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.

The immigration status of a nominee must be obtained by the School before submitting the nomination form to Academic Affairs. Following appointment, Schools must conduct a right to work check in line with the University procedure. Further guidance is available at https://www.qub.ac.uk/directorates/HumanResources/MoreDetails/EmploymentPractices/EligibilitytoWorkandPreventingIllegalWorking/.

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 sufficient supporting information to confirm that the nominee has the necessary seniority and experience and meets the UK-wide set of criteria for appointing external examiners as outlined in the QAA guidance. Nominations should include a URL for the external examiner’s institutional profile, or a CV if an appropriate URL is not available. Requests for an exemption from any of the criteria should be 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 School should nominate a mentor to provide support and advice. A mentor should be a member of Queen’s staff, who has experience as an external examiner at another institution and has no direct responsibility for the quality and standards of the provision under consideration. 

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

Nominations for the 2019-20 academic year should be submitted to Academic Affairs by 31 March 2019

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

The Education Committee will only appoint persons of sufficient seniority and breadth of experience in the subject discipline(s) to be able to command authority. 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.

If the Head of School approves the nomination, the School should forward the External Examiner Nomination Form to Academic Affairs for approval by the Education Committee. The School should ensure that all sections of the form are 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.

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 arrangement permits the outgoing external examiner to moderate the dissertation for the final cohort of the appointment and permits 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.

Exceptions to the Nomination Criteria

Where a School proposes a nomination that does not meet one or more of the criteria for appointment, it should provide a request for an exception on the relevant section of the external examiner nomination form. Academic Affairs will bring the request to the Education Committee for consideration.

Extension to an Examiner’s Appointment

There may be exceptional reasons for seeking an extension to the normal four-year term of office for a particular external examiner. Where a School wishes to propose an extension to the normal four-year term of office for an external examiner, it should forward a request in writing, stating the reason(s) for the extension, to Academic Affairs. Academic Affairs will bring the request to the Education Committee for consideration. If the Education Committee approves the extension, Academic Affairs will write to the Head of School and the examiner with details of the terms of the extension and its duration.

Amendments to Existing Appointments

The amendment of a Subject External Examiner’s module portfolio will not normally require approval by the Education Committee, but the School should notify this 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. The School should forward a completed nomination form 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 School should follow the appointment procedures set out above.

The School should nominate a replacement examiner if the original examiner is unable to continue to the end of the appointment period. The School should, depending on the time scale:

  1. Follow the normal nomination procedures where time allows; or
  2. Request an emergency appointment (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

An emergency appointment may be required when:

  • An external examiner is unexpectedly unable to fulfil their duties
  • An external examiner resigns from the appointment
  • A School fails to meet the 31 March deadline for the nomination of new and replacement external examiners.

The Head of School should forward any request for an emergency appointment to Academic Affairs in writing, accompanied by the , giving the reasons why an emergency appointment is required.

Academic Affairs will bring the request to the attention of the Director of Academic and Student Affairs, who may authorise an emergency appointment for one year only. Academic Affairs will then bring the nomination to the Education Committee for consideration in the normal way, for the remaining three years of the normal term of office.

Terminating the Contract

Whilst the University hopes that such a situation will not arise, it reserves the right to give notice of premature termination of appointment to an external examiner whose performance or 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 urgent action is appropriate. Should it become necessary to terminate the appointment prematurely, 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 that may prompt premature termination of the 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 and/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 modules/programmes that they will consider. 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.

The School should update the information as necessary during the period of appointment.

Problems or Difficulties

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

Information for Students

The name, position and institution of external examiners should be included in module/programme information provided to students. Schools can fulfil this requirement in a number of ways, for example, by including this information in Student Handbooks or on Student SharePoint sites. 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 Education Committee 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.