4. External examiners

4.1 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 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 Pro-VC (Education) and the Proctors. [Examination Regulations, 2014, Regulations for the Conduct of University Examinations, Part 4, cl. 4.15, p.16, l. 45 – p. 17, l. 2]

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 college or university or other institution shall be nominated to serve at the same time as external examiners in the same examination. [ibid.,cl. 4.18, p.17, ll. 11-15]

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, p. 17, ll. 8-10]

An external examiner who fails to submit the annual report required by the University may continue in office only with the permission of the Pro-VC (Education) and the Proctors. [ibid.,cl. 4.16, p. 17, ll. 5-7]

External examiners should have access to all examination papers in their draft form (ibid., Part 8, cl. 8.2, p. 20, ll. 28-30]; 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. 6.7(2), p. 19, ll. 18-19]

4.2. Policy requirements

External examiners are required to sit on the boards of examiners for all public examinations except the First Public Examination. 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, outside courses with very small numbers of students, this is likely to impose an excessive load on the external examiner concerned.

Bodies responsible for nominations should have available for scrutiny, in the first instance by the Proctors, brief details of each individual proposed as an external examiner (e.g. current post, relevant experience, etc.) along the lines of the summaries boards forward when they are nominating external electors to professorships or external members of review committees.

Appointments of external examiners should normally observe the requirements set out in the Quality Code which are reproduced as Annex J: UK-wide criteria for appointing external examiners.

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, responsibilities and powers within the examination process, from the responsible body to 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 being a minimum requirement). External examiners should be supplied with a copy of the examination conventions. At this point, external examiners should also be informed that they have the right to raise any matter of serious concern with the head of the institution, if necessary by a separate confidential written report.

Supervisory bodies should ensure that all those involved in the examining process understand the University’s expectation that external examiners will be used primarily for the purposes of moderation and arbitration. National guidance requires external examiners to report on three major areas related to standards:

(i)       whether or not an institution is maintaining the threshold academic standards set for its awards in accordance with the frameworks for higher education qualifications and applicable subject benchmark statements;         

(ii)      whether or not 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;

(iii)     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.

It also requires informative comment and recommendations on:

  • good practice and innovation relating to learning, teaching and assessment observed by the external examiners;
  • opportunities to enhance the quality of learning opportunities provided to students.

Within this framework, 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 responsibilities, i.e. to:

(a)       have opportunity to comment on all examination papers in draft form [as required under Examination Regulations, 2014, Part 8, cl.8.2, p. 20, ll. 28-30];

(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 examining boards 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) and the timetabling of arrangements should take account of this.