Appointment of External Examiners

Appointment of External Examiners

External examiners are appointed by the Education Committee on the recommendation of the relevant School.

Prior to making such a recommendation the Head of School normally ascertains, by informal enquiry of the proposed appointee, that the nominee is willing to serve as an external examiner.

External examiners are appointed as subject or as programme external examiners. The nature of the appointment determines the work which the external examiner is expected to undertake, and the requirements for attendance at Boards of Examiners meetings. Further information can be found in the Role of the External Examiner section of this Code of Practice. In some cases, an external examiner may hold both roles simultaneously; in such instances, both the external examiner and the relevant Board(s) of Examiners should be clear concerning the remit of the external examiner.

Nominations should include a CV and sufficient supporting information which confirms that the nominee has the necessary seniority and experience and meets the UK-wide set of criteria for appointing external examiners outlined in the QAA guidance below. Requests for an exemption from any of the criteria should be clearly outlined in the nomination form, and will be considered by the Education Committee.

Where an appointment at Queen’s is an individual’s first experience of external examining, the appointment should be supported by a mentor. This can be either an existing external examiner for the programme, or a member of Queen’s staff with experience as an external examiner for another institution. Details of the proposed mentoring arrangements should be outlined in the nomination form.

Appointments to teams of external examiners should normally be staggered, to ensure continuity of oversight. 

National Criteria for the Appointment of External Examiners

The UK Quality Code for Higher Education, Chapter B7: External Examining

Indicator 5: Institutions apply the following UK-wide set of criteria for appointing external examiners and make every effort to ensure that their external examiners are competent to undertake the responsibilities defined by the institution.

Institutions use the criteria to ensure that potential conflicts of interest are identified and resolved prior to appointing external examiners or as soon as they arise.

Person Specification

a. Institutions 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 depth 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)

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

(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

Conflicts of Interest

b. Institutions do not appoint as external examiners anyone in the following categories or circumstances:

(i) Member of a governing body or committee of the appointing institution or one of its collaborative partners, or a current employee of the appointing institution or one of its collaborative partners

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

(iii) 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

Terms of office

c. The duration of an external examiner’s appointment will normally be for four years, with an exceptional extension of one year to ensure continuity

d. 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

e. External examiners normally hold no more than two external examiner appointments for taught programmes/modules at any point in time.

Nomination and Appointment: Further Guidance

Only persons of sufficient seniority and breadth of experience in the subject discipline(s) to be able to command authority should be nominated. Therefore, an external examiner should normally have substantial experience in teaching and examining and should hold an academic appointment of at least Senior Lecturer level.

Notwithstanding the above, nominations for suitable examiners with less experience will be considered with appropriate supporting information, for example examiners from industry or the professions.

If the Head of School approves the nomination, the External Examiner Nomination Form (signed by the Head of School) will be forwarded to Academic Affairs for approval by the Education Committee. All sections of the form must be properly completed.

Once the Education Committee has approved a nomination, Academic Affairs will send the external examiner a formal letter of appointment, together with information on the University’s Code of Practice on Examinations and Assessment, and information about fees and expenses for external examiners.

External examiners are normally appointed for a period of four years, meaning four years’ service within Queen’s as a whole, not a particular subject. 

Appointments to undergraduate programmes will run from 1 October in the year of appointment to 30 September in the final year.

Appointments to taught postgraduate programmes will run from 1 October in the year of appointment to 30 November in the final year; this will permit the outgoing external examiner to moderate the dissertation for the final cohort of the appointment, and will offer a short period of opportunity for the incoming external examiner to shadow the outgoing external examiner before assuming full responsibility for the programme.

External examiners who retire from employment during their term of office can continue until the end of the period of appointment. The appointment of an external examiner will not normally extend beyond three years after retirement.

A person who has been appointed as an external examiner may not normally be re-appointed before five years have elapsed since their previous appointment. Requests for exceptions to this regulation must be made in writing to Academic Affairs, clearly setting out the reasons for the request. Academic Affairs will arrange for the Education Committee to consider the request.

Former students or members of Queen’s staff will not normally be appointed as an external examiner before five years have elapsed since they left the University.

An external examiner should not normally be succeeded by an external examiner from the same institution. Exceptions may be permitted, however, where there is a very limited number of potential external examiners in a subject.

Conflicts of Interest

A person appointed as an external examiner may not normally, simultaneously, hold more than one other external examinership for undergraduate or taught postgraduate programmes during the period of appointment as an external examiner in the University.

An external examiner shall not normally be appointed from a department of another institution in which a member of staff of the Queen’s department is serving as an external examiner.

An examiner shall not be appointed if they are a member of a governing body or committee of the University or one of its collaborative partners, or a current employee of the University or one of its collaborative partners.

Exceptions to the Nomination Criteria

Where a School proposes a nomination where one or more of either the national or institutional criteria for appointment are not met, a request for an exception should be provided on the relevant section of the external examiner nomination form. Academic Affairs will arrange for the request to be considered by the Education Committee.

Extension to an Examiner’s Appointment

There may, exceptionally, be reasons for seeking an extension to the normal four year term of office for a particular external examiner. Where a Head of School wishes to propose an extension to the normal four year term of office for an external examiner, a request should be made in writing, stating the reason(s) for the extension, to Academic Affairs. Academic Affairs will arrange for the request to be considered by the Education Committee. If the extension is approved, Academic Affairs will write to the Head of School and the examiner with details of the terms of the extension and its duration.

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.

Amendments to Existing Appointments

The amendment of a subject external examiner’s module portfolio will not normally require approval by the Education Committee, but should be notified in writing to Academic Affairs.

Changes to a programme external examiner’s duties (for example, taking responsibility for a new or additional programme), or changes which involve a subject external examiner assuming programme responsibility, will normally require approval by the Education Committee. A completed nomination form should be forwarded to Academic Affairs.

Replacing Examiners

If a replacement is required for an examiner who has come to the end of the normal four year period of office, the appointment procedures set out above should be followed.

A substitute examiner will be appointed if the original examiner is unable to continue to the end of the appointment period. This may be done in one of two ways, depending on the time scale:

  1. Following the normal nomination procedures where time allows; or
  2. On an emergency basis (see below).

Except in cases where an external examiner has indicated that they cannot complete their term of office, a Board may not propose the replacement of an external examiner before their term of office has expired without the permission of the Director of Academic and Student Affairs.

Emergency Appointments

The Head of School should forward any request for an emergency appointment to the Director of Academic and Student Affairs in writing, accompanied by the Standard External Examiner Nomination Form, giving the reasons why an emergency appointment is required.

The Director of Academic and Student Affairs may authorise an emergency appointment for one year only. The external examiner should then be nominated to the Education Committee in the normal way, for the remaining three years of the normal term of office.

Terminating the Contract

Whilst it is hoped that such a situation will not arise, the University reserves the right to give notice of premature termination of appointment to an external examiner whose performance or general conduct is unsatisfactory or incompatible with the ethos of the School in which they examine. Where such a situation does arise, the School must contact the external examiner and attempt to resolve the matter informally. If this attempt fails, the Director of Academic and Student Affairs, in consultation with the School, may issue a written warning to the external examiner, although this will not be a requirement where more urgent action is appropriate. Should it become necessary to prematurely terminate the appointment, this will be subject to the authorisation of the Pro-Vice-Chancellor Education and Students, in consultation with the Director of Academic and Student Affairs and Head of School.

 Examples of circumstances which may prompt premature termination of contract include:

  1. Non-attendance at Board of Examiners meetings without the prior agreement of the Chair of the Board of Examiners.
  2. Repeated non-submission of reports within the specified time.
  3. Non-fulfilment of other duties identified in the University’s Code of Practice on Examinations and Assessment.

Neither the raising of well-founded concerns about academic standards, nor the submission of a confidential report to the Vice-Chancellor (whether or not followed by the submission of a concern to QAA or a relevant professional body), is a valid ground for termination.

The external examiner may terminate the appointment contract early by giving at least three months’ notice of termination to Academic Affairs.

Information to be sent to an External Examiner on Appointment

On appointment, Schools are required to send external examiners full information on the programmes which are to be examined. This should include:

  1. Programme specifications.
  2. Module outlines/handbooks.
  3. Copies of examination papers from previous years (if appropriate).
  4. Details of methods of assessment.
  5. Proposed dates for meetings of the Board(s) of Examiners.
  6. A statement of School examination procedures.

Such information should be updated as necessary during the period of appointment.

Problems or Difficulties

An external examiner who experiences any problems in carrying out their duties is advised to contact Academic Affairs immediately.

Information for Students

The name, position and institution of external examiners should be included in School module/programme information provided to students. Schools can fulfil this requirement in a number of ways, for example, by including this information in online Student Handbooks; module information; information provided on School websites or on Student Sharepoint sites where appropriate. It is important that students have an understanding of what an external examiner does and indeed does not do. The following phrase may be included with this information:

The External Examiner system enables the University to ensure that it awards qualifications at an appropriate standard and that student performance is judged appropriately. The External Examiner does not normally carry out marking of assessed work though they can make recommendations if they think marks across the module seem out of line with the marking criteria for the module. The External Examiner has the opportunity to see and comment on all examination papers, on a sample of examination scripts and other assessed work. They sit on examination boards and their views are taken very seriously. At the end of the academic year, the External Examiner provides a report on the programme and Schools provide a response to any issues raised. Where the External Examiner has raised issues with the University, the University’s Courses and Regulations Group provides a response. You are entitled to see the report for your programme and should ask your Adviser of Studies or Personal Tutor how this will be made available. You should not contact the External Examiner directly.