External Examiners for Taught Programmes

1 Introduction and General Principles

1.1 These regulations apply to External Examiners appointed for taught programmes and subjects leading to awards of the University. External Examiners appointed to other programmes operate in accordance with separate regulations established by the University or by an awarding body. Where appointments are joint appointments with an external validating agency or professional body, or are made under a licence agreement with such an agency or professional body, the External Examiners appointed are subject to the University of Derby's regulations.

1.2 The University regards External Examiners as a key element of its system of quality assurance and enhancement. These regulations conform to the UK Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) Code.

1.3 It is a requirement that at least one External Examiner should be appointed in respect of each programme leading to an award of the University or a Professional Body. Programmes with large numbers of students or comprising more than one subject will require the appropriate number of External Examiners to cover their size and scope.

1.4 The name, position and institution of the External Examiners must be included in module and/or programme handbooks. It will be made clear that it is inappropriate for students to make direct contact with External Examiners.

2 Responsibilities

2.1 The principal responsibilities of External Examiners are to provide informative comment and recommendations upon whether or not:

(i) The University is maintaining the threshold academic standards appropriate to awards for which they have a responsibility, taking account of the level descriptors in the University credit framework and any relevant national subject benchmarks;

(ii) To assist the University in the maintenance of academic standards and the achievements of students by a comparison of student performance with that of students on similar types of programme at UK higher education institutions of which the External Examiners have experience;

(iii) To assist the University in ensuring that the assessment process measures student achievement rigorously and fairly against the intended outcomes of the programme(s) and is conducted in line with the institution's policies and regulations.

3 Categories

3.1 The University appoints External Examiners in three categories: Subject Examiners, Programme/Award Examiners and Chief Examiners. External Examiners may be appointed to more than one of these categories simultaneously.

3.2 Subject Examiners exercise the above responsibilities solely in relation to a number of modules in a subject area. External Examiners, who are only responsible for modules are not normally required to attend the Assessment Board. Subject Examiners consider the results for all students taking the modules for which they have responsibility and provide feedback to Module and Programme Leaders/Academic Leads.

3.3 Programme/Award Examiners:

(i) For undergraduate programmes, the Programme/Award Examiners exercise these responsibilities in relation to a named programme or award and in addition normally have responsibility for a number of programme/award modules.

These Examiners are expected to consider the results for all students taking the modules for which they have responsibility and provide feedback to Module and Programme Leaders/Academic Leads.

Programme/Award Examiners are expected to comment on the overall performance of the awards for which they are responsible. If there is only one Programme/Award Examiner then they will be expected to attend the formal Assessment Board. Where several Programme/Award Examiners exist, it is permissible for only one of them to attend the Assessment Board as a representative.

The University operates additional Assessment Boards to consider Programmes/Awards with academic partners and at least one representative of the Award/Programme Examiners will be expected to attend.

All Award/Programme External Examiners would normally expect to attend at least one Assessment Board per academic year.

(ii) For the postgraduate provision a system of Programme Assessment Boards operates for all programmes at which the Programme/Award Examiner is expected to attend.

3.4 Where a programme has more than one Programme/Award Examiner, a Chief Examiner may be identified, with responsibility for coordinating the contributions of the various members of the examining team. In such a case the Chief Examiner must be (one of) the academic examiner(s) within the team.

3.5 In certain situations, External Moderators may also be appointed (see section C10, below).

4 The Powers of External Examiners

4.1 It is a requirement that an Assessment Board should give full consideration to the advice of an External Examiner(s) in resolving the recommendations which are to come forward. Responsibility for such recommendations lies with the Assessment Board but it is expected that the recommendations carry the formal assent of the External Examiner(s) appointed to serve the subject or programme.

4.2 The formal assent of External Examiners to the recommendations of an Assessment Board is evidenced by their signing the results list(s) approved by the Board. In the event of any disagreement with those recommendations by one or more External Examiners, the matter should be decided by a vote of the members of the Assessment Board. If, following such a vote, the External Examiner does not agree to sign the results list(s), the matter must be reported to the Academic Development and Quality Committee (ADQC) before its ratification of the results.

4.3 In the case of a disagreement as identified in Section C4.2 (above), ADQC may resolve to ratify the result list(s), refer them back to the Assessment Board for further consideration, or in extreme cases, may recommend to Academic Board the annulment of the disputed assessment results and a reconsideration of the assessment in question by an appropriate Assessment Board. Academic Board has the power to appoint new examiners, internal or external to the University, to the Assessment Board which is required to reconsider the disputed results.

5 Specific Duties and Rights

5.1 External Examiners have the right to be informed on and inducted into their role, with particular respect to University Regulations. External Examiners who are professional practitioners will also receive appropriate advice and guidance regarding academic standards, assessment, credit levels etc.

5.2 External Examiners have the right to consider the form and content of draft coursework assignment briefs and examination papers which are to be used to assess students, and to provide feedback on them. External Examiners should be provided with all draft coursework assignment briefs and examination papers prior to publiction to students. They are required to provide feedback on the design and appropriateness of the assessment task(s) in order to influence practice as it occurs.

5.3 External Examiners have a duty to moderate the standard of work submitted for assessment by students, having agreed with the Subject/Programme Leader/Academic Leads the size and scope of the representative sample of coursework and examination scripts (in-line with the University moderation policy) to be submitted for external moderation.

It is expected that the sample of work available to External Examiners for moderation will:

(i) Include all modes of assessment in all modules contributing to the calculation of the award’s classification. Where a mode of assessment does not lend itself to normal scrutiny, e.g. oral presentation, the programme leader will negotiate appropriate processes, e.g. video, with the External Examiner;

(ii) Include work from a number of students equivalent to approximately the square-root of the total number of students undertaking the assessment, subject to a minimum of 5 (or the total number of students if fewer);

(iii) Reflect the full range of grades awarded;

(iv) Include samples from every delivery location (home provision and academic partnership provision) and mode of study (full time, part time, online and distributed learning), as detailed in the University’s Internal Moderation Policy (General Regulations, Section B).

5.4 External Examiners have the right to receive, after initial internal assessment, draft results list(s) for all the students being assessed in the module(s) for which they are responsible, together with the provisional mean module grade and standard deviation.

5.5 External Examiners have the right of access to all assessed student work relating to their area of responsibility and to call for such evidence as will assist them in the conduct of their duties, so that they may form valid judgments of the relative quality of performance of different students.

5.6 External Examiners have the duty to attend meetings, of the Assessment Board(s) for the programme/modules for which they have responsibility, as requested, and to contribute to the determination of results and/or awards.

5.7 External Examiners have the duty to review student progression and achievement on the programmes for which they are responsible.

5.8 External Examiners have the right of access to evidence used in the assessment of RPL claims. They do not have the authority to change individual RPL decisions, but may wish to comment on matters of academic standards, policy and procedure in their reports.

5.9 External Examiners will liaise with, and as appropriate direct the work of, any External Moderators appointed to the programme(s)/modules for which they have responsibility.

5.10 External Examiners have the duty to make recommendations to the Assessment Board on the appropriateness of the allocation of grades within the regulations and grading system approved for the programme. External Examiners may not alter individual grades. However, as a result of moderation, it may be appropriate to recommend a review of all the grades in particular grade categories.

5.11 If any External Examiner feels concern about any practice or decision which militates against the maintenance of academic standards or the fairness of assessment processes or outcomes, it is the responsibility of that External Examiner to bring the matter in the first instance to the attention of the relevant Assessment Board and subsequently, as necessary, to the Vice-Chancellor in her/his capacity as Chair of Academic Board.

5.12 External Examiners are required to submit electronically a report to the Centre for Quality Assurance (CQA), for consideration by the University, within four weeks of the Assessment Board(s) at the end of the academic session (or of the Programme or Stage) or within four weeks of the receipt of further data (undergraduate programmes only). For standard programmes this will constitute an annual report. For programmes with a non-standard length it is recognised that this may be more or less frequent.

5.13 External Examiners have the right to communicate directly with staff and students in order to determine whether a programme is meeting the standard required for an award or whether the treatment of students in the assessment process is consistent and fair.

5.14 External Examiners may also be requested to advise on proposed amendments to the programme or programmes leading to the award for which they are responsible, and to comment on new short courses and learning contracts which fall within their area of subject expertise.

5.15 External Examiners must be advised of any proposed changes to the assessment strategy or methods of assessment in the programme/modules for which they have responsibility, and are normally expected to indicate their agreement (or otherwise) to such changes. For modules that are not normally reviewed by the External Examiner (i.e. they do not contribute to the award’s classification), Programme Teams are encouraged to share these with the External Examiner for their consideration/comments.

5.16 External Examiners who have responsibilities for academic partnership provision are expected to visit partner institutions. The nature and frequency of external examiner visits should be determined by panels convened for the purpose of approving the partnership arrangements. The agreed arrangements should be incorporated within the Operational Manual. In determining the requirement for any proposed academic partnership, approval panels should adhere to the following guidelines:

(i) For programmes leading to major awards that are validated academic partnership provision by the University, there should normally be one external examiner visit in any one year. In the case of partnerships with organisations that deliver several such programmes, the annual visit can be undertaken for all programmes by a single member of the team of External Examiners. This is subject to the proviso that the external examiner possesses sufficient expertise to make a judgement on the full range of subject specific learning and staffing resources.

(ii) For franchised academic partnership provision that lead to a major award, and for all programmes accredited by the University that generate in excess of 60 credits at Levels 5 to 7, there should be an external examiner visit at least once in every four years. This visit should normally take place in the second year of the programme’s operation.

(iii) The following categories should be exempt from the external examiner visiting requirements: programmes delivered off-campus by University staff; articulation arrangements and accredited provision of 60 credits or less.

5.17 External Examiners are provided with the opportunity to report on the quality of students’ learning opportunities.

5.18 External Examiners may be required to act as mentor for new and/or inexperienced External Examiners, where there is no Chief External Examiner available to fulfill this role. Advice on this should be sought from CQA.

6 Additional Duties of a Chief Examiner

6.1 External Examiners have additional roles and responsibilities:

(i) To confirm, by negotiation with other External Examiners in the team, that a consistent and acceptable standard is being maintained across the programme(s).

(ii) To coordinate the work of the team of External Examiners and to liaise as appropriate with the Programme Team(s).

(iii) To act as mentor for new and/or inexperienced External . Examiners

7 University Assessment Board for Exceptional Circumstances

7.1 There is a requirement for an External Examiner to be a member of the board. Applications may be made to extend the scope of responsibility of an existing External Examiner to take on this role without varying their period of appointment.

8 The Appointment of External Examiners

8.1 External Examiners must be in post before the commencement of delivery of the programme(s)/modules/awards for which they are responsible. Applications for the approval of an External Examiner should normally be submitted to CQA at least three months before the Examiner is due to commence their duties.

8.2. Where the nominee has no or limited previous experience as an external examiner for any institution, appointment would only be approved where the appointment was made to a team of external examiners and/or with appropriate mentoring (phasing, induction and development) arrangements being in place.

8.3 The duration of an external examiner's appointment will normally be for four years, with an exceptional extension of one year to ensure continuity and applications for extensions should be submitted to CQA. Similarly applications may be made to vary the scope of responsibility of an External Examiner without varying the period of appointment through re-allocation of duties.

8.4 It is desirable to phase External Examiners’ appointments where more than one External Examiner is appointed to a course to ensure continuity of support. The induction of new External Examiners and effective liaison between outgoing and incoming examiners should be regarded as complementary to the principle of phasing.

9 Appointment Criteria

9.1 External Examiners are appointed by the University and are responsible to the Academic Board. The University appoints External Examiners who can show appropriate evidence of the following:

(i) Knowledge and understanding of UK sector agreed reference points for the maintenance of academic standards and assurance and enhancement of quality;

(ii) Competence and experience in the fields covered by the programme of study, or parts thereof;

(iii) Relevant academic and/or professional qualifications to at least the level of the qualification being externally examined, and/or extensive practitioner experience where appropriate;

(iv) Competence and experience relating to designing and operating a variety of assessment tasks appropriate to the subject and operating assessment procedures;

(v) Sufficient standing, credibility and breadth of experience within the discipline to be able to command the respect of academic peers and, where appropriate, professional peers;

(vi) Familiarity with the standard to be expected of students to achieve the award that is to be assessed;

(vii) fluency in English, and where programmes are delivered and assessed in languages other than English, fluency in the relevant language(s) (unless other secure arrangements are in place to ensure that External Examiners are provided with the information to make their judgements - refer to the University’s Language and Translation Policies);

(viii) Meeting applicable criteria set by professional, statutory or regulatory bodies;

(ix) Awareness of current developments in the design and delivery of relevant curricula;

(x) Competence and experience relating to the enhancement of the student learning experience.

9.2 An external examiner may be reappointed in exceptional circumstances but only after a period of five years or more has elapsed since their last appointment.

9.3 External Examiners normally hold no more than two external examiner appointments at other HEIs for taught programmes/modules at any point in time.

9.4 Conflicts of interest

The University will not appoint as External Examiners anyone in the following categories or circumstances:

(i) Member of a governing body or committee of the University or one of its academic partners, or a current employee of the University or one of its academic partners;

(ii) Anyone with a close professional, contractual or personal relationship with a member of staff or student involved with the programme of study;

(ii) Anyone required to assess colleagues who are recruited as students to the programme of study;

(iv) Anyone who is, or knows they will be, in a position to influence significantly the future of students on the programme of study;

(v) Anyone significantly involved in recent or current substantive collaborative research activities with a member of staff closely involved in the delivery, management or assessment of the programme(s) or modules in question;

(vi) Former staff or students of the institution unless a period of five years has elapsed and all students taught by or with the external examiner have completed their programme(s);

(vii) A reciprocal arrangement involving cognate programmes at another institution;

(viii) The succession of an external examiner from an institution by a colleague from the same department in the same institution;

(ix) The appointment of more than one external examiner from the same department of the same institution.

10 The Appointment and Role of External Moderators

10.1 External Moderators may be appointed to assist the External Examiner(s) either where assessment is conducted in a language other than English, or in those curriculum areas where there is a demonstrable difficulty in recruiting External Examiners who can meet criterion in S9.

10.2 The appointment of External Moderators to programmes assessed in a language other than English will be subject to the additional criterion of possessing a high level of proficiency in both English and the language(s) in which students are taught and assessed.

10.3 In all cases, ADQC will need to be assured that there is an External Examiner with sufficient cognate expertise to discharge, on the advice of the proposed External Moderator(s), the responsibilities set out in Sections S2 and S5.

10.4 External Moderators operate in support and under the direction of the External Examiner with the following roles and responsibilities:

(i) To undergo appropriate induction and/or training;

(ii) In liaison with the designated External Examiner to establish a clear understanding of factors affecting academic standards;

(iii) To liaise as necessary, and as agreed by the External Examiner, with the programme/module leader;

(iv) To review the marking of a range of samples of student work submitted in its original form, dealing particularly with examination scripts;

(v) To monitor the translation of examination papers and assignment titles where assessment is conducted in a language other than English.

(vi) To report to the External Examiner on the quality of work seen for each mode of assessment in each module sampled, in accordance with an agreed pro-forma

(vii) To submit a summary report, in an agreed format, to the designated External Examiner and to the University, following each assessment period;

(viii) In exceptional cases the External Moderator may wish to draw particular issues to the direct attention of the University, in which case an appropriate report may be submitted to CQA who will forward it as necessary to the Chair of Academic Board via the Chair of ADQC.

11 External Examiners’ Reports

11.1 External Examiners are required to report, in a format determined by Academic Board.

11.2 The report should be submitted electronically to CQA who will register its receipt, check that it conforms to University requirements and forward to relevant colleagues. The Chair of ADQC or their nominee will consider any matters of significant concern with the Chair of Academic Board. 

11.3 At institutional level the general issues and themes arising from reports are reviewed by ADQC.

11.4 Colleges will be responsible for ensuring that each External Examiner report is considered by the relevant Programme Committee and College Quality Assurance and Enhancement Committee (CQAEC), and for submitting a timely response to the external examiner's report.

11.5 External Examiners have a right to raise any matter of serious concern with the Chair of Academic Board, if necessary by means of a separate confidential written report. A considered and timely response to any confidential report received will be produced by the College managing that provision, outlining any actions to be taken as a result.

11.6 Where an external examiner has a serious concern relating to systemic failings with the academic standards of a programme or programmes and has exhausted all published internal procedures, including the submission of a confidential report to the Vice Chancellor, he/she may invoke QAA's Concerns Procedure or inform the relevant professional, statutory or regulatory body.

12 Resignation, Termination of Appointment or Standing Down

12.1 General Principles

(i) The distinction between resignation, termination of appointment and standing down should be clearly understood.

(ii) Termination of Appointment of an External Examiner is regarded as extremely serious and can only be authorised by Academic Board.

(iii) Initial responsibility for considering the contribution of External Examiners and identifying any cause for concern, or for reviewing the requirements of programmes in relation to the number of External Examiners required or their duties, rests with the relevant College.

12.2 Resignation

(i) Other than in exceptional circumstances, e.g. serious illness, an External Examiner is normally required to give six months’ notice of resignation, in order to protect students on the programme and the quality assurance arrangements associated with it. A resignation should normally take effect at the end of an academic year.

(ii) An External Examiner who wishes to resign should write formally to CQA stating their reason for resigning, if this is anything other than personal circumstances, e.g. because of concerns regarding the operation of the programme, the University's regulations or any type of conflict with the College/Programme or the University.

(iii) The Chair of ADQC will report such resignations to Academic Board.

(iv) Following a resignation due only to personal circumstances, within a normal period of appointment, an External Examiner may be re-appointed for the remainder of the period if appropriate.

12.3 Termination of Appointment

(i) Should a College/Programme conclude that the appointment of an External Examiner should be terminated, the relevant PVC Dean/Director will present the reasons for this decision and supporting evidence to the Chair of ADQC.

(ii) Grounds for the termination of appointment include:

  • Failure to properly carry out the duties and responsibilities of an External Examiner;
  • Failure to produce an adequate report;
  • Conduct contrary to that required and expected of an External Examiner of the University;
  • If a conflict of interest arises which cannot be satisfactorily resolved

Whistleblowing or raising a matter of serious concern with the Vice-Chancellor or QAA does not constitute grounds for termination of appointment.

The Chair of ADQC having considered the case and, if appropriate, corresponded with the External Examiner, will make a recommendation to Academic Board.

Academic Board's decision will be formally notified to the External Examiner, and reported to the Chair of ADQC and the relevant PVC Dean/Director by the Secretary to Academic Board.

12.4 Standing Down

(i) In the event that the circumstances of a programme change (e.g. discontinuation of a programme or a significant reduction in student numbers) in such a way that an External Examiner, or part of an external examining team, is no longer required, the College/UDOL/Programme should notify the Chair of ADQC, via CQA, of the situation who will then inform the External Examiner. 

(ii) The standing down of an External Examiner within the period of appointment will normally occur at the end of an academic year. Such action will reflect only the changed circumstances of the programme in question. An External Examiner who stands down in this way may be re-appointed at a future date, in accordance with the University's procedures.