Role of the external examiner

  • The external examiner’s principal role is to provide a judgement on the rigour of the University’s processes for maintaining academic standards, and on the comparability of the standards achieved by students on Oxford Brookes awards with those on similar programmes in other UK higher education institutions.  The primary formal roles of external examiners are therefore to:

    1. Assure academic rigour and equity of treatment in assessment which contributes to final awards;
    2. Monitor and provide assurance that the agreed assessment process has taken place, in accordance with the approved regulations governing the programme, and see evidence that the requisite internal moderation procedures have been complied with;
    3. Monitor and provide assurance that students have fulfilled the stated programme learning outcomes in their submission for conferment of the award;
    4. Approve proposed examination papers and draft coursework assessment briefs which count towards final awards, to ensure that students will be assessed fairly in relation to approved syllabuses and regulations, and in such a way that external examiners will be able to judge whether they have fulfilled the objectives of the programme and reached the required standard;
    5. See and agree samples of work from all students proposed for both the highest category of the award and for failure, and samples of the work of other students in order to satisfy themselves that each student is fairly classified;
    6. Provide advisory comments on the standard of marking for the internal examiners to act upon during the following year.
    7. The external examiner may also provide advice on other aspects of the provision, such as course content or teaching and learningstrategies.
  • The form of assessment for each module or programme component is specified in the definitive programme documentation as agreed through the programme approval process and modified from time to time through the appropriate procedure set out in the Quality & Standards Handbook. Drafts of final examination papers, and other assessment material that counts towards the final award, must be sent to external examiners for their approval (unless an assessment has not changed since it was last set, in which case the external examiner should be notified of this). External examiners on collaborative programmes must approve the assignment briefs and examination papers in the same way as for home provision, and an explanation for any variation in assessment for the home and collaborative programmes should be provided to the external examiner by the Liaison Manager.

    External examiners maintain an oversight of the processes for the assessment of all work that counts towards the final award by sampling assessed work. Normally, unless the number of assessment items is sufficiently small for all to be scrutinised, subject or programme teams will reach an agreement with external examiners on the size and scope of the sample of assessed work to be submitted for inspection. This should include representative samples of each grade or class of degree, borderline cases, cases of failure, malpractice or those affected by illness etc.

    Some forms of assessment are more difficult than others to sample (e.g. presentations, performances, etc) and Programme Leads should agree in advance with the external examiner on the sampling process for these types of assessment. Where an oral examination is compulsory for all students, this will be stated in the approved assessment strategy for a programme or module. If a viva voce examination is required, the external examiner should be present.

    External examiners should be sent copies of the relevant grading schemes and assessment criteria together with a record of marks for each assessment item. It is expected that any significant differences between first and second markers should have been resolved through the internal moderation process before submission to the external examiner. However, in exceptional circumstances external examiners may also be asked to:

    • contribute to decisions on borderline cases; or
    • comment on the marking standards of internal examiners and, if a problem is identified, recommend changes to marks, taking due account of the effect of any changes on the rest of the cohort.

    At least one external examiner for the provision under consideration must be present at every examination committee, either in person or via telephone or video link (COVID-19 restrictions mean that examination committees will be held remotely via an appropriate platform, such as Google Meet or Zoom for the foreseeable future). An examination committee which does not include an approved external examiner is not authorised to recommend the conferment of awards. Failure to attend such meetings without good reason will be seen as a breach of contract for which the University has the right to terminate the examiner’s appointment.

    In order to facilitate attendance, the Programme Portfolio Manager or Programme Administrator should provide external examiners with the dates of the relevant examination committee meetings as soon as possible after the start of each academic year. The responsibility for confirming marks and awards is the collective responsibility of the examination committee, but the external examiner must endorse the recommendations of the committee. In the event of a dispute between internal and external examiners which cannot be resolved, the matter should be referred to the Chair of Academic Board (the VC) or their nominee.

    This is not a requirement of the external examiner’s role, but they may, by arrangement with the School/Department, meet students in order to assist them to judge the overall quality and standards of the programme/s. These meetings should be conducted in accordance with the definition of the external examiner’s role.

    The secondary roles of external examiners are to:

    • be consulted about and agree to any proposed changes in the approved progression and assessment requirements which will directly affect students currently on the programme;
    • comment and give advice on the content and structure of the curriculum, assessment practices, and on teaching and learning strategies on the programme;

    External examiners will also be consulted on changes to programmes where these lead to alterations to learning outcomes and assessment. The external examiner may be requested to act on occasion as a ‘critical friend’ giving advice on curriculum development to ensure the maintenance of quality and standards in new and revised programmes. The external examiner must be informed of major changes to programmes and may be consulted in advance about proposed changes, particularly where they affect programme titles, learning outcomes, assessment criteria or the assessment process.

    These may extend to:

    1. obtaining reasonable access to any assessed parts of the programme/s offered by the University - it will be normal practice for the external examiner to review scripts and other assessed work for the whole academic year at the time of the final exam committee meeting at the end of the academic year. However, the external examiner may agree with the Head of School/Department to receive assessed work at other appropriate times throughout the year, as appropriate to the nature of the provision.
    2. commenting on work other than that submitted towards final awards (for example, level 4 work, as this contributes to the overall GPA).
    3. requesting additional sampling of students’ work where an equity issue is highlighted by the normal external examining procedures;
    4. access the evidence used in the assessment of APL claims and comment on the procedure;
    5. select candidates for individual interview, if appropriate;
    6. participate in discussions relating to cases of suspected or proven academic misconduct by students.