √ (See note) √ (See note)
         

        At least one member of the Board of Examiners must have previously examined at the level of the award in question or at a higher level.

         

        Should have previously examined at the level of the award of in question or at a higher level at the University of Exeter.

        An examiner without such experience may be appointed, but in such cases an NEIC should be appointed, unless reasonable justification can be given to the Dean of Faculty as to why this is not necessary.

        n/a √ (See note)
           May have sat on the candidate’s College Upgrade Committee  n/a  √

    6. Non-Examining Independent Chair appointment requirements
      1. Non-Examining Independent Chairs (NEIC) should:
        a) Have a contract of employment2 with the University;
        b) Either be able to take lead supervisor responsibilities as specified in the Code of Good Practice - Arrangement for the Supervision of Research Degree Students, or be a member of the Education and Scholarship or Research job families who can demonstrate successful supervision (as lead supervisor) of a student through to completion within the last 5 years;
        c) Have previously supervised to completion at the level of the award in question or at a higher level;
        d) Have previously examined at the University of Exeter at the level of the award in question or at a higher level.
    7. Declarations of interest
      1. Where the following circumstances apply the person in question should not be appointed as an examiner or NEIC, unless exceptional circumstances can be proven:
        a) Former or current supervisors or mentors of the candidate
        b) PGR Pastoral Tutors of the candidate*
        c) Former members of staff of the University who left the University within three years of the date of their proposed nomination
        d) A sponsor, relative or friend of the candidate
        e) A partner or relative of the supervisor
        f) Someone who was examined themselves by the supervisor
        g) Close professional colleague (e.g. someone who has collaborated with the candidate by co-authoring a paper) of the candidate
        h) A person whose own work is the focus of the research project
        i) External Examiners only: A member of staff, from a department or research organisation, where they are involved with the University in a collaborative provision arrangement under which the candidate in question is studying.
        *To avoid potential for bias, prejudice or conflict of interest (or any perception of such), PGR Pastoral Tutors should not be appointed to the Board of Examiners for students for whom they are (or have been) the designated Pastoral Tutor. Where a case can be made for their appointment, the College Director of Postgraduate Research must submit a rationale for the appointment to the Dean of Faculty, and explain why the appointment would not lead to the perception of a conflict of interest. The written consent of the PGR student and Pastoral Tutor to the arrangement would need to be given prior to confirmation of any appointment.
      2. It is the responsibility of the candidate, supervisory team, proposed examiners and NEIC (where nominated) to declare any circumstance which might lead to a conflict of interest or the perception of such. For example:
        a) If an examiner or NEIC has or has had a personal or professional relationship with the candidate as a sponsor, relative, partner, friend, supervisor, mentor, Pastoral Tutor or close professional colleague
        b) If a supervisor has or has had a personal relationship with an examiner or NEIC, e.g. as a relative or partner.
        See also the University’s ‘Code of Professional Conduct: Relations between Staff and Students and between Staff’.  Academics involved with the pre-thesis or taught phase of a Professional Doctorate will not normally be considered a Conflict of Interest.
      3. In any case where a person is unsure about whether a circumstance might constitute a conflict of interest the onus is on that person to declare it or in the first instance seek advice from the College’s Director of PGR. Should it be determined that there is a conflict of interest or the perception of such it would only be under exceptional circumstances that the examination would continue without change.
  5. Non-Examining Independent Chair
    1. Role
      1. The Non-Examining Independent Chair (NEIC) should:
        a) ensure that the University’s procedures with regard to the examination of degrees by research are followed
        b) ensure consistency and fairness throughout the examination
        c) provide additional information if, following a viva, an appeal is lodged by the candidate;
        d) preside over the Board of Examiners
        e) provide support and mentorship to inexperienced examiners; proactively acting as a source of advice with regard to any queries the examiners may have about the examination process itself throughout the process, whether or not a viva takes place
        f) provide a report on the conduct of the examination if required.
        This role is distinct to that of the Board of Examiners in that:
        g) The NEIC does not take any part in the assessment of the quality of the thesis, and should not therefore have read the thesis
        h) The NEIC need not be a subject expert, nor even a member of the discipline
        i) The NEIC does not normally take responsibility for organising the viva (this is normally the responsibility of the internal examiner).
      2. Because of the responsibilities that they can undertake and because of the quality assurance that they can provide, it is advisable to nominate an NEIC in addition to the examiners where circumstances allow.
    2. Circumstances of appointment:
      1. See 4.5 (above) ‘criteria for nomination’. The Dean of Faculty may also require that an NEIC be appointed.
    3. Criteria for appointment:
      1. See 4.6 ‘Non-Examining Independent Chair appointment requirements’ (above).
      2. See 4.7 ‘Declarations of interest’ (above).
  6. Before the Examination
    1. Distribution of the Thesis:
      1. The examiners will receive copies of the thesis from the Postgraduate Administration Office, on paper (and other formats as appropriate).
      2. Examiners should retain their copies of the thesis until the examination is complete.
      3. When a candidate has submitted in an alternative format, upon receipt of the thesis the internal examiner may liaise with the supervisor to ensure that the Board of Examiners fully understand the agreed submission guidelines (attached to the submitted thesis) prior to completion of the preliminary reports.
    2. Scheduling the Viva:
      1. The lead Internal Examiner should liaise with all those attending the viva to ensure the viva is scheduled to take place within 3 months of the candidate’s submission. See 6.3.4 below for further information, where a viva is not an automatic requirement.
      2. All members of the Board of Examiners and the NEIC (where appointed) should respond to communications from the lead internal to facilitate arrangement of the viva, where held.
      3. The lead Internal Examiner should ensure that they are aware of, and take into account, any adjustments to the examination process that might need to be made resulting from a student’s ILP, prior to scheduling the viva.
    3. Preliminary Reports:
      1. The lead Internal Examiner should confirm ahead of the viva that all preliminary reports have been received and circulated. See 6.3.4 below for further information, where a viva is not an automatic requirement.
      2. All members of the Board of Examiners should complete a preliminary report. Each examiner, whether internal or external, is required to prepare in writing a preliminary report on the thesis to inform the conduct of the examination. Each report, to be submitted on a pro forma provided by the University, should reflect the examiner's preliminary view of the thesis, relating that opinion to the candidate's success or failure in meeting the criteria for the award in question.
      3. The Board of Examiners should consider the preliminary reports of all members of the Board.
      4. Where a viva is not an automatic requirement:
        a) As vivas should take place within 3 months of submission, internal examiners are advised to schedule the viva prior to confirmation that it is needed. The examiners are then responsible for completing their preliminary reports and liaising over the outcomes of the report within 2 months of submission to confirm whether or not the viva is required
        b) See also 8.9 ‘Completing the report of the Board of Examiners’ below.
      5. Where a viva must be held:
        a) The lead internal examiner should ensure that they have arranged receipt of the preliminary reports such that they can circulate the reports between all the examiners at least a week in advance of the viva.
        b) The NEIC (where appointed) should provide support to the lead internal examiner to ensure that the process is running smoothly, and that any questions they may have with regard to the reports or implications for the viva are addressed.
  7. The Examination
    1. When is a viva required?

      Requirements:

      Stage of submission:

      First submission

      Resubmission3

      MbyRes/MPhil

      Doctoral programmes

      MbyRes/MPhil

      Doctoral programmes

      a viva must always be held

       x

       √

      x

       x

      a viva examination is judged to be necessary by one or more of the examiners

       √

      n/a

       √

       √

      there is substantial disagreement between the examiners

       √

      n/a

       √

       √

      the examiners are inclined to make a recommendation other than award of the degree for which the work was submitted (such as major amendments or resubmission). In such circumstances, the examiners may still require the satisfactory completion of minor amendments appropriate to the award in question.

       √

      n/a

       √

       √

      When reviewing minor, major or outstanding amendments, the Board of Examiners reach their recommendations without holding a viva.


    2. Purpose of the viva
      1. The examination of research degrees focuses on the candidate’s ‘thesis’, which is the claim, position or proposition that the candidate discusses, advances and justifies. In the examination process, the thesis may be presented in both written and oral form. The oral examination is traditionally called a 'viva voce', meaning ‘by or with the living voice’, referred to as a ‘viva’. The viva fulfils two key purposes in the examination process in that it provides an opportunity for the Board of Examiners to determine whether the thesis:
        a) is the work of the candidate, by assessing the thoroughness of the candidate’s understanding of the thesis (as submitted in written form) and the candidate’s ability to justify the thesis
        b) meets the assessment criteria for the award in question, by assessing the strengths and weaknesses of the thesis and its justification, as well as the candidate’s knowledge of the relevant academic discipline, field of study or area of professional practice, and understanding of relevant theories, concepts and research techniques.
      2. Thereby, the viva examination provides candidates with an opportunity to talk about their thesis with experts in the field and to receive feedback from them.
      3. All vivas are different, but they normally follow a question and answer format. The questions can address any aspect of the submission, and there is no minimum or maximum number of questions that might be asked. The nature and quantity of questions should be sufficient to enable the viva to fulfil the two purposes outlined in 7.2.1 above. By the end of the viva, the Board of Examiners should be able to determine whether the thesis is the work of the candidate, and whether it is of the standard to merit the award of the degree for which it has been submitted. If there are concerns as to whether or not the thesis is the work of the candidate, the examiners should refer to the ‘Procedure for Graduate Research Students suspected of Research Misconduct’.
      4. If the thesis is not of the standard to merit the relevant award, formative feedback must be provided in the Examiners’ Report, specifying why the written submission does not meet the relevant assessment criteria and detailing how it should be revised so that it does meet the criteria. The dialogue between the Board of Examiners and the candidate during the viva can inform the preparation of the Examiners’ Report to ensure good quality formative feedback is provided.
    3. Attendance
      1. Only the following people should normally be in attendance
        a) The candidate
        b) The Board of Examiners
        c) The NEIC, where appointed
        d) A member of the supervisory team (normally the lead supervisor) as a non-participant observer where they have been invited to do so by the candidate
        e) The Dean of the Faculty may give permission for additional people, in a non-examining role, to be present at the examination to ensure fairness and consistency.
      2. A viva may not proceed without all the examiners, and a Non-Examining Independent Chair when appointed, being present4.
      3. The lead (first-named) internal examiner or the NEIC where appointed should chair the viva.
      4. Candidates should not take an audio or audio-visual record of the viva.
      5. Attendance of a member of the supervisory team:
        a) Candidates may invite one member of their supervisory team to be in attendance at their viva. The supervisor would be there in support of the candidate as a non-participant observer, and to enable them to better provide supervision of that candidate should the candidate be required to complete amendments or resubmit their thesis.
        However, the following requirements apply:
        a) Whilst supervisors should make every effort to attend the viva should they be invited to do so, candidates must be minded that it may be difficult for their supervisor to do so unless they are invited to attend the viva prior to the organisation of the viva by the internal examiner
        b) No more than one member of the supervisory team may attend the viva, in order not to unbalance the viva. This should normally be the lead supervisor, as they will take key responsibility for supporting the candidates with any amendments required
        c) The supervisor should only be present at the viva in the presence of the candidate. They must retire with the candidate for any private deliberations of the Board of Examiners
        d) A supervisor should be present as an observer only. They should not take any active part in the proceedings the only exception being after the Board of Examiners has announced their recommendations and the viva has formally ended (see ‘Following the return of the candidate in 7.7‘Agenda’ below), at which point they may, in consultation with the candidate, ensure that they both have a clear understanding of any amendments outlined by the Board of Examiners at this stage
        e) A candidate should not invite anybody other than their supervisor to attend their viva.
    4. Arrangements for the Viva
      1. The viva should be conducted in an appropriate, comfortable location where the probability of interruptions occurring is minimal.
      2. The candidate should confirm their identity at the start of the viva (by producing their Unicard, or other photo ID, such as a passport). The viva must not proceed without this confirmation.
      3. Length of the viva:

          Maximum
        Doctoral degrees with the exception of the DClinPsy 4 hours
        MRes, MPhil and DClinPsy 3 hours
      4. Vivas must not extend beyond the maximum time-frames indicated. The Chair of the viva should offer participants a 15 minute break after the end of 2 hours.
    5. Vivas by video-conference
      1. The Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Executive Dean of College may agree to an examination by video-conference where exceptional circumstances make attendance of the candidate or a member of the Board of Examiners on campus difficult, these reasons are limited but include medical reasons preventing travel, an expired Tier 4 visa, and other such personal circumstances.
      2. Where approval has been given to hold an examination by video-conference, the College is responsible for taking all reasonable steps to ensure that the candidate is not disadvantaged in any way compared to the normal situation of a face-to-face viva. In determining whether or not it is appropriate to conduct any viva by video-conference, the College must be able to have confidence that:
        a) The Examiners will be able to assure themselves that the thesis is the candidate’s own work
        b) Undertaking the viva by video-conference will not give rise to concerns about appropriate research conduct on the part of the candidate
        c) The technology is sufficient to enable a viva to take place without limiting communications.
        d) Technical support is immediately available in both locations to address any problems that may arise
        e) Where the candidate will be attending their viva at a distance an invigilator at that location must be appointed. In such instances the invigilator will be responsible for verifying the candidate’s identity.
      3. Addressing these points means that:
        a) All viva participants (All members of the Board of Examiners, the NEIC (where appointed) and the candidate) must agree in writing to the viva being conducted in this way and confirm at the conclusion of the viva that the holding of the examination by video-conference has had no substantive bearing on the examination process.
        b) College facing PGR Support Teams will assist internal examiners with facilitating organisation of vivas by video-conference, where necessary, including making arrangements to book video-conferencing facilities on University campuses and at the remote location.
        c) The viva should normally take place by a 2-way video link (i.e. participants should not be at more than two locations), and that link should be tested ahead of the viva.
        d) Where a member of the Board of Examiners will be at separate site, consideration should be given to their need to consult privately with the other members of the Board of Examiners (and the NEIC, where appointed) on the conduct of the examination.
        e) Use of video-conference technology should not prejudice the provision of a comfortable environment in which to hold the viva.
        f) Where the candidate will be based at a distance it is their responsibility to make an initial proposal with regard to the host venue. Where a viva is taking place outside of the UK this should normally be at a British Council location. Other viva locations, for example within the UK, are likely to include other Higher Education Institutions, where these offer appropriate facilities.
        g) Where a viva is conducted by video-conference because the candidate is not on campus, costs incurred for the use of resources elsewhere should be met by the candidate provided these costs are made explicit at the point at which permission is given to hold the viva by video-conference.
        h) Checks should be made to ensure that no participant has kept a record of the viva.
      4. When confirming approval of the request to hold the viva by video-conference the Pro-Vice-Chancellor & Executive Dean of College should lodge a copy of the approval with the Postgraduate Administration Office who will keep a central record of all instances where approval has been given for an examination to be conducted by video-conference to ensure consistency of approach.
    6. Language of the viva
      1. All vivas must be held in English unless the candidate has been given permission to submit their thesis in an alternate language (see ‘language of thesis’ in Presentation of Theses/Dissertations for Degrees in the Faculty of Graduate Research: Statement of Procedures). If they have been given such permission the viva may be conducted in English and/or the language of submission as appropriate, and as agreed in advance by the examiners in consultation with the candidate (see nomination requirements).
    7. Agenda
      1. The following sets out a basic agenda for the viva. The viva may be conducted in accordance with this agenda.
      2. Prior to the arrival of the candidate and their supervisor (where attending):

        a) Introductions
        b) Confirmation that all examiners (and the NEIC, where present) have received and understand the regulations for the award in question along with the ‘Handbook for Examination of Postgraduate Research Programmes
        c) Confirmation that all examiners have copies of the examiners’ preliminary reports
        d) Outline by the first internal examiner (or NEIC, where present) of the viva schedule and process, such as the expectations regarding viva length and the process for informing the candidate of the outcome of the examination
        e) Confirmation by the examiners of priority areas about which the examiners wish to ask questions and discussion of the order of questions.
      3. Following the arrival of the candidate:
        a) Introductions (led by the first internal examiner, or the NEIC, where present)
        b) Confirmation of the candidate’s identity (led by the first internal examiner, or the NEIC, where present)
        c) Housekeeping (led by the first internal examiner, or the NEIC, where present)
        d) Explaining the process of the viva to the candidate, and what happens at the end of it (led by the first internal examiners, or the NEIC, where present)
        e) Questions (led by the examiners)
        f) Conclusions (ending the viva) – providing information to the candidate on what will happen next; confirming that the candidate is satisfied that they were given a fair chance to defend their thesis (led by the first internal examiner, or the NEIC, where present), offer the candidate an opportunity to return to the viva location after the Board’s private discussion to receive preliminary feedback (if the Board feels it is appropriate).
      4. Following the departure of the candidate:
        a) Initial consideration of whether or not the thesis is the work of the candidate and whether it meets the assessment criteria for the award in question (see 7.2 ‘Purpose of the Viva’ above).
      5. Following the return of the candidate (optional):
        a) Disclaimer (led by the first internal examiner, or the NEIC, where present) to explain that these are only preliminary recommendations, in accordance with the following principle: The Board of Examiners may if they choose, inform the candidate of their preliminary recommendations. However, in doing so it must be made absolutely clear to all concerned that this may not be the final recommendation that the Board of Examiners makes in its written report. Furthermore, this will be a recommendation only, which the Board of Examiners may be asked to amend by either the Pro-Vice-Chancellor & Executive Dean of College or the Dean of the Faculty. Candidates should be aware that until they receive formal confirmation of the outcome from the Postgraduate Administration Office any information received is only provisional
        b) Preliminary notification and explanation of recommendations (if this is felt to be appropriate) and of the nature of the amendments likely to be required in order for the thesis to meet the criteria for the award in question. 
  8. After the Examination
    1. Recommendations of the Board of Examiners
      Explanation of the different possible outcomes of the examination process (not all outcomes are available at all stages of examination or for all awards, see section 2, ‘Regulations’ for programme-specific information).
    2. Award
      1. The examiners must be agreed that the thesis fully meets the assessment criteria for the award in question without requiring any additional work.
    3. Minor Amendments
      1. Minor amendments should be recommended for:
        a) the correction of typographical, spelling and grammatical errors and
        b) limited revisions of material in the thesis. This may include limited revisions not central to the thesis, omissions, and improvements to the argument which do not materially alter the conclusions.
      2. The examiners must be agreed that the candidate will be able to complete the amendments necessary for the thesis to meet the assessment criteria for the award in question within twelve weeks of notification and without the need of a further viva examination.
    4. Major Amendments
      1. Major amendments should be recommended for:
        a) more extensive revisions than that implied by a decision of minor amendments
        b) revisions that will not normally require any significant extension of the original research to be undertaken (In such instances, resubmission would normally be necessary).
      2. The examiners must be agreed that the candidate will be able to complete the amendments necessary for the thesis to meet the assessment criteria for the award in question within no more than six months from notification, and may be able to set an earlier date if they are agreed that the revisions they are requesting make this feasible.
    5. Resubmission
      1. Resubmission should be recommended when a thesis has failed the first examination for the award for which it was submitted.
      2. In requiring the resubmission of a thesis for re-examination examiners must indicate the maximum period in which this work should be undertaken. The maximum period must not be more than eighteen months for all Doctoral awards other than the DClinPsy and twelve months for Masters awards and the DClinPsy.
    6. Recommendation of a lower award
      1. Following submission of minor, major, outstanding amendments or resubmission, the Examiners may recommend the award of a lower qualification than that for which the candidate submitted (where available). In so doing the examiners must provide positive evidence that the thesis meets the assessment criteria for the award in question.
    7. Outstanding Amendments
      1. This recommendation is only available following minor/major amendments, where all of the required amendments have not been completed satisfactorily.
      2. The examiners must be agreed that the candidate will be able to complete any amendments outstanding within four weeks of notification.
    8. Fail (No degree be awarded)
      1. This recommendation should be made where the thesis does not reach the standard required for the award of the degree in question, or a lower award, where eligible.
    9. Completing the report of the Board of Examiners
      1. The Board of Examiners should complete a Board of Examiners’ report form after every examination, whether following the initial submission or resubmission of a thesis. This report form should confirm whether the thesis is the work of the candidate and indicate how the thesis meets the assessment criteria for the award in question (see ‘the Purpose of the Viva’). Where further work is recommended, whether minor or major amendments or a resubmission, the report form also provides a record of the additional work required.
      2. Where amendments are required (whether minor, major or outstanding amendments or revisions prior to re-submission) the Board of Examiners report must indicate those aspects or parts of the thesis which they regard as unsatisfactory and the nature and extent of the re-working required.
      3. The Board of Examiners’ report form must be suitably detailed and of sufficient quality to allow the candidate, with the support of their supervisory team, to have a clear understanding of the reworking required. The Board of Examiners should note that a member of the supervisory team may approach the lead internal examiner for clarification of the amendments required on one occasion only.
      4. The Board of Examiners’ report form should state the format that the thesis should be submitted in.
      5. Those amendments requested must be limited to those amendments necessary to satisfy the examiners that the thesis meets the assessment criteria detailed in the Regulations for the award in question.
      6. The Board of Examiners’ report form must form the basis of the examiners’ subsequent decision as to whether the amendments required have been made satisfactorily.
    10. Submission of the report of the Board of Examiners
      1. The report form must be completed and signed by all examiners, and the NEIC (where applicable), it should then be counter-signed by the Pro-Vice-Chancellor & Executive Dean of College and then submitted to the Postgraduate Administration Office as soon as possible and no later than 15 working days after the viva has taken place.
      2. Where no viva has been held, the report should be completed within three months of the receipt of the thesis by the examiners.
      3. The Examiners should not provide a written report to the candidate or their supervisory team directly to notify them of their preliminary recommendations.
      4. The Examiners should not directly contact the candidate with regard to their examination and must inform the Postgraduate Administration Office should the candidate attempt to contact them about their examination.
      5. Examiners should note that under the Data Protection Act 1998 all candidates may request access in full to all reports including the preliminary report. Furthermore, if there is any dispute over the outcomes of the examination their reports may be viewed more widely, including by the Office of the Independent Adjudicator.
    11. Approval of the Board of Examiners' Report
      1. The Postgraduate Administration Office will ensure that the report is submitted to the Dean of the Faculty for approval, with final approval of award by Senate.
      2. In countersigning and approving the report the Pro-Vice-Chancellor & Executive Dean of College must confirm that they have read all preliminary reports, the comments in Part II, the report in Part III, and agree that the decision is in line with the examiners’ comments and the outcomes as set out in this Code. They must also confirm that the report in Part III gives sufficient information and guidance to enable the candidate to undertake the amendments required.
      3. Either the Pro-Vice-Chancellor & Executive Dean of College or the Dean of Faculty may refer back the report of the Board of Examiners, if they are not satisfied that the recommendation is in line with the examiners’ comments and the outcomes as set out in this Code or if they are not satisfied that the report in Part III gives sufficient information and guidance to enable the candidate to undertake the additional work required.
      4. Under the exceptional circumstance that the appointed examiners are unable to reach agreement, the examiners must submit independent reports to the Dean of Faculty. The Dean of the Faculty must then recommend to the Vice Chancellor, acting on behalf of Senate, the appointment of an additional external examiner. The additional examiner should be provided by the Postgraduate Administration Office with a copy of the thesis and the separate reports of the original examiners, and should be permitted to interview the candidate before submitting a final report and recommendation to the Dean of the Faculty.
    12. Notification to the candidate of the examination outcome
      1. The Postgraduate Administration Office will send the Board of Examiners’ report to the candidate, copying in the lead supervisor.
      2. Where further work is required the Postgraduate Administration Office will specify the deadline for submission of the thesis.
    13. Explanation for candidates of the requirement to complete amendments/resubmit their thesis
      1. Candidates will receive written confirmation from the Postgraduate Administration Office of the outcome of the assessment of their thesis.
      2. Candidates should carefully read the report sent to them by the Postgraduate Administration Office and where candidates are required to complete amendments to their thesis or to resubmit their thesis:
        a) Candidates should make any amendments required in the format specified by their Board of Examiners
        b) Candidates should liaise with their supervisory team to discuss the additional work ensure that they understand the nature of the revision(s) required
        c) Candidates must not contact any member of their Board of Examiners with regard to their examination. To do so will be treated as research misconduct under the ‘Procedure for Graduate Research Students suspected of Research Misconduct
        d) Candidates must submit their amended thesis to the Postgraduate Administration Office by the date specified in their letter or contact the office as soon as they can if there are any mitigating circumstances that will prevent them from submitting their thesis by the date specified. Failure to submit by the deadline specified will result in withdrawal from the University.
      3. Where candidates are required to submit minor/major amendments or resubmit their thesis the Postgraduate Administration Office will inform them of the outcome of the assessment of their thesis (see 8.14 assessing amendments below for more information).
    14. Assessing Amendments
      1. The following text distinguishes between the date on which the candidate submits their amendments and the deadline date by which the candidate is required to submit their amendments.
      2. The recommended outcome should be confirmed as soon as possible and no later than the following number of weeks after the candidate’s submission of their amendments.

          Minor Major Outstanding
        The recommended outcome should be confirmed as soon as possible and no later than the following number of weeks after the candidate’s submission of their amendments.  6 weeks  8 weeks  6 weeks
        In exceptional cases, where the Internal Examiner/Board of Examiners (as appropriate) are unavoidably unavailable at the point of submission of the revised thesis (for example due to annual leave or research leave without I.T. access), and unable to meet the deadline they must inform the Postgraduate Administration Office of this. In such instances the examiner(s) must confirm the outcome within the stated number of weeks after the candidate’s deadline for submission of their amendments.  6 weeks  8 weeks  6 weeks
      3. Where unforeseen circumstances cause delay the examiner in question should inform the Postgraduate Administration Office of this, who will inform the candidate of the delay.
    15. Review of Amendments
      1. Minor Amendments: The internal examiner must review the amendments and determine if they have been completed satisfactorily. (Exceptionally the External Examiner may ask to review specific changes of a technical nature, required as a minor amendment to the thesis.)
      2. Major Amendments: The Board of Examiners must review the amendments and determine if they have been completed satisfactorily.
      3. Outstanding Amendments: The Internal Examiner/Board of Examiners (as specified in their report) must review the amendments and determine if they have been completed satisfactorily. Where the internal examiner is not able to confirm that the amendments have been completed satisfactorily this should be referred back to the full Board for consideration.
      4. Section 8.16 (below) lists the outcomes available to the Board of Examiners.
    16. Available Outcomes
      1. Satisfactory completion of the amendments must be reported to the Dean of Faculty.
      2. Where a review indicates that the amendments have not been completed satisfactorily the Board of Examiners should recommend one of the following options to the Dean of Faculty:

        Permitted OutcomesMinorMajorOutstanding
        (a) Amendments completed satisfactorily
        (b) That sufficient of the amendments have been completed to allow for the recommendation of the original award
        (c) that the outstanding amendments may be completed in less than four weeks x
        (d) That an award lower than that registered for (e.g. MPhil) may be made
        (e) That no degree be awarded
  9. Confidential Feedback
    1. Principles of Feedback
      1. Both external and internal examiners may provide the Dean of the Faculty with confidential feedback about the examination process which will be considered in confidence.
      2. Forms are sent directly to the examiners by the Postgraduate Administration Office and may be returned to the Postgraduate Administration Office in the first instance.
      3. The Dean of the Faculty should act on the issues raised in the report via an annual report to Faculty Board. The identity of individuals should be kept confidential.

Last updated August 2019


1 No single listing of ‘research-led’ Universities would be useful globally: external examiner nominations are welcome from research-led Universities wherever they are based, however for institutions within the UK, membership of the sector group representing research-led Universities is a useful check to the status of an institution: the Russell Group.
2 For the avoidance of doubt, individuals engaged on a self-employed/consultancy basis and individuals engaged on a claims basis are not eligible to act as Internal Examiners. 
3 See 8.1.1 for the definition of a ‘resubmission’.
If an examiner is unable to attend the viva should be postponed, or where necessary consideration given to revising the membership of the Board of Examiners (for example where an examiner will be unavailable for an extended period of time). If the appointed NEIC is unable to attend the College should arrange for a substitute NEIC to take their place. If there is not time for the appointment to be approved, the College should ensure that the substitute NEIC is someone who has previously undertaken the NEIC role: as they are not an examiner they need not be a subject expert.

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