Academic Quality Handbook
- Full Handbook Contents
- 1 - Teaching and Learning at the University of Aberdeen: An Overview
- 2 - Quality Assurance in Higher Education: An Overview
- 3 - The Assurance and Enhancement of Academic Quality and Standards in Teaching and Learning
- 4 - Student Recruitment and Admissions
- 5 - Student Guidance and Learner Support
- 6 - Teaching and Learning Policies and Academic Administration
- 7 - Assessment and Examination Policies and Practices : Taught Courses and Programmes
- 8 - Research Students
- 9 - External Examining: Taught Courses and Programmes
Section 9 - External Examining: Taught Courses and Programmes
This Section should be of particular interest to Heads of School and External Examiners, and all those involved in the assessment and examination of undergraduate and postgraduate taught students. All External Examiners for taught programmes are given the Academic Quality Handbook web address upon appointment directing them to this Section and to Section 7 which relates to Assessment and Examination Policies and Practices.
9.1.1 This Section of the Academic Quality Handbook should be read in conjunction with Section 7 Assessment and Examination Policies and Practices: Taught Courses and Programmes. Both Sections were revised in 2009/10 in light of Sections 4 and 6 of the Quality Assurance Agency for Higher Education’s (QAA) Code of Practice for the Assurance of Academic Quality and Standards in Higher Education, which relate to External Examining and Assessment of Students, respectively, and which were published in August 2004 and September 2006, respectively. Further minor revisions have been made, as required, by the University Committee on Teaching and Learning (UCTL). The section was approved by the University Committee on Teaching and Learning on 4 November 2009 and by the Senate on 18 November 2009.
- the standards set for the University’s awards and a programme’s constituent courses are appropriate by reference to relevant national Subject Benchmark Statements, the National Qualifications Frameworks, the relevant Programme Specification and, where appropriate, the requirements of relevant Professional and Statutory Bodies;
- the standards of student performance in a programme and its constituent courses are appropriate and comparable with those of similar programmes in other UK higher education institutions;
- the processes for assessment, examination and the determination of awards are sound, have been conducted fairly and are in line with the institution's policies and regulations.
- be familiar with the national Subject Benchmark Statements for their subject and, where appropriate, the requirements of relevant Professional and Statutory Bodies;
- be provided with adequate information on course and programme content and the University’s assessment policies;
- participate in the setting of examination papers;
- review a sufficient number and range of assessments to allow them to confirm the marks to be awarded to students;
- moderate internal marks where appropriate;
- participate in other assessment activities e.g. clinical and oral examinations, where relevant;
- comment and give advice on course and programme content, balance and structure, and on assessment processes;
- formally comment on the appropriateness of the standards of the University’s awards by completing annually an External Examiner’s Report.
9.2.3 In undertaking the above, External Examiners, in conjunction with internal examiners, are required to approve the overall CAS marks for courses and recommend the degree classification or postgraduate taught award, as appropriate. External Examiners are not necessarily involved in the award of non-Honours degrees or diplomas or certificates that are purely governed by the University’s Regulations i.e. those that are awarded on the achievement of the requisite number and level of credits following confirmation that a candidate has satisfied the regulatory requirements for the award of the qualification concerned. However, External Examiners assure the overall standards of these awards by approving the overall CAS marks for the constituent courses, thereby confirming that a student has achieved the requisite number of credits towards an award consistent with the National Qualifications Framework.
9.3.2 Normally, no degree of the University will be awarded without participation in the examining process by at least one External Examiner, who should be a full member at the Final Examiners’ Meeting [see also paragraphs 7.12.19, 9.2.3 and 9.8.2].
9.4.1 The primary role of an External Examiner is to verify that the academic standards of the University’s programmes and awards are appropriate and are being maintained, and that the assessment process is appropriate, fair and in line with institutional policies and practice (see also paragraphs 9.2.1 and 9.2.2).
- the design, structure and content of the degree programme and its constituent courses;
- proposals for amendments to courses or programmes, including proposed revisions to the assessment procedures, before submitting these to the University’s central committees for approval. [This would be particularly appropriate where changes were being proposed in response to comments from an External Examiner];
- the soundness of the assessment policies and procedures, and their development;
- an evaluation of the standards of achievement.
9.4.3 External Examiners may engage in discussions with Schools at any stage during their appointment. Ideally, if time permitted, it would be appropriate to set aside a formal period for such discussions when an External Examiner visited the University to attend an Examiners’ Meeting.
9.4.4 Any comments or suggestions made by an External Examiner (either informally during a visit to the University or in the External Examiner’s formal report to the University – see paragraph 9.9) should be discussed by the School. The Head of School should inform the External Examiner as to whether or not the School had decided to introduce any changes after such discussions (and after approval by the University, where appropriate), and should give reasons if any suggestions would not be adopted.
9.5.1 Heads of School are responsible for nominating External Examiners for first degrees, including those components of joint degrees which are the responsibility of their School, and for taught postgraduate programmes under their School’s purview.
9.5.3 For validated degrees, the Head of the relevant academic unit is responsible for nominating External Examiners to his/her head of institution, who should then submit the nomination to the University for consideration: nominees must be external to both the associate institution and to the University.
9.5.4 The number of External Examiners for any particular degree programme must be sufficient to cover the full range of studies and the quantity of assessed material to be examined. More than one External Examiner may be needed where there is a large number of students or where the degree programme covers a wide range of content and is academically diverse.
9.5.5Only persons of seniority and experience in the relevant subject area and who are able to command authority and the respect of colleagues should be nominated. The following, therefore, should be borne in mind by those responsible for nominating External Examiners in relation to selection and appointment:-
- normally, External Examiners should have substantial experience in teaching and examining and should hold an academic appointment of at least Senior Lecturer level;
- notwithstanding the above, External Examiners from outside the higher education system e.g. from industry or the professions, are appropriate in certain circumstances: well-qualified candidates should not be excluded on the grounds that they had no previous experience as External Examiners. However, if such candidates are appointed, Heads of School are responsible for providing the necessary support to allow them to fully understand the role of External Examiners and the University’s expectations;
- an External Examiner should not be appointed from a School in an institution where a member of the University’s School is serving as an External Examiner. [Exceptions may, however, occasionally be unavoidable e.g. where a subject is taught in only a very small number of institutions];
- former members of staff should not be invited to become External Examiners before a lapse of at least three years or sufficient time for students taught by that member of staff to have passed through the system, whichever is the longer;
- normally, External Examiners should not hold more than two other External Examinerships at first degree level while serving at the University, in order to have sufficient time for the proper performance of their functions;
- External Examiners should not normally be succeeded by another External Examiner from the same institution;
- a special case must be made on the nomination form (see paragraph 9.6.1 below) for nominees who do not fulfil the above criteria.
9.5.6 Those responsible for nominating External Examiners should contact the proposed Examiner to obtain his/her willingness to act prior to submitting a formal nomination. External Examiners should not indicate a willingness to be appointed if there is any conflict of interest.
9.5.7 Where more than one External Examiner is being nominated, Heads of School may wish to seek the phasing of appointments, where practicable, so that at least one existing External Examiner is involved with the assessment process with a newly-appointed External Examiner, to provide a degree of continuity.
9.5.8 Nominations should be submitted to the Registry by 31 December for appointment in the following academic year i.e. approximately nine months in advance of the academic year in which they would first serve. Nominations should be submitted on the appropriate form, which can be downloaded from http://www.abdn.ac.uk/registry/docs/formnm.doc, and should be accompanied in all cases by a brief CV (2-3 pages) for the nominee. All appointments normally should be for four years: this should allow External Examiners to gain some familiarity with the programme and to participate in the assessment at all levels of at least one cohort of students.
9.5.9 Normally, an External Examiner cannot be re-appointed after four years until there has been a break of at least four years. Exceptionally, permission may be sought for a one-year extension. No External Examiner should fulfil more than two four-year terms of office.
9.6.1 Nominations for the appointment of External Examiners are scrutinised by the Head of the relevant College (or his/her nominee) and by the Vice-Principal for Learning and Teaching who, in approving or rejecting nominations, will monitor that the criteria indicated in paragraph 9.5.5 above are applied.
9.6.3 In accorance with the requirements of the QAA Code of Pracite: Section 4: External Examining - August 2004, the Senate has the power to recommend to the University Court that an External Examiner’s contract be terminated prematurely at any time if he/she does not fulfil the University’s requirements as set out in sub-sections 9.2, 9.4 and 9.8. Reasons for termination might include: failure to return students' assessed work with comments within an acceptable period of time; unreasonable refusal to attend Examiners' Meetings or to participate by phone or video-conference when due notice has been given; persistent failure to provide written reports when requested by the University; failure to maintain appropriate levels of confidentiality regarding students and assessed material reviewed. In such circumstances, Heads of School should try to resolve the issue informally to ensure that the External Examiner understands what is expected and to allow the appointment to continue to the benefit of all parties. If no resolution is possible, the Head of School should recommend in writing to the Vice-Principal for Learning and Teaching that the appointment should be terminated, given reasons for the recommendation. If the recommendation is endorsed by the Vice-Principal for Learning and Teaching, he/she will recommend to the Senate that the appointment be terminated. If the Senate endorses the recommendation, Senate will recommend termination of appointment to the University Court.
Section 7 of the Academic Quality Handbook entitled Assessment and Examination Policies and Practices: Taught Courses and Programmes, which includes the following Appendices:-
- Appendix 7.1: Rules for the Conduct of Prescribed Assessments and Written Examinations for Degrees or Diplomas
- Appendix 7.2: Notes of Guidance for Those with Responsibility for Making Examination Arrangements for Candidates with Disabilities
- Appendix 7.3: Common Assessment Scale (CAS)
- Appendix 7.4: Honours Classification (Grade Spectrum)
- Appendix 7.5: Certification of Absence for Medical Reasons or other Good Cause
- Appendix 7.6: Guidance Note for Students who either Fail, or who Fail to Attend or Complete, an Element of Prescribed Degree Assessment
- Appendix 7.7: Procedures for Determining Progression and Award in Modularised Postgraduate Taught Programmes of Study (Grade Spectrum)
Section 9 of the Academic Quality Handbook entitled External Examining: Taught Courses and Programmes.
The Registry will also provide External Examiners with theinformation required to allow them to submit their annual reports via the web-based external examiners' portal.
- on appointment, a written statement about the place of the relevant courses and programmes in the University’s system of education in that subject, and on the organisation and phasing of the relevant curriculum;
- relevant course and programme handbooks, including syllabuses, at appropriate points prior to the assessment e.g. when draft written examination papers are sent to External Examiners for approval;
- a copy of a retiring External Examiner’s formal report to the University at the conclusion of his/her term of office;
- the dates of Examiners’ Meetings as soon as these had been agreed (see Section 7, paragraph 7.12.19).
9.7.3 Schools should also provide opportunities for External Examiners to become familiar with the University and to discuss their responsibilities and other matters prior to their first visit to undertake assessments.
9.8.1 Full details of the University’s assessment and examination policies and practices for taught courses and programmes are provided in Section 7 of the Academic Quality Handbook. Sub-sections 7.9 and 7.12, in particular, outline the specific roles of External Examiners in the assessment procedures.
9.8.2 At least one External Examiner must be present at all Final Examiners’ Meetings (see Section 7, paragraph 7.12.19).
9.9.1 External Examiners should be encouraged to comment on the assessment process and the schemes for marking and classification. In some subjects participation in the devising of such schemes is essential.
9.9.3 Schools and External Examiners should use the opportunity afforded by the visits of External Examiners to discuss the design, content and structure of the degree programme and its component courses. There should be an evaluation of the soundness of the assessment policies and procedures and their development as well as an evaluation of the standards of achievement. Feedback from External Examiners on existing programmes should be gathered by all schools, who should ensure that the matter is a standing item on their agendas for examiners’ meetings. Schools should also discuss with External Examiners the setting of their own standards, including any associated with professional and statutory bodies and how these standards are maintained and verified. Any comments or suggestions made by the External Examiner should be discussed by the School and an explicit decision made about whether or not to introduce change (subject to approval by the University, where applicable).
9.10.1 Undergraduate External Examiners are required to submit an annual report to the Principal by 31 August, with postgraduate External Examiners having to submit an annual report by 30 November. All External Examiners are required to submit a final report (as part of their last annual report) at the end of their period of office. In late May each year, the Registry reminds all External Examiners that the web-based portal is available for the submission of annual reports for the current academic year.
9.10.2 In addition to answering the set questions on the form, External Examiners are encouraged to add any other comments they wish to make, including any observations on teaching, course and programme structure and content, and assessment policies and practices.
9.10.3 Since Reports will be discussed widely within the University (paragraph 9.10.5 below, refers), External Examiners may, if they wish, send an additional, separate and confidential, report to the Principal if they consider that this, exceptionally, would be appropriate.
9.10.5 External Examiners’ Reports are considered by an Officer within the Registry who highlights on the report examples of good practice as well as any areas of concern or suggestions raised by an External Examiner. The reports are then circulated to the following:-
- the Convener of the University Committee on Teaching and Learning (UCTL);
- the Convener of the relevant Academic Standards Committee (ASC);
- the relevant College Director of Teaching and Learning via the Assistant College Registrar (Teaching and Learning);
- the Head of the relevant School (via the School Administrative Officer, where appropriate), or in the case of MBChB and BScMedSci the appropriate Phase Coordinator;
- for validated degrees, the head of the relevant academic unit.
9.10.6 If the Conveners of the relevant ASCs identify areas of concern or suggestions not highlighted by the Registry, they will bring these to the attention of the relevant College Director of Teaching and Learning via the Assistant College Registrar (Teaching and Learning), who will refer the issue to the Head of the relevant School/Phase Coordinator.
9.10.7 Heads of School/Phase Coordinators are responsible for discussing the Report with relevant staff and sending their College Director of Teaching and Learning the School’s response to issues highlighted on the form within three weeks of receipt.
9.10.8 Heads of Schools’/Phase Coordinators’ responses to issues raised by External Examiners are collated by College Directors of Teaching and Learning and submitted to the relevant ASC for consideration in the Winter and Spring Terms: such reports indicate the Head of School’s/Phase Coordinator’s response to External Examiners’ comments (including, where relevant, reasons for not implementing an External Examiner’s suggestion), with a commentary from the College Director of Teaching and Learning where appropriate.
9.10.10 The Clerk of the relevant ASC will "close the feedback loop" by informing External Examiners of the action taken by the School or ASC in response to their comments. If a matter is referred to the UCTL by the ASC, the Clerk to UCTL will inform External Examiners of any action taken by that Committee in response to their comments.
9.10.11 The University circulates External Examiners' reports extensively within the institution. External Examiners should be made aware that the University may be required to provide copies of reports, or summaries or other information derived from them, to professional and statutory bodies, or to other agencies.