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Durham University

Learning and Teaching Handbook

8.6.2: Examination Process for Research Degrees

General Procedures for the Examination

1. For both new and resubmitted theses an electronic copy of the thesis will be sent to each examiner as soon as possible after submission. Examiners are asked to prepare an initial independent report on the thesis before the oral examination or, when an oral examination is not required, before conferral with the other examiner has taken place. After the final decision on the thesis has been reached a joint report is required which sets out the examiners' final recommendation.

2. The University expects the examiners of research degrees to be able to complete the examination process and return the reports to the Curriculum, Learning and Assessment Service within three months of receiving the thesis. Whilst recognising that examiners will have many other commitments, examiners are asked to adhere to this time limit if at all possible as delays in the examination process can cause considerable distress to candidates, especially if they are required to resubmit the thesis.

Requirement for Each Degree

3. The criteria and requirements by which a candidate is to be judged satisfactory are specified in the University Core Regulations for Research Degrees by Thesis or Composition or the University Core Regulations for Professional Doctorates which are available in the online University Calendar, and provided to all examiners with their letter of appointment.

Examiners' Initial Independent Reports

4. After reading the thesis, each examiner should independently write an individual report answering some specific questions designed to emphasise the criteria for the award of the degree, and provide a general report of his or her opinion of the thesis. Examiners may identify issues for exploration or clarification at the oral examination. A copy of the individual report should be sent to the Curriculum, Learning and Assessment Service in advance of the oral examination. The initial individual reports should not be shown to the candidate or the candidate's supervisor(s) in advance of the oral examination. The individual reports are confidential to the University and, following the examination, will be sent to the candidate's supervisor but not to the candidate.

5. An individual report is required when a thesis is first examined and also when a resubmitted thesis is assessed by the same examiners, whether or not a second oral examination is to take place.

The Oral Examination

6. All candidates for doctoral and higher masters degrees are required to attend an oral examination after the first submission of their thesis. In the case of MTheo, MJur, MSc and MA degrees, an oral examination shall be held at the discretion of the examiners.

There is no requirement for the examiners of a resubmitted thesis to hold a second oral examination, however, a second oral examination must be held where one or both of the examiners considers this to be necessary to the examination process, in cases where the first oral examination was not satisfactory, or (for doctoral and higher masters degrees) where examiners are not satisfied with the revised thesis (i.e. a second oral examination must be held if examiners are considered a negative outcome at re-examination).

7. Normally, the internal examiner (or if no internal examiner is appointed, the Independent Chair) is responsible for arranging the oral examination. This includes notifying the Curriculum, Learning and Assessment Service and the student of the arrangements. The supervisor will be consulted and will normally be expected to be available for the oral examination and, at the invitation of the examiners, to attend all or any part of the oral examination as an observer.

8. The oral examination should normally be held in University and both examiners must normally be present. Only in exceptional circumstances is the appropriate Deputy Executive Dean (or their nominee) authorised to permit other arrangements to be made, including the conduct of oral examinations by video conference. Oral examinations cannot be held by telephone.

9. Guidance on the conduct of oral examinations and a useful checklist are provided in (Appendix A8.05).

Viva Involving Video Conferencing

10. A viva may be held with the aid of video conferencing.

11. The use of video conferencing in a viva is subject to the following requirements:

  • all parties (examiners, supervisor(s) and the candidate) must be happy with the use of video conferencing. Written confirmation from the student must be sought;
  • the examiners should be experienced in the use of the relevant technology or local support should be available for the technology in case of its failure or alternative backup arrangement should be agreed (e.g. an alternative technology)

12. Viva conducted using video conferencing should otherwise be comparable to viva held within the University: conditions should be similar to those used for face-to-face viva at the University; there should be no interruptions during the viva; due consideration should be given to the time zones in which participants are residing.

Examiners' Joint Report

13. A joint report (tailored to the student and programme, and available from pg.admin@durham.ac.uk) should normally be completed on the day of the oral examination or immediately following conferral of the examiners where no oral examination is held. The joint report and recommendation should then be sent to the Curriculum, Learning and Assessment Service along with the examiners' copy of the thesis. The joint report, along with a list of corrections where appropriate, will be sent to the candidate following the examination.

Further information on the recommendations available to the examiners can be found in Section 8.6.3 of the Learning and Teaching Handbook.

Disagreement between examiners

14. If the examiners are unable to agree upon the recommendation, they should complete separate joint reports and make separate recommendations for consideration by the University. The University will then appoint a new external examiner who will re-examine the thesis, if necessary conduct a further viva, and make a recommendation which will be final.

Plagiarism

15. In the event of an examiner suspecting a case of plagiarism in a thesis, the procedures outlined in General Regulation VIII and Section 6.3.5 of the Learning and Teaching Handbook should be followed. The examiners should not proceed any further with the examination process until the suspected plagiarism has been investigated and resolved.

Confidentiality

16. Examiners are expected to observe confidentiality with respect to any commercially exploitable material in the thesis. The individual reports of the examiners are confidential to the University. Departments may request that additional confidentiality agreements be signed between an examiner and the University.

17. The Office of the Information Commissioner has confirmed that candidates have the right to access their reports should they request it. Examiners should also be aware that in the event of an Academic Appeal, and notwithstanding their confidential nature, the examiners' reports would be made available to the student.

Resubmission

18. The procedures for the examination of a resubmitted thesis are essentially the same as for the initial submission for the thesis with independent reports and a joint report and recommendation required. However there is no requirement for a second oral examination although one may be held at the discretion of the examiners. a second oral examination must be held where one or both of the examiners considers this to be necessary to the examination process, in cases where the first oral examination was not satisfactory, or (for doctoral and higher masters degrees) where examiners are not satisfied with the revised thesis (i.e. a second oral examination must be held if examiners are considered a negative outcome at re-examination).

[1] For example, where transatlantic flight is involved.