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Durham University

Learning and Teaching Handbook

10.2: Appointing External Examiners

1.0 When Do We Need to Appoint an External?

(1.1) One or more external examiners are appointed in respect of all provision that leads to any taught award of the University (i.e. all awards at undergraduate and taught postgraduate level have at least one external examiner). Most external examiners, particularly at undergraduate level, will be responsible for more than one programme.

(1.2) Where the University delivers a programme both in its entirety, and through a collaborative partnership, wherever possible the same external examiner is appointed for delivery in both modes in order to ensure consistency of academic standards across these modes.

(1.3) External examiners are normally serve 4 year terms (on an exceptional basis, departments may request a one-year extension from CLAS), and are not eligible for re-appointment until a further five 5 years have passed.

2.0 Who Appoints Externals?

(2.1) Responsibility for nominating the external examiners for taught programmes lies with the lead academic department for the programme. All nominees should be submitted to the appropriate education partner contact within the Curriculum, Learning & Assessment Service (CLAS) using the appropriate external examiners nomination form (together with a CV and passport scan), available in Appendix a10.01, for consideration by the appropriate Deputy Executive Dean. All nominations should be signed off by the relevant Head of Department (HoD), prior to submission.

(2.2) Where a nominee meets the criteria, and the nomination is approved by the Deputy Executive Dean, the appointment will be processed directly by CLAS. If a Deputy Executive Dean does not support the nomination, a clear rationale will be submitted by the Deputy - with reference to the nomination criteria (see 3.0, below) - and provided to the department.

(2.3) If a nominees does not meet the expected criteria, departments may make an exceptional request to appoint regardless (as indicated on the form). Exceptional requests will be reviewed by CLAS, and considered for approval by the Deputy Exective Dean and, if supported, by the Vice-Provost (Education), or their deputy.

3.0 Criteria for Appointment

(3.1) The criteria for the appointment external examiners are embedded within the nomination form [a10.01]. Broadly, the criteria seek to ensure that all external examiners:

  • have the requisite skills and experience to provide expert comment on the standards of our programmes and achievements of our students (for example, they are research active, with an understanding of relevant pedagogy etc);
  • do not have any conflicts of interest which might undermine (or appear to undermine) their independence of judgement (for example, they are not employed by a collaborative partner of the department).

(3.2) The University fully accepts that there may be instances where exceptions could and should be made. For example, for a very specialist programme, an individual’s experience and knowledge may be more relevant than their seniority (permitting appointment if they are not at least Senior Lecture). Similarly, a conventional research background may be less relevant for a vocational qualification, and a recently retired staff member would meet the requirement for appointment if they were still active academically.

(3.3) With regard to conflict of interests, there are mitigations which can be put in place (for example, ending a research partnership, or ensuring that the work of a student relative is considered by another examiner), and circumstances which may warrant exceptions (for example, permitting a reciprocal arrangement in a small, specialist discipline and where the reciprocity is one step removed, with the externals operating at distinct undergraduate and postgraduate levels).

(3.4) To ensure that appointed individuals have time to undertake relevant duties, it is normally expected that external examiners should concurrently hold not more than two external examinerships at first degree or taught postgraduate level.

(3.5) These criteria for appointment have been deliberately and conciously aligned with the setor-level requirements of the UK Quality Code.

4.0 Upon Appointment

(4.1) Following their appointment all external examiners will receive from CLAS a letter of appointment that constitutes the University's formal contractual relationship with the external examiner. A copy of the letter of appointment is also sent to the Chair of the relevant Board of Examiners and the relevant Head of Department.

(4.2) The External Examiner will be sent, annually in the Michaelmas Term, relevant central information (e.g. programme regulations, the External Examiner Code of Practice, the report template and fee claim information) by CLAS.

(4.3) Similarly, examiners will be sent relevant departmental information (e.g. programme specifications, modules and assessments) by the Academic Department.

(4.4) All appointments are reported to Senate. This report will include a summary by faculty and department of the number of external examiners appointment requiring exceptional approval by the Vice Provost (Education).

5.0 Changes During the Appointment Term

(5.1) If any potential conflict of interest arises during the term of appointment, CLAS should be notified at the earliest possible stage so that a decision can be made on an external examiner's suitability to continue as an examiner. This includes:

a. If an external examiner moves to a new post (other than an internal promotion) while they are acting as external examiner, they should notify the University of this.

b. Where an external examiner is appointed to a post at the University, it is the responsibility of the department to notify CLAS of this as soon possible once the appointment has been made and to nominate a replacement external examiner. Once this information has been received, CLAS will write to the current external examiner to inform that their appointment as an external examiner has been ended. Departments must then provide nomination of a replacement is considered in line with normal procedures.

6.0 Termination of appointment

(6.1) Where an external examiner does not fulfil the responsibilities of the role as set out in the University’s Code of practice, the University may take action to terminate prematurely the external examiner’s appointment. Grounds for premature termination include (but are not limited to):

a. failure to attend (without having sought permission in line with Section 6.2.2 of the Learning and Teaching Handbook) a meeting of the board of examiners;
b. failure to submit an external examiner report;
c. provision of incomplete reports.

(6.2) Where such grounds are thought to exist, the chair of the board of examiners should discuss the matter with the external examiner if possible to resolve the situation. If such discussion is impossible or fails to resolve the issue(s), the matter should be referred to CLAS for consideration by the relevant Deputy Executive Dean.

(6.3) CLAS will correspond with the external examiner (on behalf of the relevant Deputy Executive Dean) to discuss the concerns raised and attempt to reach a solution. If no solution can be found, the Vice-Provost (Education), or their deputy, will be asked to confirm the decision to terminate the external examiner’s contract.