3. External Examiners

3.1. Relevant regulations

Examination Regulations, Regulations for the Conduct of University Examinations, Part 6: External Examiners, www.admin.ox.ac.uk/examregs/2017-18/rftcoue-p6exteexam/

3.2. Policy requirements

Individuals may be nominated to serve as external examiner in one of two categories: either (1) as an external arbiter of standards or (2) to provide academic expertise not otherwise obtainable within the University. There must be an external examiner in category (1) on the board of examiners for all public examinations except the FPE. The same individual may only serve in both categories at the same time with the permission of the Proctors.

All nominations of external examiners by supervisory bodies (or nominating committees which have delegated responsibility for nominations) submitted to the Proctors 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:exapp1718).  Supervisory bodies should take care to list experience relevant to the Board for which the nomination is made; for undergraduate examining , experience as examiner, chair, or external examiner at undergraduate level is needed, not, for example, a list of PhDs examined.

Where an individual is nominated to serve in category (2) above (i.e. to serve as an examiner or an assessor to provide academic expertise not otherwise obtainable within the University) the requirements set out in the rest of section 3 do not apply.

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 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 role, 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). External examiners should be sent the timetable for meetings of the board at the earliest opportunity.

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.

The University does not expect external examiners routinely to be asked to act as arbiters in the reconciliation of marks (i.e. to act as third markers) in cases which can be resolved internally, but rather to be in a position to report on the soundness of the procedures used to reach final agreed marks. Similarly the University does not 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.

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 academic standards and the achievement of students are comparable with those in other UK higher education institutions of which the external examiners have experience;   

(b) 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;

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

In relation to process:

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

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

(f) whether issues raised in any previous reports were responded to and have been or are being, properly considered, and where applicable, acted upon.

External examiners are also invited to:

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

(h) comment on opportunities to enhance the quality of learning opportunities provided to students; and

(i) give an overview of their term of office (when concluded).

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, as set out in the Procedures for the annual monitoring of courses, www.admin.ox.ac.uk/edc/qa/pamc/.  External examiners are 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. 

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