Code of Practice for External Examining of Undergraduate and Postgraduate Taught Programmes
Purposes and Functions
- The purposes of the external examiner system are to ensure that:
- the standards set for taught undergraduate and postgraduate programmes, awarded in similar subjects, are appropriate for the awards, or award elements, by reference to published national subject benchmarks, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications, institutional programme specifications and other relevant information;
- are comparable in standard in all Universities in the UK; and
- the assessment system is fair and is fairly operated in the classification of students.
- In order to achieve these purposes external examiners need to be able to participate in assessment processes for the award of degrees, diplomas and certificates; to arbitrate or adjudicate on problem cases; and to comment and give advice on programme content, academic standards, balance and structure, on degree schemes and on assessment processes.
External examiners and external programme assessors
- The University makes a distinction between the roles of External Examiner and External Programme Assessor.
- An external examiner must be appointed for each module that contributes to a degree or other award. In practice therefore several different external examiners are normally involved in the assessment process for each programme, each one of them having responsibility for a number of modules. Normally, one of the external examiners will be invited – usually at the time of initial appointment - to act in the role of External Programme Assessor, who has responsibility for taking an overview of the programme as a whole: this will typically be the external examiner covering the widest range of modules. If there is only one external examiner associated with a programme, that person will also take the role of External Programme Assessor.
- The External Examiner approves the results for the individual modules for which he/she is responsible; the External Programme Assessor approves decisions made collectively by the Programme Board which meets at the end of the programme or programme part, including decisions on awards to graduating students.
Membership of Programme Boards, Postgraduate Review Boards and attendance
- External Programme Assessors are regarded as full members of any Programme Board concerned with the assessment of a programme or programme part for which they are responsible. The External Programme Assessor for an undergraduate programme must attend the final year Programme Board. The External Programme Assessor for a postgraduate programme must attend the Programme Board for that programme.
- In the case of postgraduate taught programmes, Review Boards are in operation in addition to Programme Boards. External Examiners and External Programme Assessors are full members of the Review Boards concerned with the assessment of the modules for which they are responsible, but are not bound by quoracy rules to be present.
Extent of external examiner involvement at undergraduate level
- External Examiners and External Programme Assessors are not involved in the assessment of undergraduate modules taken by students in Part A (first year) or expected to attend Programme Boards for Part A, but the External Programme Assessor must nevertheless approve any Programme Board decision to award a CertHE on the basis of a student’s performance in Part A.
In other sections of this document ‘external examiner’ refers to External Programme Assessors and External Examiners alike, unless otherwise indicated.
- Individuals proposed for appointment as external examiners must have an appropriate level of experience and expertise in relation to the subject area. A minimum of five years experience would normally be expected.
- Individuals must normally hold a senior academic post at another UK HEI (in pre-92 institutions, SL and above, or in post-92 institutions, principal lecturer or equivalent and above) and be research-active.
- Although they may not meet the criteria in paragraph 10, suitably experienced individuals from industry or commerce or from Professional, Statutory or Regulatory Bodies (PSRBs) may also be appointed to bring particular professional expertise to the external examining process. Those who do not currently hold an academic post or have extensive links with UK HE through their professional practice will not be expected to take sole responsibility as external examiner for any programme or module.
- The following criteria must also be met to avoid potential conflicts of interest.
- Must not normally hold more than one other appointment as an external examiner in HE
- Must not have been a member of staff or a student of LU, or a partner organisation, within the past three years
- Must not have held a previous appointment as an external examiner in the inviting School at LU within the past four years
- Must not be employed in an HEI department / School elsewhere which has a member of the inviting School at LU serving as an external examiner
- Must not be employed in the same HEI department / School as the previous external examiner for the same programme(s)/module(s)
- Must have no personal conflicts of interest (for example, a son or daughter or other relation or be connected with a person who is a student or member of staff in the inviting School at LU)
- Nominations must be submitted by Schools to the Student Office for approval by the PVC(T). The documentation should provide evidence that the criteria in paragraphs 9 - 11 are met and in all cases include a brief cv of the person concerned, covering their experience in teaching and research. Schools will be asked to complete a simple check-list to cover the criteria in paragraph 12and be expected to make a case in support of any appointment that is outside the normal criteria.
- Schools should ensure that individuals being nominated for appointment as external examiners have the necessary qualities to perform the range of responsibilities required of them. Such qualities are likely to include, for example:
- Appropriate experience in the design, structure and marking of student assessments
- Ability to make competent judgements relating to agreed reference points, including subject benchmark statements, the QAA code of practice, the Framework for Higher Education Qualifications, and individual programme specifications
- Ability to evaluate standards set by the institution and their comparability with those of other HEIs
- Ability to evaluate standards of student achievement
- Ability to evaluate the soundness and fairness of assessment policies and procedures
- Ability to command the respect of colleagues, including other external examiners as well as internal examiners and exercise appropriate authority in all aspects of the role
- Experience and expertise where appropriate in the assessment of work-based learning
- Knowledge where applicable of PSRB standards and expectations.
Bullet points 2 and 3 above may be interpreted flexibly in the case of external examiners from outside the HE sector being appointed for their professional expertise, who are not taking sole responsibility for any programme or module.
- The range of modules to be covered by each external examiner will be agreed with the School concerned on appointment and subsequently as appropriate.
Information and Induction
- Upon appointment, external examiners will be provided with an appropriate induction programme to ensure that they understand and can fulfil their responsibilities. They will receive a written briefing on the institution’s policies for assessment and external examining in general, with details of relevant University regulations and codes of practice, and a schedule of fees, and they may be invited to attend a University-based induction event. Schools are expected to provide external examiners with a School profile, an explanation of the School’s student assessment practice, and how and when the external examiner can expect to be involved in the assessment process in the course of the academic year. Previous external examiners’ reports, a set of previous question papers, and a description of prizes to be awarded should also be made available. In addition, Schools are expected to provide programme specific information including: programme and module specifications and syllabuses; programme regulations; and information about admissions policy such as any essential/preferred A-level/first degree subjects, any direct admissions to year two and prevalence of non-traditional entry qualifications. It is the responsibility of the School to keep its external examiners informed of any significant changes occurring in the course of their period of office.
- The core role of external examiners is to help the University to assure the quality of student assessment processes and maintain the academic standards of its awards.
Approval of written examination papers
- External examiners must be asked to approve all draft examination papers (having regard to the level, range, design and structure of questions set) together with model answers and marking schemes where appropriate.
Sampling of student work
- External examiners are entitled to see any examination scripts, dissertations, project reports, assessed coursework (including work submitted for the award of the Diploma in Industrial Studies, etc) in order to reach judgements on standards and consistency of internal marking.
- They will normally be provided with a sample of student work across a range of results. They should agree with the School concerned a basis (method and extent) for sampling student work, to ensure they have sufficient evidence. They must always see a sample of work where a module is assessed by coursework (ie means other than written examination) alone.
Approval and adjustment of marks
- External examiners must approve marks for all modules before they are considered by Programme Boards or Review Boards (in the case of postgraduate taught programmes). Provisional module marks may be published before being approved by the relevant external examiner (typically for semester one modules), but our procedures require that approved module marks are presented to the Boards for confirmation and that no changes are made at that stage, except in the light of a claim of impaired performance or a viva voce examination. External examiners should therefore receive the proposed marks from the internal examiners in sufficient time to allow them the opportunity to suggest any mark adjustments before the formal Board meeting, thus giving time for debate and the introduction of any revised marks as agreed.
- Any mark adjustments suggested by an external examiner from seeing a sample of scripts or other assessed work must be reflected in similar adjustments to scripts or other assessed work not included in the sample.
Impaired performance claims
- Procedures for dealing with claims of impaired performance require students to submit claims for consideration by an ‘impaired performance panel’ within the School, which meets in time to make recommendations to the relevant Programme Board or Review Board (postgraduate taught programmes only): external examiners are not normally involved in the panel but are encouraged to scrutinise a sample of the panel documentation.
- External examiners may from time to time be asked to help resolve a case where first and second internal markers have found it difficult to arrive at an agreed mark.
Condonement of marginal failure
- Regulations for undergraduate awards permit Programme Boards to condone marginal failure in certain very specific circumstances. One condition is that an appropriate external examiner must approve the condonement having regard to national standards in the discipline.
Signing off the pass list
- The External Programme Assessor must sign the pass list emanating from any Programme Board at which they are present (along with the Chair and the independent board member).
- External examiners may ask to meet students to assist with their understanding of a programme and the way in which it operates, but this is not part of the student assessment process. (They are asked to bear in mind also that Programme Boards are normally held outside term time.)
Viva voce examinations
- Viva voce examinations may be called ‘at the instigation of the Chair of the Programme Board’ or designated deputy prior to the relevant Programme Board. The Chair will normally consult with the External Programme Assessor. The External Programme Assessor will be a member of the viva voce panel if the Programme Board will be making awards, except where prior permission of the Academic Registrar has been obtained to replace the External Programme Assessor with another external examiner; any external examiner may be co-opted to membership.
Discussion on marking and the assessment process
- External examiners are encouraged to comment upon the assessment process including diversity issues and may wish to do so at the conclusion of the formal business of the Programme Board. Advice about classification schemes and the marking process can be of particular benefit to the less experienced internal examiners.
Involvement in matters outside the assessment process
- External examiners are not required to participate in the University’s Programme Review process. External examiners should be aware however that their annual report will be included in the documentation considered during the Annual Programme Review along with the School’s response. Reports from each of the last three years are considered during Periodic Programme Review.
- External examiners may be asked from time to time to comment on new programme developments. The University’s approval procedure requires Schools to obtain an external view which may be from within the HE sector or from an industry/employer perspective.
- All external examiners are responsible to and will report annually to the University Examinations Officer, acting on behalf of the Vice-Chancellor. The submission of an annual report within four weeks of the main meeting of the Programme Board is a condition of appointment and fee payments will depend on the receipt of a report. In view of the importance of external examiners’ reports in the process of assuring quality, the University will review the appointment of an external examiner who fails to fulfil the terms of the contract.
- A standard pro forma is provided for the report which will remain confidential to the University and will not be published.
- External examiners' reports are seen and discussed by the academic staff members of the School responsible for the modules/programmes involved, and by student representatives on School staff/student committees concerned with the relevant programmes. They may also be seen by staff in Professional Services responsible for academic quality and standards in learning and teaching and by members of external bodies with a valid interest, such as professional accreditation committees.
- There is space on the report form where external examiners may add comments that they do not wish to be disclosed to student representatives. Any external examiner may send the Vice-Chancellor a separate confidential report if that is felt to to be appropriate.
- The following procedures will apply in handling reports submitted by external examiners to the Programme Quality and Teaching Partnerships Office (PQTP).
- Copies will be sent to the AD(T) of the relevant School and the Head of the Programme Quality and Teaching Partnerships Office (PQTP).
- The AD(T) will arrange for the report to be considered by the School Learning and Teaching Committee or a full School staff meeting if appropriate, and actions will be agreed for the future. If the report raises major issues, the AD(T) is advised to consult the Head of PQTP before a response is sent.
- The Dean of School will approve a formal reply to the external examiner detailing actions taken or planned or, if the external examiner has raised no issues, formally acknowledging receipt of the report.
- A copy of the reply will sent to PQTP; if the reply is merely a formal acknowledgement of receipt of the report, the School need only inform PQTP to this effect.
- The report and reply will be tabled at the next School staff meeting for the record and for further action if necessary.
- The report and reply will be discussed at the next Staff/Student Liaison Committee meeting involving student representatives of the programme/s concerned.
- PQTP will draw the attention of the relevant AD(T) to any external examiner's report that appears to raise a major issue for discussion before a response is sent to the external examiner.
- PQTP will produce in the course of the year an institutional analysis by theme of external examiners’ comments and this will be submitted for consideration by Learning and Teaching Committee as part of the Annual Programme Review process.
- Learning and Teaching Committee will recommend any further action and provide feedback to Schools as deemed necessary.
- External Examiners’ reports and School responses will be considered as part of APR and QR documentation.
- In the case of collaborative provision leading to awards of the University, external examiners are appointed by the University and partner organisations are required to follow external examining procedures which are the same as, or demonstrably equivalent to, those in operation for provision which is entirely the University’s responsibility.
- To help ensure equivalence of standards, individual external examiners already appointed for programmes or modules provided by the University itself may be invited to act in respect of programmes or modules in cognate subject areas at partner institutions.
- Partner organisations are required to adopt procedures analogous to those which apply within the University in considering and responding to reports made by external examiners. These procedures will be subject to approval by the AD(T) of the relevant School.
- Partner organisations are expected to provide external examiners with information equivalent to that provided by University Schools in respect to University-based provision. The list of information may be augmented by arrangement between the partner organisation and the AD(T) of the School with academic oversight of the collaboration.
Data Protection and Freedom of Information
- The letter of appointment shall advise each external examiner of what information the University holds on them and for what purpose and that:
- the University will use their personal data for communication about and payment of fees and expenses and for any other necessary communications and that their data may be shared, if necessary, with other Schools of the University.
- the University policy is that members of staff must not disclose external examiners' contact details or any other personal details to third parties (ie outside the University) without the consent of external examiners.
- any comments, marks or opinions expressed about individual students (during any stage of the assessment process) may be disclosed to the student upon receipt of a Subject Access Request and that opinions expressed in a professional capacity will be disclosed to students if requested.
- external examiners' reports are made available to University staff and students as detailed in the annual reporting procedure.
- Under Freedom of Information legislation, the University shall provide copies of external examiners' reports to any third party who makes a lawful request for them. These reports will normally include identification of the external examiner's name, but the University will consider reasonable requests from the external examiner to anonymise the report.
- External examiners are entitled to make Subject Access Requests under the Data Protection Act. As such they are entitled to request copies of all emails and memoranda relating to their appointment and views of staff about them.
Revised by Learning and Teaching Committee July 2011