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Durham University

Learning and Teaching Handbook

10.2 : Selection and Nomination of External Examiners


1. One or more external examiners are appointed in respect of all provision that leads to an award of the University. 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.

2. Responsibility for nominating the external examiners for taught programmes lies with the relevant department.

3. Nominees for the role of external examiner should:

a. Normally be individuals from within the university system but, in particular circumstances, it may be appropriate for individuals from outside the university system to be appointed.
b. Have experience of designing and operating a variety of assessment tasks appropriate to the subject, and operating assessment procedures
c. Have sufficient standing, credibility and breadth of experience within the discipline to be able to command the respect of colleagues.
d. Normally be of, at least, Senior Lecturer standing or equivalent (e.g. Principal Lecturer in the 'new university' sector), and should have academic and/or professional qualifications to at least the level of the qualification being externally examined.
e. Be fluent in the English language.
f. Be aware of current developments in the design and delivery of curricula in the area for which they will be responsible.
g. Be competent, and have experience, in relation to the enhancement of the student learning experience.
h. Be research active, as judged by recent publications, and have recent expertise of teaching/examining broadly similar students.
i. Where relevant, meet any criteria set by the Professional, Statutory and Regulatory Body accrediting the programme for which they will be external examiner.

Retirees may be considered for appointment provided there is sufficient evidence of their continuing involvement in the academic area in question, sufficient to meet the criteria listed above.

4. It is normally expected that external examiners should concurrently hold not more than two external examinerships at first degree or taught postgraduate level.


5. An external examiner should not be appointed from a department in an institution where a member of the Durham department is serving as an examiner; exceptions may occasionally be unavoidable in the case of subjects taught in only a very small number of institutions. If a member of Durham University is appointed as an external examiner by a university which is at that time providing an external to Durham so that a reciprocal arrangement will exist, responsibility for that decision rests with the second university to appoint in line with its adherence to the UK Quality Code.

6. Former members of staff should not be invited to become external examiners before at least five years have elapsed since they left the employment of the University. Former students of the University should not be nominated as external examiners until five years have elapsed since they completed their programme of study at the University. Former students of the University should also not be nominated as external examiners if other students who studied at the University at the same time as them remained on the programme which they would examine.

7. To avoid potential conflicts of interest, external examiners will not be appointed if they:

a. are a member of University Council, a member of a governing body or committee of one of the University’s collaborative partners, or a current employee of the University, a spin-off company of the University, or one of its collaborative partners;

b. are a near relative of a member of staff or student involved with the programme of study;

c. have already been appointed by the University as an external examiner (note: acting examiners may have their remit extended to encompass additional, related programmes, but they will not have their appointment period extended);

d. are closely associated with sponsorship of students, or provision of placement learning opportunities, for students on the programme;

e. are required to assess colleagues who are recruited as students to the programme of study, or are in a position to influence significantly the future of students on the programme of study;

f. anyone significantly involved in recent or current substantive collaborative research activities with a member of staff closely involved in the delivery, management or assessment of the programme(s) or modules in question;

g. acted as external subject specialist for the programme approval of any or all of the provision for which they will be responsible, or as external subject specialist at the last periodic review of the department responsible for the provision.

8. Where a nominee has no previous experience as an external examiner, they may be nominated provided that:

a. they meet the criteria outlined in this statement;

b. the nominating department has identified an existing external examiner responsible for a programme reporting to the same board of examiners who is willing to act as mentor to the first-time external examiner.

9. A programme should not have more than one external examiner from the same department in the same institution. An external examiner should, similarly, not be appointed from the same institution as their predecessor.

10. The chair of the relevant Faculty Education Committee should be notified of any conflict of interest at the earliest possible stage so that a decision can be made on an external examiner's suitability to continue as an examiner.

11. 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. The chair of the relevant Faculty Education Committee will review the position to ensure that no conflict of interest arises and take action as necessary should such a conflict occur.

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

13. Annually in October recommendations for the appointment of new external examiners should be forwarded by departments to the Academic Support Office. Recommendations should be forwarded on the appropriate external examiners nomination form (together with a CV), available in Appendix A10.1.

14. The primary responsibility for ensuring that nominees are suitably qualified for the duties of external examiners rests with the relevant chair of the Faculty Education Committee (Undergraduate) (for undergraduate programmes) or relevant chair of the Faculty Education Committee (Postgraduate) (for postgraduate programmes). The relevant FEC chair should discuss any issues of concern with the chair of Education Committee.

15. Where it is clear that a nominee meets the University's criteria for appointment, the relevant FEC may approve that nominee. If the nominee does not meet with the University's normal criteria for approval, and the relevant FEC chair is supportive of the nomination, a case for exceptional approval should be made to the chair of Education Committee, as indicated on the nomination form.

16. All appointments are reported to Senate. This report will include a summary by faculty and department of the number of external examiners where appointment required the approval of the chair of Education Committee as well as the chair of the relevant FEC.

Confirmation of appointment

17. Following their appointment all external examiners will receive from ASO 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.

Period of appointment

18. External examiners are normally appointed in successive years for a maximum of four years. The appointment may be extended for a further year where an exceptional case can be made that satisfies the relevant FEC chair. No further extension is permitted. Once their term has been completed, external examiners may not be considered for reappointment until five years have elapsed since the end of their previous appointment. Reappointment should only occur in exceptional circumstances.

Termination of appointment

19. 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.

20. Where such grounds are thought to exist:

a. the chair of the board of examiners should discuss the matter with the external examiner if possible to resolve the situation;
b. if such discussion is impossible or fails to resolve the issue(s), the details must be documented by the chair of the board of examiners, with other members of the department as appropriate and with advice and assistance if appropriate from the chair of the relevant FEC;
c. the matter must be discussed fully between the chair of the board of examiners, other relevant members of the department as appropriate and the chair of the relevant FEC;
d. the chair of the relevant FEC will:

i. discuss the matter with the chair of Education Committee;
ii. correspond with the external examiner to discuss the concerns raised and attempt to reach a solution;

if no solution can be found, write to the external examiner stating the decision to terminate the contract and giving reasons.