External Examiner roles and responsibilities

Role

External Examiners are part of University quality assurance processes and are normally academics from other higher education institutions, but may be from industry, business or the profession, depending what is appropriate for the course. They provide an impartial view of the course and independent advice to ensure courses meet the academic standards and quality expected across the sector.

The University of Essex has two types of External Examiner:

  • Award External Examiners who have overarching responsibility for the standards of the awards to which they are assigned. They are required to attend Boards of Examiners for those awards. Award external examiners will also be module external examiners for the modules in the awards to which they are assigned, but not for any modules to which a separate module external examiner is assigned.
  • Module External Examiners who have responsibility for ensuring the standard of any particular modules to which they are assigned and will be appointed for their specialist subject knowledge. They do not attend Boards of Examiners unless they are also award external examiners.

External Examiners for courses at partner institutions are nominated by the partner but approved and paid by the University. For more information about our partnerships, please see our Partnerships website

External Examiners review whether:

  • The programme meets its stated aims.
  • The assessments and types of assessment in modules are appropriate and of comparable standard to other institutions.
  • The marking has been applied fairly on assignments and the marking scheme/grading criteria have been properly and consistently applied.
  • The assessment process complies with the University of Essex Rules of Assessment and the curriculum remains current.

The Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) have written the UK Quality Code and it is a requirement that all institutions to publish the names, position and institution the external examiner comes from to all students. We publish this information on the module descriptor and programme specifications. The reports will be discussed in detail at the Student Voice Group (formerly Student Staff Liaison Committee), so if students want more information on external examiner reports they can talk to their course representative or Head of Department. External Examiners are in place to provide an independent overview of processes, please do not contact them directly but direct your queries to external.examiners@essex.ac.uk.

The External Examiner system is governed by Ordinance 45 of the University of Essex.

Responsibilities

Principles governing the role of the award and module External Examiners:

  • Every taught award of the University shall have an award External Examiner.
  • All modules that contribute to an award must be allocated to an External Examiner. Responsibility for individual modules must not be allocated to more than one external, but an award External may have overarching responsibility for this module as part of an award.
  • If it is deemed the case that more than one specialist area is covered in a module and it would be therefore be appropriate to have more than one External Examiner, permission to appoint additional external examiners to match the areas of specialism can be sought from the Executive Dean or nominee.
  • Any one award should not have more than one award External Examiner. In the case of Joint or Multi-disciplinary awards one award external should be appointed from the lead department and at least one module External should be appointed from the other department(s). Exceptions to these principles may be made in special circumstances with the approval of the Executive Dean or nominee, in discussion with the PVC (Education).
  • An award External is appointed to a degree course (or group of cognate degree courses) and any associated sub-degree awards and shall also be responsible for a reasonable proportion of the modules which comprise that award.
  • The department will arrange for liaison between the award External Examiner and the external(s) responsible for the relevant modules that they have not had responsibility for, in order that the award External Examiner may be assured that there are no areas of concern which might affect the overall quality and standard of the award. For awards where this is not possible (e.g. Areas awards) the External will have the right to see a sample of work for the purposes of duties stated in 1a and 1b (see below).
  • External Examiners shall normally be appointed for a period of up to four years by the relevant Executive Dean or nominee, under powers delegated by the Council, receiving nominations from the departments or partner institutions concerned. Exceptionally, an extension of one year may be granted to ensure continuity. Appointments may be terminated with two months' notice by either party except in the case of breach of contract, or where a conflict of interest comes to light, when a contract may be terminated immediately following completion of the termination procedures. External Examiners for taught awards may not be re-appointed for another taught award by the University within five years.
  • Factors affecting the number and range of External Examiner appointments in a department include:
    • workload - quantity of assessed material being examined
    • academic diversity of the provision
    • capacity of individuals to make competent judgements against external reference points, e.g. Framework for Higher Education Qualifications
    • PSRB requirements
    • joint and multi-disciplinary courses
    • diversity of assessments, electronic delivery, performances/presentations, work-based learning

Core duties

  • to comment on the academic standards of the award/module and the quality and coherence of the course
  • to judge the overall standards of student performance (for award External Examiners only)
  • to be a member of and attend examination boards as required and to assess the extent to which the determination of awards is sound and fair
  • to produce an annual report to the Vice-Chancellor, providing clear feedback in relation to the above, and commenting on the extent to which previous reports have been acted upon, and noting that such reports are made accessible to students

1) Academic standards, assessment procedures, comparability of standards and student achievement

  1. External Examiners should determine the appropriateness of the academic standards set for the programmes for which they are responsible, considering whether:
    1. the programme and its component parts continues to be current and coherent and the outcomes are aligned with relevant qualification descriptors set out in the applicable Qualification Framework
    2. there is alignment with relevant subject benchmark statements
    3. the standards of the award are commensurate with standards at other higher education institutions with which they are familiar
    4. professional, statutory or regulatory body requirements are being met (where appropriate)
    5. assessments in modules of the same level are of comparable standard
  2. External Examiners should comment on the assessment process, whether it is properly designed and applied, and whether it is carried out in a way that is fair and equitable to all students, and supportive of the achievement of learning outcomes. They should consider whether:
    1. Departments agree with the external examiner what evidence they require in order to make their comments. Evidence should include the relevant course specifications and student handbook(s). The award external examiner is responsible for reviewing the award, including its structure, assessment and the overall profile of student achievement.
  3. External Examiners are asked to consider the overall standards of student performance by reviewing the classification profile of the cohort and its comparability with achievement at other higher education institutions with which they are familiar. This will involve viewing student work, including reading essays or examination scripts or viewing performances. Samples should be supplied of sufficient size to enable judgement as to whether internal marking has properly assessed performance. Where the cohort is very small, all assessed work should be seen. The External Examiner has the right to see the work of any or all students on the programme or module concerned.
  4. External Examiners are not responsible for or involved in the assessment of individual students. They are not normally in a position to expect or encourage an examination board to raise or lower marks for individual students (this would be unfair to students whose work had not been sampled). Where the External Examiner has concerns about internal marking they should discuss with the internal markers whether it would be more appropriate for the department to:
    1. re-mark relevant assessed work for the whole cohort
    2. scale the marks for all students
  5. Where scaling is recommended, the award or module external examiner must have the opportunity to have access to all the student work involved (coursework or examination scripts); a run of apparently aberrant marks should not form the basis for a decision to scale without reconsideration of candidates’ work.
  6. Departmental decisions on scaled marks will be taken in advance of all relevant meetings of Boards of Examiners. (Particular care should be exercised in respect of joint courses to ensure that scaling is applied equally to all students on a particular module).

2) Good practice, innovation and enhancement of learning opportunities

  1. External Examiners contribute greatly to the development of our provision and are asked to identify examples of good practice and potential areas for development. These will be reflected upon in annual review of courses reports and at periodic review.
  2. External Examiners are routinely asked to comment on draft coursework assignments and examination questions, enabling them to inform our current practice in addition to their role in reviewing good practice.

3) Examination Board attendance

  1. The award external examiner shall normally be present at any meeting of the Board of Examiners at which recommendations are made for the award of degrees, diplomas or certificates. When, for good reason, this is not possible the award external’s absence must be approved by the appropriate Executive Dean or nominee.
    Requests for an External Examiner's absence from a Board of Examiners should be made using the Request for approval for External Examiner absence from Exam Board form (.docx) or External Examiner remote Exam Board attendance form (.docx), which asks for the following information:
    1. the reasons for the request
    2. arrangements to ensure that the award External Examiner’s views are available to the Board in advance of its meeting
    3. arrangements to resolve matters in which the views of the internal examiners on the Board differ from those of the award External Examiner
    4. the written agreement of the award external examiner concerned
    5. where there is not sufficient time to make alternative arrangements for the Board of Examiners the Executive Dean or nominee may appoint a suitable substitute
  2. Module External Examiners are not required to attend examination boards.
  3. The award External Examiner is asked to comment on whether the Examination Board operates with fairness. They should be made aware of the outcome of any previous meeting to consider extenuating circumstances relating to the degree class of individual students and they should be satisfied that decisions in this regard are appropriate and consistent.
  4. The signature of an award external examiner must be appended to the marks grid annotated with the decisions of the Examination Board as evidence that they accept the decisions of the Examination Board.
  5. Decisions as to the classification of a degree and the conferment of a Bachelor’s degree shall normally require the consent of the appropriate award External Examiner. If the award External Examiner cannot consent, the decision requires the consent of a two-thirds majority of the examination board, including the Chair. The exception to this is when the board is suspended under Regulation 6.28, when the Chair should consult with the award external before suspending the board.

Annual report to the Vice-Chancellor or a named representative

  1. At the end of the examination process, the External Examiner will produce a report summarising their comments. These formal written reports form a key element of the process for maintaining academic standards at the University. The report must be completed via the University’s Report Submission Portal. Partner Institutions should request a report proforma from external.examiners@essex.ac.uk and return by the appropriate deadline.
  2. Deadlines:
    1. reports for all awards and, where separate, modules should be submitted four weeks after the final examination board
    2. the fee will be paid on receipt of the report
  3. Where an interim report is required, for example, for PSRB purposes or for PGT provision, this should be submitted in the same way as the annual External Examiner report.
  4. External Examiners' annual reports should provide clear and informative feedback to the University on those areas defined above. In addition, their reports will:
    1. confirm that sufficient evidence was received to enable the role to be fulfilled (where evidence was insufficient, they should provide details)
    2. state whether issues raised in the previous report(s) have been, or are being addressed to their satisfaction
    3. address any issues as specifically required by an relevant professional body
    4. give an overview of their term of office (when concluded)
  5. External Examiners should be aware that their reports will be sent to any Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Bodies associated with the programme.
  6. External Examiners should be aware that their reports will be made available to students via Faculty Education Committee and Student Voice Groups (formerly Student Staff Liaison Committees), although not published, and that they should not refer directly to individual students or staff.
  7. Departments will provide External Examiners with a considered and timely response to their comments and recommendations as well as outlining ensuing actions in the Annual Review of Courses (ARC) Reports. Comments relating to areas which relate to all faculties across the University will be responded to by the PVC (Education) in liaison with the Deputy Deans (Education) and/or Executive Deans as required. Departments should still include the response to these areas in their ARCs.
  8. In the exceptional case of any serious concerns, any External Examiners for University of Essex programmes are entitled to write directly to the Vice-Chancellor in confidence on any unresolved matter which concerns them.
  9. As a last resort, where these concerns are not addressed, are systemic and not a one-off case of ineffective practice, the matter should be raised with the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA).
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