Loughborough Doctoral College

7. Guidance for examiners and examination procedures

How examiners are chosen and what they do to examine research students' theses.

7.1 Appointment and eligibility of Examiners

Examiners for a research degree submission will be appointed by the Associate Dean (Research) of the School on the recommendation of the student’s Supervisors.

External Examiners will normally be research active members of academic staff at another institution of higher education or research institute.

Examiners must normally have previous experience of supervising and examining theses for the degree they are being nominated to examine. Examiners should hold a record of completed research comparable to that required for the higher degree in question.

In a highly specialised area it may be necessary exceptionally to approach a proposed External Examiner who may have had little previous experience of research degree supervision and/or examination. In such circumstances, provided that the proposed External Examiner's expertise was unquestioned, they may be appointed in conjunction with a highly experienced Internal Examiner or a second External Examiner with a general and complementary knowledge of the subject area.

Exceptionally where a second External Examiner is appointed an independent non-examining chair of the viva panel would also attend the oral to represent the University in the absence of an Internal Examiner.

It may be appropriate exceptionally to nominate an Examiner who is not an academic member of staff of another University, provided that they are an expert in the student's field of research. The first time the nomination is made evidence of their research activity shall be submitted. In the event that they have little or no previous examination/supervision experience they may be appointed in conjunction with a highly experienced Internal Examiner or in exceptional circumstances a second External Examiner with general, complementary knowledge of the subject area. Where a second External Examiner is appointed an independent non-examining chair of the viva panel will attend the oral examination to represent the University.

In the event that a member of staff of a non-UK University is proposed as an Examiner familiarity with the UK research degree system either through previous employment or previous supervision/examination of research degree students should be demonstrated. If this is not possible then an experienced Internal Examiner should be appointed alongside who will undertake to brief the External Examiner on the expectations of a research degree submission.

A former member of staff of Loughborough University may not act as an external examiner for a research degree submission within a period of two years from the date of their leaving the University.

Emeritus Professors may be considered for appointment as Internal Examiners if they have only recently retired from the University. A maximum interval of five years should be taken as a guideline.

The independent non-examining viva chair shall be a member of the academic staff of the University from a School other than the one in which the candidate is registered. The appointment will be made by the ADR of the School where the candidate is registered. The candidate’s supervisors shall identify the chair in the first instance. The role of the chair is to facilitate the oral examination and to ensure it is appropriately conducted. In the absence of an internal Examiner the chair may provide or seek guidance on University regulations as appropriate. The chair is required to keep a written record of the conduct of the examination and to submit the report to the Research Student Office with the Examiners’ reports following the viva. Where no internal Examiner has been appointed the chair shall make the arrangements for the viva with the support of the candidate’s School.

7.2 Responsibilities before, during and after the viva

The PGR student is responsible for:

Completing their Intention to Submit form no later than three months prior to submission.

Indicating, at the point when the Intention to Submit form is submitted, whether any reasonable adjustments may be required to support their performance at the viva by notifying either their supervisors (where there are existing adjustments) or the Counselling and Disability Service (if new or altered adjustments may be required).

Raising, with their supervisors, any concerns regarding the appointment of their examiners at the earliest opportunity.

Responding promptly to communications relating to the arrangement of the viva.

Ensuring that any amendments to the thesis required by the examiners are completed within the specified timeframe.

The supervisors are responsible for:

Completing the Intention to Submit form in a timely way and providing accurate and complete information.

Ensuring, in advance of the viva, that the PGR student is aware of the possible outcomes.

Ensuring that the internal examiner is made aware in good time of any existing reasonable adjustments that need to be put in place to support the PGR student’s performance.

Liaising as necessary with internal and external examiners to ensure that the viva is held in a timely fashion and normally within 3 months of the submission date.

Providing appropriate support and guidance to the PGR student after the viva examination in the event of amendments or revision being required.

The internal examiner is responsible for:

Liaising with the PGR student, external examiner(s), and supervisors to arrange the date and time of the viva, ensuring that it is held in a timely fashion and normally within 3 months of the thesis submission date.

Informing the PGR administrator when the date of the viva has been fixed.

Familiarising themselves with School practice for the organisation of viva examinations and communicating promptly and clearly with the PGR administrator(s) regarding any logistical support required. This may include booking a room for the viva examination, booking the External examiner’s accommodation, catering arrangements, etc.

Facilitating any reasonable adjustments to the oral examination and ensuring, in conjunction with the Doctoral College Office, that the external examiner is aware of any reasonable adjustments that will be in place to support the PGR student’s performance.

Working in conjunction with the Doctoral College Office to facilitate any reasonable adjustments required to enable the external examiner to attend and conduct the viva.

Ensuring that the viva is conducted in accordance with Regulation XXVI and in the spirit of this guidance.

Completing the Examiners’ Independent Preliminary Report form prior to the oral examination and completing the Examiners’ Joint Report and Recommendation form immediately after the viva.

Ensuring that the Examiners’ Joint Report and Outcome form, and the Examiners’ Independent Preliminary Report forms, are submitted to the DCO no later than 5 working days after the date of the viva.

In the event of a ‘Pass’ outcome requiring minor or modest amendments, or a recommendation that the PGR student be awarded an MPhil subject to the completion of minor or modest amendments, assessing and approving any required amendments to the thesis and notifying the Doctoral College Office that they have been approved. In the event of a ‘Refer’ outcome, examining – with the external examiner – the resubmitted thesis and considering whether the revisions have been undertaken and the overall standard for the award of the research degree has been reached. Where relevant, they will also organise any second viva examination.

The external examiner is responsible for:

Responding promptly to communications from the Doctoral College Office and the internal examiner regarding their appointment and the organisation of the viva.

Notifying the Doctoral College Office and internal examiner of any adjustments relating to a physical or mental condition that are required to enable them to attend and conduct the viva.

Complying with the University’s requirement to conduct a Right to Work check by providing a copy of their passport to the Doctoral College Office upon their appointment, and providing the PGR administrator, or relevant School contact, with the original passport on the date of the viva.

Completing the Examiners’ Independent Preliminary Report form prior to the oral examination, and completing the Examiners’ Joint Report and Outcome form immediately after the viva.

In the event of a ‘Refer’ outcome, examining – with the internal examiner – the resubmitted thesis and considering whether the revisions have been undertaken and the overall standard for the award of the research degree has been reached.

Where present (see criteria in Regulation XXVI), the independent non-examining chair is responsible for:

Ensuring that the viva is conducted in accordance with Regulation XXVI and in the spirit of this guidance

Where two external examiners have been appointed, the independent chair shall assume the responsibilities of the internal examiner outlined above, with the exception of completing the report forms and approving amendments or revisions to the thesis.

Keeping a written record of the conduct of the examination and submitting the report to the Doctoral College Office with the Examiners’ Joint Report and Outcome form following the viva.

The PGR administrator is responsible for:

Supporting the internal examiner in the organisation of the viva.

Assisting or acting on behalf of the internal examiner to book the external examiner(s)’ accommodation, catering for the day of the viva, room bookings, taking a copy of their passport for the purpose of the Right to Work check, etc.

The Doctoral College Office is responsible for:

Ensuring that the PGR student’s thesis is sent to the internal and external examiners in a timely way, and normally within 2 working days of submission.

Acting as a point of contact for the PGR student, internal and external examiners, supervisors, and independent non-examining chair to provide guidance on issues relating to the conduct of the oral examination.

Working in partnership with the student, the Counselling and Disability Service (CDS), and the PGR student’s examiners, to implement any reasonable adjustments required to support the PGR student’s performance at the oral examination.

Working in partnership with the external and internal examiners to implement any reasonable adjustments required to enable the examiners to attend and conduct the viva.

Upon receipt of the Examiners’ Joint Report and Outcome form, ensuring that the PGR student is officially notified of the outcome of the viva, normally within 2 working days.

7.3 Purpose of the viva examination

The viva examination is an integral part of the doctoral examination.

The purpose of the oral examination is to:

  • Enable the examiners to be confident that the content of the thesis is the PGR student’s own work
  • Provide an opportunity for the PGR student to demonstrate their knowledge in the field, understanding of research methods and the significance of their contribution to knowledge
  • Clarify any points which may have been unclear to the examiners
  • Understand and discuss any deficiencies in the work and to provide context to the decision of the examiners

The examiners may also discuss ways of developing the PGR student’s research and writing beyond the requirements of the research degree, but these discussions do not form part of the assessment.

The examiners complete two separate forms. The first is the Independent Preliminary Report form. It is completed prior to the viva and outlines each examiner’s individual report on the written thesis and gives their preliminary assessment. The second is the Joint Report and Outcome form, which the examiners complete together immediately after the viva and contains the final outcome of the examination. It is the joint report, not the preliminary reports, that will constitute the PGR student’s result.

7.4 Before the viva examination

Examiners must ensure that adequate time is set aside for the oral examination. This should include time for any pre-viva discussion between the examiners, the viva examination itself and the drafting of the Examiners’ Joint Report and Outcome form.

The oral examination should be held at Loughborough University, or at Loughborough University in London if the PGR student is registered as a LUiL postgraduate research student. The internal examiner or PGR administrator should consider the suitability of the room for the purpose of an oral examination to ensure as few distractions as possible. This should include environmental conditions (such as lighting and temperature) as well as noise (away from building work, for instance).

In exceptional circumstances it may be necessary for arrangements to be made to conduct the oral examination at an alternative location or by video conference link. Permission and advice of the Doctoral College Office and the AD(R) should be sought and followed by the internal examiner prior to making any such alternative arrangements which must be agreed by all parties.

It is important that the need for reasonable adjustments is identified well in advance of the viva examination. The Doctoral College Office shall work in partnership with the Counselling and Disability Service, as well as the PGR student’s examiners, to identify when reasonable adjustments may be required to support the PGR student’s performance at the oral examination and what specific adjustments should be implemented. The internal examiner is responsible for facilitating on the day any reasonable adjustments to the oral examination, which will have been agreed upon in advance.

Attendance at an oral examination by the PGR student for a research degree may be waived only by the Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor (Doctoral College) with the advice of the Counselling and Disability Service. Where attendance at the oral examination is waived a second or third external examiner should be appointed as considered appropriate.

The internal examiner should establish the attendees to the examination. Only the PGR student to be examined and the examiners (including an independent non-examining chair where one has been appointed) should normally be present during the viva examination. Only one member of the PGR student’s supervisory team may attend the viva examination as an observer, but only where the PGR student has indicated that they wish them to be present in their Intention to Submit form.

The internal examiner should ensure that the PGR student’s supervisors – usually the principal supervisor – will be contactable on the day of the viva. It is expected that the supervisor will be physically present within the building where the examination is taking place (usually the PGR student’s School) but being available via telephone is acceptable if this is not possible.

The internal and external examiners will each complete the Independent Preliminary Report form on the thesis prior to conducting the oral examination of the PGR student. The form must be completed prior to any consultation between examiners. The Independent Preliminary Report forms, together with the completed Examiners’ Joint Report and Outcome form, should be completed and submitted to the Doctoral College Office, and copied to the School PGR administrator, within 5 working days of the viva.

7.5 Immediately before the viva examination

The external examiner must provide the PGR administrator, or appropriate School contact, with the original copy of their passport in order to fulfil the University’s requirement to complete a Right to Work check.

Immediately prior to the viva, the examiners should arrange to confer with one another in order to:

  • Exchange copies of the Independent Preliminary Report forms (if this has not already been done)
  • Identify matters to be raised in the examination
  • Agree the broad strategy for the examination, such as who will ask what questions and in what order

The viva examination may not proceed without all the appointed examiners being present. In the event of an Examiner’s unexpected illness, the examination must be postponed to another date. In the event of an independent non-examining chair’s illness, the School should identify and appoint a replacement. 

Where a PGR student’s attendance at an oral examination has been waived, the PGR student’s examiners should meet to discuss their recommendation. If it is not possible for all the examiners to meet this must be part of the case made to the Associate Pro Vice-Chancellor (Doctoral College) when seeking to waive the requirements for a PGR student to attend an oral examination.

7.6 At the viva examination

The PGR student should be welcomed and made to feel at ease as much as possible.

The internal examiner should explain the purpose of the viva examination and the roles of those present.

If the PGR student’s supervisor and/or an independent non-examining chair are present, the internal examiner should clearly explain their roles:

  • The supervisor is in attendance as an observer only and must remain silent during the examination. The supervisor may not participate in the examination and takes no part in the academic judgement of the examination or the decision-making process
  • The role of the independent non-examining chair is to ensure that the examination is conducted in a fair, equitable and professional manner, and in accordance with Regulation XXVI. The independent non-examining chair does not play a role in the academic examination or questioning of the PGR student. They will, however, remain in the room after the examination while the examiners discuss their final recommendation on the outcome

Prior to meeting the student, as outlined in 4.2, the examiners should discuss the strategy they propose to adopt during the oral examination and, at its outset, this should be outlined to the PGR student.

Examiners should be cautious about their comments on the potential outcome of the examination at the outset of the viva, given that the viva is an integral part of the examination process. It is advised that no-one indicates to the PGR student, either before or during the viva, what is the likely outcome of the examination.

The examination should be conducted in such a way that the PGR student has sufficient opportunity, encouragement and time to explain their research and defend the thesis.

The PGR student should be allowed the time to collect their thoughts and develop responses to the questions posed by the examiners. They should be allowed to consult their copy of the thesis (which may be annotated) during the examination.

While some robust questioning of the PGR student may be needed, it must not be aggressive or intimidatory. Examiners should use succinct and focused questions wherever possible. Questions should be relevant to the work. If the PGR student gives a poor answer, the examiners should seek to rephrase the question and give the PGR student an opportunity to provide an improved response.

The viva examination should run for as long as may be necessary for it to serve its proper purpose (see section 2), allowing short breaks if necessary or requested.

If the PGR student becomes unwell or distressed during the oral examination – whether this relates to a physical or mental health problem – the examiners should consult with the PGR student and supervisor(s) to decide whether to continue the oral examination. This should be noted in the final report and the Doctoral College Office should be notified.

If the PGR student is unable to continue with the oral examination and it is stopped, examiners should determine whether sufficient evidence has been provided to allow an outcome to be decided or whether it will be necessary to hold another examination.

If the problem continues over an extended period and is causing significant distress, the examiners or supervisor(s) may need to facilitate medical help by calling a First Aider and potentially arranging a visit to the University Medical Centre.

If the PGR student is expected to attend another examination, the PGR student and examiners should, in conjunction with the Doctoral College Office, seek further advice from the Counselling and Disability Service to discuss whether any reasonable adjustments will be appropriate for a future viva and further options for support in preparation.

At the close of the examination, the PGR student should be asked if they feel the examination has covered all the points there were expecting, and they should be given the opportunity to raise any points in relation to the thesis which they feel were not covered.

On completing the oral examination, the PGR student will normally be asked to withdraw – along with any observer – before the examiners begin their final deliberations. If present, the independent non-examining chair will remain in the room while the examiners discuss the final outcome. It is advised that examiners are courteous to the PGR student and should notify them of the outcome as soon as possible.

7.7 After the viva examination

When the examiners have made their decision, the PGR student – along with any observer – should be invited back into the room in order to receive the outcome. A single outcome must be made based on the assessment of the thesis combined with the PGR student’s performance at the viva. If the examiners are unable to reach a joint decision, the Doctoral College Office must be notified immediately. Examiners will be required to submit separate reports, after which a third examiner shall be appointed, whose decision is final.

Depending on the outcome, the examiners must clearly outline to the PGR student the next stages in the process, including: the communication of any amendments or revision to the thesis; the process for reviewing the amendments or revisions (including who is responsible for reviewing and approving the amendments or revisions); and the timescale within which these must be completed.

Outcomes

The outcomes available to the examiners are outlined below. In the case of a second oral examination following a ‘Refer’ outcome and the resubmission of a thesis, outcome 4 may not be selected. Where a student is being examined for the award of the degree of Master of Philosophy, outcomes 5, 6 and 7 do not apply:

Outcomes indicating a pass

1. Pass: no amendments required

2. Pass: subject to minor amendments

Minor amendments may include: correction of typographical, spelling and grammatical errors; minor errors or omissions in content; corrections to references; improvements to the quality of diagrams, tables, charts or images; alterations to appendices; minor changes to layout. They will require no new research.

The maximum timeframe for completion of minor amendments is 2 months. They are subject to the approval of the internal examiner.

3. Pass: subject to modest amendments

Modest amendments require further work beyond correcting editorial or formatting errors and minor errors or omissions in content. They may require limited further analysis, re-writing or re-structuring, amendments to the review or assessment of the relevant literature, but will not materially alter the findings of the thesis, nor will they require any significant extension of the original research to be undertaken.

The maximum timeframe for completion of modest amendments is 6 months. They are subject to the approval of the internal examiner.

       

Outcomes falling short of a pass

4. Refer: that the candidate be permitted to submit a revised thesis

The thesis is inadequate in one or more criteria for the degree (listed in the Examiners’ report forms and in paragraph 11 of Regulation XXVI). However, the candidate appears capable of revising the thesis to satisfy the requirements of the research degree for which it was submitted, although the work that is needed will require further supervision. Examiners must indicate whether a further oral examination is required.

The maximum timeframe for re-submission of a revised thesis is 12 months. Regardless of whether a second oral examination is required, the revised thesis must be re-examined by both the internal and external examiners.

       

Outcomes indicating that the thesis and oral examination have failed to meet the criteria for the award of the research degree

5. Fail: recommend award of the degree of Master of Philosophy without amendments

6. Fail: recommend award of the degree of Master of Philosophy with minor amendments

Minor amendments may include: correction of typographical, spelling and grammatical errors; minor errors or omissions in content; corrections to references; improvements to the quality of diagrams, tables, charts or images; alterations to appendices; minor changes to layout. They will require no new research.

The maximum timeframe for completion of minor amendments is 2 months. They are subject to the approval of the internal examiner.

7. Fail: recommend award of the degree of Master of Philosophy with modest amendments

Modest amendments require further work beyond correcting editorial or formatting errors and minor errors or omissions in content. They may require limited further analysis, re-writing or re-structuring, amendments to the review or assessment of the relevant literature, but will not materially alter the findings of the thesis, nor will they require any significant extension of the original research to be undertaken.

The maximum timeframe for completion of modest amendments is 6 months. They are subject to the approval of the internal examiner.

8. Fail: that the research degree not be awarded and that re-submission of the thesis is not permitted

 

A joint report is required following the viva but each examiner may give a brief statement of the grounds for their recommendation on the form provided. The formal written report should be submitted to the Doctoral College Office as soon as possible and normally within 5 working days of the oral examination.

Where amendments are required or a thesis is referred, the examiners are required to submit a detailed and clear list of amendments, including any specific aspects that require further work. This list forms part of the Examiners’ Joint Report and Outcome form.

If the PGR student becomes distressed on receiving an adverse outcome, the examiners are advised to contact the PGR student’s supervisor(s) to provide support. If they are unavailable, the PGR student’s Director of Doctoral Programmes should be contacted.

If the examiners become concerned about a PGR student’s wellbeing or behaviour on receiving an adverse outcome, they should inform the Doctoral College Office. A referral to the Counselling and Disability Service may be required. Staff with serious concerns about a PGR student’s wellbeing at the time can ask for advice by calling Student Services during office hours on +44 (0)1509 222765.

If the PGR student is required to undertake further work on the thesis submission to meet the examiners’ requirements, the examiners may be approached through the PGR student’s supervisors for further clarification regarding the work to be accomplished if it is felt that additional guidance is necessary.

It is the PGR student’s responsibility to undertake the additional work, seeking advice from their supervisors as necessary. The PGR student’s supervisors should ensure that they are available to provide this support.

Examiners should not comment on the revised submission prior to re-examination.

Where a PGR student has received a ‘Pass’ outcome subject to minor or modest amendments, or a recommendation that they be awarded an MPhil subject to minor or modest amendments, the internal examiner is responsible for reviewing and establishing whether the amendments have been satisfactorily completed and the overall standard for the award of the research degree has been reached.

Where a PGR student has received a ‘Refer’ outcome, the revised thesis (one copy per examiner plus a spare copy) shall be submitted to all the original examiners via the Doctoral College Office. The examiners shall examine the resubmitted thesis and consider whether the revisions have been undertaken and the overall standard for the award of the research degree has been reached.

Where a PGR student receives a ‘Fail’ outcome of any kind, they shall have the right to appeal the decision in accordance with the provisions of paragraph 15 of Regulation XXVI. Details of the appeals process will be provided in the official notification of the outcome that is sent to the PGR student by the Doctoral College Office. PGR students seeking advice and support in the preparation of an appeal may contact LSU Advice at Loughborough Students’ Union, where staff are available to provide guidance: lsuadvice@lsu.co.uk or +44 (0)1509 635072.