External examining of taught programmes policy and code of practice

Updated on 5 April 2023

This policy sets out the role, powers and responsibilities the University assigns to its external examiners for undergraduate and taught postgraduate programmes

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1. General principles

1.1 The conduct of examinations in the University is governed by decisions taken from time to time by Senate. In that regard, it has been agreed that one or more external examiner(s) must be appointed for all provision that leads to a higher education award.

1.2 This Policy sets out the role, powers and responsibilities the University assigns to its external examiners for undergraduate and taught postgraduate programmes. It is intended for their information, as well as for Deans, Associate Deans, staff involved in assessment and members of Boards of Examiners.

1.3 The primary role of the external examiner is to provide an external and unbiased perspective on the fairness and appropriateness of the University's student assessment processes as a key element of the University's procedures for the quality assurance of its academic programmes. In their performance of this critical role, external examiners form an integral part of the University's procedures to assure the security of the academic standards of its programmes and awards. Other specific roles that external examiners may be asked to perform are described in Section 13.

1.4 In accepting the role of external examiner, the University expects that the examiner has agreed with his/her own institution the time they need to fulfil their duties. Similarly, the University recognises the importance, and mutual benefit, of the work undertaken by its own staff as external examiners and requires that Schools agree with staff the time required to fulfil this role.

1.5 The University aims to align its policies and practices with the expectations and indicators of sound practice described (Assessment of students and accreditation of prior learning) and External examining of the QAA's Quality Code for Higher Education which is available at: External Expertise (qaa.ac.uk)

1.6 The University's programmes take account of:

  • the relevant national subject benchmarking information Subject Benchmark Statements (qaa.ac.uk)
  • the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework (SCQF, http://www.scqf.org.uk/); and
  • the Framework for Qualifications of Higher Education Institutions in Scotland.

It is in the context of these documents that external examiners are invited to make their evaluations..

1.7 Individuals who can demonstrate appropriate evidence of the following shall be eligible for appointment as external examiners:

  • competence and experience in the fields covered by the programme of study, or parts thereof
  • knowledge and understanding of UK sector agreed reference points for the maintenance of academic standards and assurance and enhancement of quality, including relevant subject benchmarks and the SCQF
  • relevant academic and/or professional qualifications to at least the level of the qualification being externally examined, and/or extensive practitioner experience where appropriate
  • competence and experience in the design and operation of a variety of assessment tasks appropriate to the subject as well as assessment procedures
  • sufficient standing, credibility and breadth of experience within the discipline to be able to command the respect of academic peers and, where appropriate, professional peers
  • familiarity with the standard to be expected of students to achieve the award that is to be assessed
  • 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)
  • meeting applicable criteria set by professional, statutory or regulatory bodies
  • awareness of current developments in the design and delivery of relevant curricula
  • competence and experience relating to the enhancement of the student learning experience

1.8 This Policy on External Examining is aligned with the University’s Assessment Policy for Taught Provision

1.9 The University Quality and Academic Standards Committee (QASC) is responsible for oversight of the appointment of external examiners and the handling of external examiners' reports. The management processes are described in the accompanying document Handbook for Schools about External Examining.

2. Appointments

2.1 External examiners are appointed by the University Court on the recommendation of the relevant Dean and/or Associate Dean. Appointments are endorsed by the QASC

2.2 Before making such a recommendation the Dean or Associate Dean of the relevant School normally ascertains, by informal enquiry to the proposed appointee, that he/she is willing to serve as external examiner.

2.3 When a vacancy arises, a suitable external examiner is nominated by the appropriate School Dean or Associate Dean, normally after consultation with the School Quality and Academic Standards Committee (SQASC) or the School Board. That nomination is submitted to the University’s Quality and Academic Standards (QAS) office via the relevant Dean or Associate Dean using the University pro forma for the appointment of external examiners together with a brief c.v. and supporting information which confirms that the person nominated has the necessary seniority and experience and meets the other requirements set out in this statement.

2.4 External examiners are appointed for a period of four years. External examiners may be appointed for no more than four years, although under exceptional circumstances (e.g. when a programme is coming to an end), a further one year extension may be considered to ensure continuity. No person who has held office for a continuous period of three or more years is eligible for reappointment until a period of five years or more has elapsed since their last appointment.

2.5 Former staff or students of the University shall not be eligible for appointment as an external examiner unless a period of five years has elapsed from the date of demitting office or graduation respectively, and all students taught by or with the external examiner have completed their programme(s).

2.6 A person appointed as external examiner may not normally hold simultaneously more than one other external examinership for taught programmes at another institution during the period of appointment as an external examiner for the University

2.7 An external examiner shall not normally be appointed from a department 1 of another institution in which a member of staff of the Dundee School is serving as an external examiner

2.8 The external examiner should not succeed a colleague from the examiner’s home department and institution.

2.9 More than one external examiner from the same department of the same institution should not be appointed.

2.10 Persons appointed as external examiners should not have any direct interests or ties to the University which might be sufficient to cast doubts upon their independence. Specifically, individuals in any of the following categories should not normally be appointed as external examiners:

  • members of the University Court or other University Committees, employees of the University (including individuals with honorary or emeritus appointments) or employees of collaborating partner institutions
  • anyone with a close professional, contractual or personal relationship with a member of staff or student involved with the programme of study
  • anyone who, if appointed, would be required to assess colleagues who are recruited as students to the programme of study
  • anyone who is, or knows they will be, in a position to influence significantly the future of students on the programme of study beyond the examination
  • anyone significantly involved in recent or current substantive collaborative research or teaching activities with a member of staff closely involved in the delivery, management or assessment of the programme(s) or modules in question.

2.11 Any request for the early termination of an external examiner's contract will only be considered in exceptional circumstances by the Director of Quality and Academic Standards in consultation with the relevant Dean

3. Status of external examiners

3.1 External examiners are full members of the relevant Board(s) of Examiners.

4. Information required on appointment

4.1 Once ratified by the Director of QAS, acting on behalf of the QASC, the QAS office issues the letter of appointment for new external examiners reporting the conditions of their employment together with a copy of the Handbook for External Examiners which includes links to this Policy and Code of Practice on External Examining of Taught Programmes and the University's Assessment Policy for Taught Provision.

4.2 On appointment, Schools are expected to send external examiners full information on the courses which are to be examined including:

  • name(s) and contact details of academic and administration leads
  • list of modules associated with the role
  • an overview of the workload and anticipated student numbers
  • programme and module specifications
  • the student handbook(s)
  • degree regulations
  • assessment criteria
  • information relating to requirements of Professional, Statutory or Regulatory Bodies (PSRBs) where relevant
  • copies of examination papers from previous years (where appropriate)
  • details of methods of assessment including the way in which the results of individual papers or other unit of assessment are aggregated, averaged or profiled to produce an overall result
  • details of any exemption schemes
  • semester dates and proposed dates for meetings of the Board(s) of Examiners
  • a statement of the School's examination procedures.

4.3 Relevant programme/module information should be updated as necessary during the period of appointment. Schools may wish to provide external examiners with copies of the relevant QAA ELIR reports, if available, and any internal programme and module review documents which may be deemed helpful. Schools should also arrange for an appropriate briefing and induction for external examiners.

5. Approval of summative assessment assignments

5.1 All summative assessment assignments that contribute to the final award (e.g. ordinary or honours degrees, postgraduate certificates or diplomas, masters degrees) must be agreed with the external examiner(s). Any exceptions must be agreed in advance with the external examiner. This includes agreeing the approach to oversight of the setting of assignments that make a minor contribution to the overall module grade.

5.2 Draft summative assessment assignments should be sent to external examiners in sufficient time for them to be able to make comments, propose changes and for discussion of any proposed changes to take place where necessary. Where appropriate, summative assessment assignments should be accompanied by model answers or solutions and a marking scheme for each assignment.

6. Written examinations and coursework contributing to the final assessment

6.1 All examination scripts and coursework submissions that contribute to the final assessment should be made available to external examiners, with the expectation that an agreed sample will be scrutinised by external examiners.

6.2 Appropriate examination scripts and coursework submissions should be provided to external examiners in advance of the meeting of the Board of Examiners. Schools should agree in advance with external examiners what constitutes 'appropriate examination scripts and coursework submissions' in accordance with the guiding principle that external examiners should receive sufficient evidence to enable them to determine that internal marking has been appropriate and consistent. The normal expectation is that a spectrum of scripts drawn from the top, middle and bottom of the mark range including all scripts of borderline candidates is scrutinised by external examiners.

6.3 The role of external examiner(s) in the scrutiny of work at SHE (Scottish Higher Education) levels 1 and 2 should be agreed between the School and the external examiner(s). Whilst it is expected that there is appropriate external oversight of quality and standards for all credit awarded by the University, care should be taken not to over-burden external examiners.

7. Oral, practical and clinical examinations

7.1 External examiners may be required to conduct oral examinations and, in cases where only a proportion of candidates are chosen for oral examinations, should agree in advance with the School(s) the principles governing the selection of candidates.

7.2 External examiners should, where possible, have the same degree of involvement in both the content and the marking of practical examinations as they have for written papers.

7.3 Where applicable, external examiners should have appropriate oversight of clinical examinations, and in certain instances may be required to take part in the examination process.

7.4 External examiners may meet students on programmes they examine with the agreement of the School concerned.

8. Honours classification

8.1 The University's honours classification scheme is described in the Assessment Policy for Taught Provision

9. Conduct of examination boards

9.1 The conduct of examination boards is described in Section 6 of the University’s Assessment Policy 

10. Plagiarism and academic dishonesty

10.1 The University has a Code of Practice on Plagiarism and Academic Dishonesty which is published on the Academic and Corporate Governance website.

10.2 External examiners may, under exceptional circumstances, be consulted in cases of suspected academic dishonesty but the nature and extent of any such consultation shall be determined on a case by case basis by the Director of Academic and Corporate Governance.

11. External examiners' reports

11.1 External examiners are required to report to the Vice-Principal (Education) annually on a pro forma provided by the University. The pro forma follows the recommendations of relevant sections of the QAA Quality Code and includes questions on the following areas:

  • adequacy of information supplied on the programme structure, content and methods of assessment
  • satisfactory administration of the examination process
  • appropriateness of the assessment processes to the subject, level and intended learning outcomes and to the students
  • comprehensiveness of examinations/assessments with regard to the programme examined
  • adequacy of facilities and material for practical and/or clinical examinations
  • adequacy of opportunities to see scripts of borderline candidates
  • sufficiency of access to an appropriate number and range of papers to enable a view to be formed that internal marking was appropriate and consistent
  • sufficiency of access to coursework to enable the exercise of effective external judgement
  • impartial and equitable procedures followed by the Board of Examiners
  • sufficiency of the definition of the programme aims sufficiently and appropriateness of the subject matter
  • appropriateness of the programme structure and content in relation to the level at which it is taught and assessed
  • the quality and effectiveness of teaching and the methods used as far as can be determined through scrutiny of assessed work
  • standards
  • failure rates
  • the comparability of the distribution of final honours classifications with other UK institutions
  • consistency of standards achieved by students with standards elsewhere in UK universities and with national subject benchmarks, the SCQF, programme specifications and PSRB requirements
  • how any issues raised in last year’s annual report have been either addressed, or responded to, by the Programme Leader/Head of Discipline/Dean

The pro forma also includes an invitation to comment on the following areas:

  • good practice and innovation relating to learning, teaching and assessment within the programme/module to which attention should be drawn
  • possibilities to enhance the quality of learning opportunities and teaching and assessment experiences provided to students
  • requirements of the relevant PSRB (where applicable)

11.2 External examiner reports are submitted through the External Examiner Portal for recording. The School provides a response to each external examiner noting, where necessary, any specific, major points of concern and how these will be managed. Associate Deans (Learning and Teaching, and Quality and Academic Standards) are expected to make examiners’ reports and associated correspondence available to the relevant teaching staff and student representatives.

11.3 The Quality and Academic Standards office will provide a review and analysis of External Examiner Report data to be made available to schools. This data will then contribute to an annual report for Quality and Academic Standards Committee.

11.4 Schools must discuss issues where remedial action is required or recommended and provide an appropriate response to the external examiner(s). The School Quality and Academic Standards Committee has oversight of external examiners’ reports and the communication of outcomes to the external examiners, the Quality and Academic Standards office and the action taken. The School response should be provided to external examiners and made available to the Quality and Academic Standards office within 6 weeks of receiving the report.

11.5 The Senate Quality and Academic Standards Committee considers annually an overview of external examiner reports.

11.6 Payment of the external examiner's fee is authorised on receipt of the report. Payment is arranged by the relevant lead School.

11.7 External examiners' reports and related correspondence are used extensively as part of the University's annual and periodic programme review process as well as in the external processes of quality assurance and enhancement.

11.8 External examiners may also submit confidential reports raising any matter of serious concern to the Principal if they so wish, to which a response detailing the actions taken will be made within three months of receiving the report.

11.9 Should serious concerns relating to systemic failings with academic standards of a programme or programmes fail to be addressed by internal procedures of the University, including the submission of a confidential report to the Principal, external examiners may invoke the QAA’s Scottish Concerns Scheme

12. Student participation

12.1 The names, positions and institutions of external examiners should be communicated to students, normally through publication in student handbooks or being made available on the Virtual Learning Environment.

12.2 All students may view external examiners reports relating to their programme of study, with the exception of confidential reports made directly and separately to the Principal. Schools are responsible for retaining external examiners reports and making them available to students on request.

12.3 Student representatives should be invited to contribute to Schools’ consideration of external examiners’ comments and recommendations.

13. Consultation with external examiners on other matters

13.1 External examiners may be consulted on or asked to provide oversight in the following areas:

  • recognition of prior learning and/or articulation agreements where credit obtained elsewhere contributes to an award of the University
  • student placement activities where these are integral to the award
  • the introduction of new programmes or modules within their area of expertise
  • any substantial changes to the programmes for which they are external examiner
  • periodic programme reviews.

Academic and Corporate Governance