3. External Examiners

3.1. Summary of relevant regulations

On the nomination of a supervisory body, or of a nominating committee acting on its behalf, the board of examiners for each University examination for the Second Public Examination must include a person as an external examiner who is approved to act as an external arbiter of standards; and it may also include a person as an external examiner to provide academic expertise not otherwise obtainable from within the University. All such nominations in either category must be designated as an external examiner by the PVC (Education) and the Proctors [Examination Regulations, Regulations for the Conduct of University Examinations, Part 4, cl. 4.15, www.admin.ox.ac.uk/examregs/2016-17/rftcoue-p4enomiandvaca].

Unless they are appointed to examine in separate subjects or in separate parts of an examination divided into Part I and Part II, no two persons who are, or have been during the two preceding years, on the teaching staff of the same university or other institution shall be nominated to serve at the same time as external examiners in the same examination [ibid., cl. 4.18, www.admin.ox.ac.uk/examregs/2016-17/rftcoue-p4enomiandvaca/].

A person holding a post in the University or any college or other Oxford institution associated with the University in the examination of candidates may not be approved or designated as an external examiner [ibid. cl. 4.17, www.admin.ox.ac.uk/examregs/2016-17/rftcoue-p4enomiandvaca].

An external examiner who fails to submit the annual report required by the University may continue in office only with the permission of the PVC (Education) and the Proctors [ibid., cl. 4.16, www.admin.ox.ac.uk/examregs/2016-17/rftcoue-p4enomiandvaca].

External examiners should have access to all examination papers in their draft form (ibid., Part 8, cl. 8.2, www.admin.ox.ac.uk/examregs/2016-17/rftcoue-p8aocasopapetoexam]; they are not required to attend the statutory meeting of examiners prior to the examination, but should be informed by the chair of its proceedings and decisions [ibid., Part 6, cl. 6.6(2), www.admin.ox.ac.uk/examregs/2016-17/rftcoue-p6chaiofexam].

 

[This summary is not intended to be exhaustive. The full regulations relating to the conduct of University Examinations are grouped together in the Examination Regulations (Examination Regulations, Regulations for the Conduct of University Examinations, www.admin.ox.ac.uk/examregs/2016-17/rftcofunivexam).]

3.2. Policy requirements

External examiners are required to sit on the boards of examiners for all public examinations except the FPE. It should be noted that individuals may be nominated to serve as external examiner in two categories: either (1) as an external arbiter of standards or (2) to provide academic expertise not otherwise obtainable within the University. The same individual may only serve in both categories at the same time with the permission of the Proctors, since it should be noted that, with the exception of courses with very small numbers of students, this is likely to impose an excessive load on the external examiner concerned.

All nominations of external examiners by supervisory bodies (or nominating committees which have delegated responsibility for nominations) submitted to the Proctors and PVC (Education) should be accompanied by the current CV of the proposed appointee, together with a supporting information form (available on WebLearn in the Examiner Appointments area (weblearn.ox.ac.uk/portal/site/:central:aad:ea:exapp1617).

Appointments of external examiners should normally observe the requirements set out in the UK Quality Code for Higher Education which are reproduced as Annex J: UK-wide criteria for appointing external examiners. In some cases, proposed appointments may not fulfil all the criteria set out in Annex J. This may occur, for example, when a proposed appointee has significant professional experience in a relevant field of business or industry, but lacks the formal qualifications anticipated, or in disciplines which are very small and specialist and where the pool of potential external examiners is therefore restricted. In cases such as these, full details should be included on the nomination form in order that the Proctors and PVC (Education) can determine whether a legitimate case exists for making an exception. In cases where exceptions are approved, supervisory bodies should ensure that appropriate additional training and support for the external examiner are implemented.

Supervisory bodies should ensure that external examiners have sufficient and appropriate information for their role, i.e. organisational procedures, practices, and academic regulations, including a written statement on the nature and scope of the external examiner’s roles, and responsibilities and powers within the examination process. This information from the supervisory body should be passed on by the secretary to the nominating committee at the time of invitation. External examiners should be supplied with all the course information needed to carry out their task in time for the commencement of their duties (the course handbook and examination conventions being the minimum requirement).

Boards of examiners will work with their external examiner(s) in a variety of ways, but the University expects external examiners to have sufficient evidence to enable them to discharge their responsibility to act as an external arbiter of standards, i.e. to:

(a) have opportunity to comment on all examination papers in draft form;

(b) have access to all scripts and other material submitted by candidates;

(c) see a sample of scripts including scripts at the borderlines of classes or Fail/Pass/Distinction;

(d) see a sufficient sample of dissertations, extended essays and course work to be able to comment on the marks awarded;

(e) be in a position to comment on the fairness of any procedures for the reconciliation of marks, moderation, scaling and adjustments arising out of medical or other evidence;

(f) be provided with sufficient evidence to endorse the outcomes of the assessment processes concerned.

In relation to (e), the University does not regard this as requiring the external examiner to give a definitive final mark where there is initial disagreement between first markers (although boards of examiners may choose to ask the external examiner(s) to act in this way), but to be in a position to report on the soundness of the procedures used to reach a final agreed mark. Similarly the University does not normally expect external examiners to make individual decisions relating to medical or other factors affecting performance but it does expect external examiners to be in a position to endorse the overall fairness of the procedures followed. External examiners understandably attach considerable importance to having sufficient time to undertake the tasks in (b)-(e) above; the timetabling of arrangements should take account of this.

Supervisory bodies should ensure that all those involved in the examining process understand the University’s expectation that external examiners will be used primarily to comment on the standard of its awards and the fairness of its examination procedures.

3.3. External examiners’ reports

The University requires external examiners to prepare a report addressed to the Vice-Chancellor at the end of each year of their period of office. External examiners are asked to report on the aspects listed below (which are drawn from the UK Quality Code for Higher Education, Chapter B7 ‘External Examining’):

In relation to academic standards:

(a) whether or not the threshold academic standards set for the University’s awards appropriately reflect the Frameworks for Higher Education Qualifications and applicable subject benchmark statements;      

(b) whether or not the assessment process measures student achievement rigorously and fairly against the intended outcomes of the course(s);

(c) whether or not the academic standards and the achievements of students are comparable with those in other UK higher education institutions of which the external examiners have experience;

In relation to process:

(d) whether sufficient information and evidence was received in a timely manner to enable the role to be fulfilled effectively;

(e) whether the assessment process was conducted in line with the University’s policies and regulations; and

(f) whether issues raised in any previous reports were responded to and  have been, or are being, addressed to their satisfaction.

External examiners are also invited to:

(g) give an overview of their term of office (when concluded);

(h) comment on good practice and innovation relating to learning, teaching and assessment they have observed; and

(i) comment on opportunities to enhance the quality of learning opportunities provided to students.

A form is provided to all external examiners for use when writing their report. The external examiner’s report should be sent to the Vice-Chancellor, c/o Education Policy Support, via external-examiners@admin.ox.ac.uk, with a copy to the relevant division. External examiners have the right to raise any matter of serious concern with the head of the institution, if necessary by a separate confidential written report.

Divisions should take steps to ensure that all external examiners receive feedback. The University is responsible for the standard of its awards, and is under no compulsion to implement particular recommendations made by external examiners, but the supervisory body must always be in a position to explain why it did or did not adopt a particular proposal.

The annual reports of external examiners are an important part of the University’s quality assurance framework. On behalf of Education Committee, officers monitor all external examiners’ reports on receipt to identify any matters of urgency and forward them to divisions, highlighting areas of particular concern as necessary, for consideration with the relevant examiners’ reports.

External examiners are specifically asked to return their reports as soon as possible after the completion of the examination process in order to assist academic committees with their consideration of the reports. All reports are considered by the relevant committees in faculties and departments and by divisions; composite reports are then provided for Education Committee and a consolidated report highlighting key points emerging from the year's reports is considered annually by or on behalf of Education Committee.

External examiners’ reports must also be made available to students.