Chapter 3 - External Examining

  1. External Examining

    External Examiners must be appointed for all taught programmes delivered by Colleges (including INTO) and academic partner institutions. The procedures outlined in this document are applicable only to taught programmes of study.

    The University operates a two-tier system of Assessment, Progression and Awarding Committees (APAC) as follows:

    Tier One – Programme/Discipline APACs whose primary responsibility is to safeguard academic standards for the particular programmes under consideration. 

    Tier Two – College APACs whose primary responsibility is to assure that academic regulations are applied consistently and equitably across disciplines within the College.

    External Examiners are expected to be present at Tier One APACs but not Tier Two APACs.

    1. Criteria for Appointment

      a) Each External Examiner's academic/professional qualifications should be appropriate in level and subject for examining the programme(s) to be examined, and should meet any criteria set out by professional, statutory and regulatory bodies.

      b) Each External’s standing, expertise and experience should be such as to:

      - enable fulfilment of the External's responsibility in the maintenance of the academic standards of the programme(s) in the context of higher education nationally;
      - include an awareness of the latest developments in the design and delivery of the flexible curriculum;
      - include expertise in the enhancement of the student experience.

      c) Normally the University would expect such experience to be demonstrated only by those of Senior Lecturer level (or equivalent) status. Where this is not the case, Colleges will be asked to state their reasons for considering the candidate meets the criteria.

      d) Each External should have had significant recent examining experience as an internal examiner at the required level.

      e) There should not be current reciprocal external examining between departments.

      f) For any one programme, External Examiners should not be appointed consecutively from the same institution, nor should more than one External Examiner be appointed from any one department.

      g) An External who has served for a period of four years shall not be re-appointed for the same programme(s) without exceptional reason, normally after a period of five years or more has elapsed since their last appointment.

      h) As a norm, an examiner should not hold more than two External Examining appointments for taught programmes at the same time; this includes their appointment for the University of Exeter.

      i) Former members of staff of the University should not be invited to become External Examiners before a lapse of at least five years. This would normally include honorary staff, members of staff at partner institutions and those who become University employees during their External Examiner appointment.

      j) Academics who have acted as External Assessors for a programme during the approval process would not normally be appointed initially as External Examiners. A College may apply for an exception to this rule if it can demonstrate to the Dean of the relevant Faculty that it has taken full account of any potential conflict of interest as identified in the UK Quality Code for Higher Education – Chapter B7: External Examining.

      k) Those registered for an award of the University are ineligible for appointment as External Examiners in any part of the University.

      l) To avoid potential conflicts of interest, External Examiners should not be appointed if they come under any of the following categories:

      - Council or Senate member
      - anyone with a close professional, contractual or personal relationship with a member of staff or student involved with the programme of study
      - having been involved with the supervision of any of the students being examined on placement or professional training
      - in a position to influence significantly the future of students on the programme of study
      - involved in collaborative research activities with a member of staff or anyone who has been directly involved as an external member of the validation panel for the programme

      m) The Dean of the relevant Faculty will be responsible for resolving conflicts of interest in the appointment of an External Examiner.
    2. Responsibilities of the University

      a) At the time of nomination the College should provide the External Examiner with sufficient information to enable him/or her to make an informed decision as to whether or not to accept the appointment.

      b) Quality Review will issue an appointment letter and contract clarifying the period of appointment, range of programmes and modules, along with details of the College contact.

      c) The College should ascertain whether or not External Examiners have any access requirements or require any reasonable adjustments in order to carry out their duties, as outlined in the University’s Equality and Diversity Policy.

      d) The College will agree the dates of Programme/Discipline APACs and any visits with all External Examiners well in advance of the assessment period.

      e) The College will pay expenses promptly on receipt, and the fee on receipt of the External Examiners’ report.

      f) Where resources permit, Colleges should take the opportunity of inviting new External Examiners to Exeter ahead of their first Programme/Discipline APACs, to ensure that a Committee meeting is not the first time at which they meet the generality of academic staff.

      g) The University will provide new External Examiners with details of the general regulations and codes of good practice relating to their appointment, by providing details regarding access to the online Induction Module.

      h) As a minimum, Colleges must provide new External Examiners with the following information by the start of the first session of their appointment:

      - College handbook(s) or online equivalents
      - Discipline/Programme handbooks
      - Programme specification(s)
      - Module descriptions (including International Summer School modules)
      - College assessment conventions
      - Previous External Examiner's final report and the College response
    3. Responsibilities of the External Examiner

      a) In accordance with Ordinance 3 an External Examiner is responsible to the Senate of the University.

      b) The External Examiner agrees that during the appointment they will not hold more than one other external examining appointment for a taught programme unless otherwise agreed by the Dean of the relevant Faculty, in writing in advance.

      c) The External Examiner agrees that during the appointment they will not undertake any additional activities or accept any other engagements that lead or might lead to any conflict of interest between the External Examiner and the best interests of the University.

      d) The External Examiner agrees that they will declare to the University any conflict of interest that may arise in the course of the appointment, including in particular if they are placed in a position of making a judgement about any student with whom they have had direct contact.

      e) The External Examiner agrees to inform the University in good time, of any particular access requirements or any reasonable adjustments needed to enable them to carry out their duties, as outlined in the University’s Equality and Diversity Policy.

      f) The External Examiner agrees to ensure that they make themselves familiar with the University’s Codes of Practice and assessment arrangements as detailed in the online Induction Module.

      g) The External Examiner has the responsibility of ensuring that each candidate is treated fairly and with an even application of academic standards against the intended outcomes of the programme(s) and in line with the University’s assessment procedures.

      h) The External Examiner is responsible for ensuring that the standard of the University's awards is maintained and is equivalent to threshold academic standards set in accordance with frameworks for higher education qualifications and applicable subject benchmark statements.

      i) The External Examiner should compare the achievements of the University’s students with those in other UK higher education institutions of which they have experience.

      j) The External must judge each student on the basis of work submitted for assessment without being influenced by any previous association with the programme, the staff, or the student.

      k) The External should compare the performance of students with that of students on comparable programmes elsewhere.

      l) The external must be satisfied that the assessment requirements are such as to enable students to be fairly assessed in relation to programme intended learning outcomes. In relation to this, Externals may be asked to review proposed changes to programmes.  Please refer to the Approval and Revision of Taught Modules and Programmes Handbook, Chapter 5.5 for further detail.

      m) External Examiners must approve the methods of assessment, assessment criteria and feedback processes for all summative assessments including the form and content of prepared examination question papers and any coursework which contributes to the final assessment.

      n) The College should discuss with the External any changes to methods of assessment.

      o) The External has the right to see all examination scripts including course work which contributes to the final assessment. Where it is agreed between the College(s) and the External that a selection of scripts only is made available, the principles for such selection must be agreed in advance. Where External Examiners see only a selection of scripts from a module, this should normally include sample scripts from the top, middle and bottom of the range, and all the scripts of failing candidates. The guiding principle for selection is that the External must have sufficient evidence to determine that internal marking and classifications are of an appropriate standard and that they are consistent.

      p) External Examiners are not normally responsible for, or involved in, the assessment of individual students to the extent that they do not carry out marking of assessed work.

      q) In viewing samples of students’ assessed work, External Examiners should not expect or encourage a Programme/Discipline APAC to raise or lower marks for individual students, on the basis that such a practice would be unfair to those candidates whose work is not part of the sample.

      r) The External is expected to be present at any meeting of the Programme/Discipline APAC at which recommendations are made for the award of degrees, diplomas or certificates. Attendance in person is recommended, however, it is acceptable for Externals to attend by Skype, video conference link or conference call if necessary. When, exceptionally and for good reason, this is not possible, the external’s absence must be approved in advance by the Dean of the relevant Faculty. (This will be held to exclude the examination of referred candidates, where communication by email, fax or letter may be held to be sufficient.)  In the case of programmes offered in partnership with Keypath Education it will be acceptable, provided that the External Examiner is physically present at at least one meeting of the Programme APAC in any given academic year, for the External Examiner to provide written comments in lieu of attendance without the advance approval of the Dean of the relevant Faculty.

      s) The External must be satisfied that decisions relating to individual students are reached in accordance with agreed regulations.

      t) The External is entitled to expect that all available relevant information has been presented to the Committee before it reaches a final decision. The External must be given access to students' marks for all the modules contributing to an award, whether or not the External has been involved in an earlier Programme/Discipline APAC meeting that approved individual module results.

      u) External Examiners are not expected to be involved in individual cases relating to mitigating circumstances or academic integrity except to ensure that the decisions have been applied fairly and equitably applied. Such decisions are the responsibility of the Mitigation Committee who will inform the Programme/Discipline APAC of decisions affecting a module result or progression/award decision.

      v) The External Examiner is expected to confirm the decisions taken and awards recommended by the Programme/Discipline APAC by either signing the minutes of the Programme/Discipline APAC or verbally in their report to the Board, and an appropriate minute made. In any case of disagreement which cannot otherwise be resolved, the External must be consulted and their views considered by the Programme/Discipline APAC, whose decision is final.

      w) As a condition of appointment and payment, the External shall be required to submit an annual report in the prescribed manner within four weeks of the main meeting of the Programme/Discipline APAC.

      x) An External Examiner who considers it appropriate may send an additional report to the Vice-Chancellor under separate cover marked ‘strictly confidential’. If an External Examiner remains concerned having exhausted all internal procedures including a confidential report to the Vice-Chancellor, they may refer to the QAA arrangements for addressing concerns.

      y) An External Examiner shall not be expected to:

      - act as a second marker;
      - amend the marks of individual students;
      - consider cases of mitigating circumstances; and
      - act concurrently as an advisor to a programme team on programme design, or be part of any activity established to review programmes on which he/she examines.
    4. Period of Appointment

      In accordance with Ordinance 5, Para 3, an External Examiner shall normally be appointed for a maximum of four years. Only under exceptional circumstances shall an External Examiner be appointed for a fifth year.
    5. Termination of Appointment

      The University has identified the following circumstances under which the appointment of an External Examiner may be terminated early:

      - failure to attend Programme/Discipline APAC meetings without the prior agreement of the Dean of the relevant Faculty (acting on behalf of the Vice- Chancellor);
      - failure to submit an annual report within the specified time;
      - failure to carry out duties identified in the University's code of good practice;
      - cessation of, or non-recruitment to, the programme(s).

      The early termination of the appointment of an External Examiner shall be made by the Vice-Chancellor on the recommendation of the Faculty Dean.
    6. Student Contact with External Examiners

      The contacting of External Examiners by students regarding any aspect of their programmes of study is prohibited and will be treated as an offence under the University's Disciplinary Procedures. Externals are requested to inform the University's Examinations Office should such an occurrence take place.

      An informal meeting between students and the External may be held at the request of the External by arrangement and with the agreement of the College.
    7. Submission of Reports

      All External Examiners are required to submit an annual report to Quality Review within four weeks of the main meeting of the Programme/Discipline APAC.

      When compiling the annual report, the External Examiner is expected to comment upon:

      - The curriculum, its aims, contents and development
      - Resources
      - The academic standards of the student cohort in relation to that of previous cohorts and other comparable institutions
      - The quality and standards of provision in relation to comparable institutions Any issues arising regarding equality and disability
      - The extent to which standards are appropriate for the award
      - The design, structure and marking of assessments
      - Assessment procedures
      The level of access to any material needed to make the required judgements The coherence of policies and procedures relating to External Examiners

      At the end of the report External Examiners are asked to make recommendations for improvement to University processes and for the specific programme examined. Externals are asked to state whether these recommendations are Essential, Advisable or Desirable. The definitions for these criteria are as follows:

      Essential: Areas of concern which, in your opinion, place academic quality and/or standards at immediate risk and requires an urgent response from the Associate Dean for Education within two weeks.

      Advisable: Areas of concern regarding threshold standards which, while currently being met, in your opinion, could be significantly improved.

      Desirable: Areas where, in your opinion there is potential for enhancement.

      An External Examiner who considers it appropriate may send an additional report to the Vice-Chancellor under separate cover marked ‘strictly confidential’. If an External Examiner remains concerned having exhausted all internal procedures including a confidential report to the Vice-Chancellor, they may refer to the HEFCE arrangements for addressing concerns.

      Examiners' fees and expenses shall not be paid by the College until in receipt of a report.
    8. Distribution of Reports

      On receipt of the reports, Quality Review will send copies for internal programmes to the Associate Dean of Education or equivalent and compile files of reports for the Dean of the the relevant Faculty, and maintain the University records.

      In the case of validated programmes, copies of reports will also be sent by Quality Review to the nominee of the partner institution, College and the appropriate University Programme Co-ordinator.

      External Examiners reports will be shared with student representatives through Student Staff Liaison Committees (SSLC), and should not include any reference to an individual student or member of staff by name. Reports are released for requests under the Freedom of Information Act.
    9. Response to Reports

      Colleges are expected to provide a formal response to the recommendations raised in an External Examiner’s report. Responses should be forwarded to Quality Review within 2 weeks of the receipt of the report by the College for Essential recommendations and within 8 weeks for all other recommendations. Responses must be approved by the Associate Dean Education before submission to Quality Review.

      Recommendations requiring attention within Professional Services will be referred by Quality Review to the relevant member of staff. Responses should be forwarded to Quality Review within 4 weeks.

      College responses will be approved by the Dean of the relevant Faculty and Colleges informed of the outcome within 2 weeks for Essential recommendations and within 8 weeks for all other recommendations. Responses to recommendations for Professional Services will be approved within 4 weeks.

      Immediately any exchange over a report between a College and the Faculty Dean has closed, the College should forward for information to the External Examiner copies of the College’s response to the report and subsequent correspondence with the University.

      As noted in 3.8 both External Examiners reports and College (or partner institution) responses to them should be shared with student representatives through SSLCs. Colleges are encouraged to formulate their responses through the discussion with the SSLC where timing allows. If this is not possible the response must be shared at the next scheduled meeting of the SSLC.
    10. Academic Review

      External examiners' reports on taught programmes are made available to external and internal academic review processes, including Enhanced Annual Student Experience Review (Enhanced ASER) and Annual Student Experience Review (ASER).
    11. Monitoring of Reports

      Responses to all reports will be monitored by Quality Review.

      Quality Review will prepare annual reports on matters of general interest and concern for inclusion in ASER, for the Boards of Faculty to consider and for wider dissemination to Education Enhancement and the DVC Education.

      A College’s (or partner institution's) annual main meeting of the Board of Examiners for a programme at which an External Examiner is present should include early in its agenda a copy of the report and the College’s response for the previous year.

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