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The University of Southampton
Quality HandbookExternal examiners

Appointment of external examiners

Period of appointment

External examiners are normally appointed for a period of four years but may be appointed for shorter periods as recommended by the School.  Appointments for one year or less are discouraged as it is important to have continuity over a number of years.

Exceptionally where a programme has closed and an external examiner is required for one further year only, a case may be made for the appointment to be extended to an absolute maximum of five years.

Criteria for appointment of external examiners

The University applies the following criteria for the appointment of external examiners, which are derived from the national set of criteria.  In accordance with the criteria for appointment: 

Person specification

External examiners should normally be able to show evidence of the following:

  1. knowledge and understanding of UK sector agreed reference points for the maintenance of academic standards and assurance and enhancement of quality;
  2. competence and experience in the fields covered by the programme of study or parts thereof;
  3. relevant academic and/or professional qualifications to at least the level of the qualification being externally examined, and/or extensive practitioner experience where appropriate;
  4. competence and experience relating to designing and operating a variety of assessment tasks appropriate to the subject and operating assessment procedures;
  5. 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;
  6. familiarity with the standard to be expected of students to achieve the award which is to be assessed;
  7. 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);
  8. meeting applicable criteria set by professional, statutory or regulatory bodies;
  9. awareness of current developments in the design and delivery of relevant curricula;
  10. competence and experience relating to the enhancement of the student learning experience.

Conflicts of interest

The University does not appoint as an external examiner anyone in the following categories or circumstances:

  1. a member of a governing body or committee of the University, or a current employee of the University;
  2. a member of a governing body of a collaborative partner, or a current employee of a collaborative partner who has responsibility in the same (or a closely cognate) disciplinary area as the collaborative arrangement;
  3. anyone with a close professional, contractual or personal relationship with a member of staff or student involved with the programme of study;
  4. anyone required to assess colleagues who are recruited as students to the programme of study;
  5. anyone who is, or knows they will be, in a position to influence significantly the future of students on the programme of study;
  6. 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;
  7. former staff or students of the institution unless a period of five years has elapsed and all students taught by or with the external examiner have completed their programme(s)
  8. a reciprocal arrangement involving cognate programmes at another institution;
  9. the succession of an external examiner by a colleague from the external examiner’s home department and institution;
  10. the appointment of more than one external examiner from the same department of the same institution.

Terms of office

The duration of an external examiner’s appointment will normally be for four years, with an exceptional extension of one year to ensure continuity.

An external examiner may be reappointed in exceptional circumstances but only after a period of five years or more has elapsed since their last appointment.

External examiners should normally hold no more than two external examiner appointments for taught programmes at any one point in time.

In exceptional cases, arrangements can be made to allow external examiners to suspend their office for up to one year, for example for health or maternity reasons, but the maximum term of office includes any periods of suspension.

It is a requirement that the team of external examiners for a programme collectively has the full range of qualifications, experience and expertise specified in the national criteria. External examiners from outside the higher education system, for example, from industry or the professions, may be appointed where their knowledge and/or experience is appropriate to their programme of study and ensuring that they are provided with a detailed induction and support.

An external examiner who has no previous experience as an external examiner for any institution will normally be appointed to serve as a member of a team of external examiners. Where such an arrangement is not feasible, the first-time external examiner will normally be mentored by an experienced external examiner from the same School.

In cases where an external examiner does not fulfil all the relevant criteria, he/she will be provided with an enhanced induction by the relevant School.

The University does not consider that the prior involvement of an external examiner in the development or validation/approval of a programme necessarily involves a conflict of interest; however, in such instances, consideration should be given to whether there are grounds for believing that their independence has been compromised.

Nomination and appointment of external examiners

Ordinance 7.3 paragraph 4 states that ‘External Examiners shall be appointed by the Senate on the recommendation of the School concerned’.  Senate has delegated this responsibility to SPCs, with annual reporting to AQSC.  The process for approval of external examiner nominations is summarised in the Process for the approval of new external examiner nominations flow chart.

The approval of external examiner(s) for new programmes should take place in the academic year prior to the start of the programme.  For existing programmes, it should take place in the year prior to the current external examiner completing his/her term of office.  External examiners should normally be in post for the annual start of the programmes they are responsible for.  Wherever possible a short crossover period at the end of the current examiner’s appointment and start of the new examiner’s appointment is encouraged to support the new external examiner in the role.

The Programme Lead or Director of Programmes is responsible for identifying a preferred nominee to act as external examiner and arranges for a Nomination Form to be completed as follows:

  • Part I (boxes 1-5) to be completed by the Curriculum and Quality Assurance (CQA) Team with the Programme Lead or Director of Programmes.
  • Part II (boxes 6-15) to be completed by the proposed external examiner.
  • Part III (boxes 16-18) to be completed by the Programme Lead or Director of Programmes.

The Programme Lead or Director of Programmes should forward the Nomination Form to the Deputy Head of School (Education) for approval.  Nominations are considered in relation to the selection criteria listed above.  If the nomination is to be approved Part IV should be completed by the Deputy Head of School (Education) on behalf of the SPC.

Occasionally, the Programme Lead or Director of Programmes may wish to nominate an individual who may not fully meet the selection criteria.  In these instances, the Programme Lead or Director of Programmes should set out clearly the rationale for doing so in box 17 on the Nomination Form.  Information must be provided on the Nomination Form about the additional induction and support which will be put in place as required. The nomination will not be processed unless this information has been provided.

Where a School can provide evidence that the pool of potential external examiners is restricted, exceptions may, very occasionally, become unavoidable.  Any case requiring exceptional approval must be made in box 17 of the Nomination Form.  The exception will require approval by the Vice President (Education).

The Deputy Head of School (Education), on behalf of SPC, will inform the Programme Lead or Director of Programmes if the nomination has been approved by the School and forward to the CQA Team.  The CQA Team will complete the checklist at the end of the form and send to QSAT.  QSAT will review the nomination on behalf of the Chair of AQSC, request any outstanding information from the CQA Team and complete Part V.  Once approved QSAT will verify eligibility to work in the UK, where applicable (see Right to Work section), and issue a letter of appointment on behalf of Senate.  No work can be undertaken by an external examiner prior to the receipt of the signed letter of appointment by the University.  The signed letter of appointment constitutes the formal contract between the University and the external examiner.  All approved external examiner appointments are reported to SPC by the Deputy Head of School (Education). 

 

Revision, extension, resignation, interruption or termination of appointment

Revision to  appointment

If a revision of an existing external examiner appointment is necessary, for example to add or remove programmes, the Programme Lead or Director of Programmes should complete a Revisions to Appointment Form.  Schools should ensure that any revisions are made prior to the start of the next academic year.  If approved by the School, QSAT will send the external examiner an amended letter of appointment on behalf of Senate. 

A Revisions to Appointment Form is not required for change in module allocations, for example if new modules come online or existing modules are not running for a particular academic year.  In such cases the School should advise the external examiner by email of any changes to their module allocation for the year, with a copy to QSAT for information.

Extension to appointment

Where the initial appointment was for a period shorter than the maximum, an external examiner’s term of office may be extended up to the maximum of four years.  The Programme Lead or Director of Programmes should complete an Extension Form.  If approved by the School, QSAT will send the external examiner an amended letter of appointment on behalf of Senate.

Requests for extensions should be submitted in good time before the end of original appointment.  Failure to do so may result in the external examiners’ personnel records being closed which can lead to delays in the payment of expenses and for external examiners for undergraduate programmes, the requirement for their eligibility to work in the UK to be re-verified.

Where a programme has closed and an external examiner is required for one further year only, a case may be made for an appointment to be extended to an absolute maximum of five years.  Such extensions require the approval of the Chair of AQSC.  The Programme Lead or Director of Programmes should complete an Extension Form, and this must be accompanied by an email from the Deputy Head of School (Education) explaining why the extension is required.  If approved by the Chair of AQSC, QSAT will send the external examiner an amended letter of appointment on behalf of Senate.

Resignation

Where an external examiner wishes to resign before the end of his/her term of office, they are requested to provide reasonable notice (at least three months) and complete their duties for the current year of appointment where possible.  Immediate steps should be taken by the Programme Lead or Director of Programmes to identify a replacement. The Programme Lead or Director of Programmes should complete a Resignation Form and QSAT will write to the external examiner to confirm their resignation on behalf of Senate.

Interruption

Occasionally, circumstances may arise where an external examiner is unable to complete their duties for the current year of appointment, or wishes to interrupt for a defined period of time, up to a maximum of twelve months.  Such events are not regarded as a suspension and the usual term of an external examiner remains four years counted from the date of their first appointment.  In such cases, the external examiner should give written notice, with reasonable notice when possible, to the School of their intention to interrupt their term of office, and the expected length of interruption.  The School will then look to appoint an interim external examiner for this period.  In these circumstances only, an interim external examiner may be appointed from the home institution of the substantive external examiner, and work under their advice and guidance.  A Nomination Form should be completed in the normal way.  An interim external examiner’s details will be included on the programme specification alongside the substantive external examiner’s information.  Details of the change in appointment will be communicated to all relevant students by email and at the SSLC.

Although the School will attempt to make temporary arrangements, if a suitable interim external examiner cannot be appointed, the School may terminate the external examiner’s appointment using the Termination Form and appoint a replacement external examiner.

If at the end of the period of interruption, the substantive external examiner is unable to return to their duties, the interim external examiner may be appointed as the substantive external examiner.  However, if they are from the same institution as the previous external examiner, their period of office will be adjusted to ensure that the maximum term of external examining support from that institution does not surpass four years.

During a defined period of interruption, the substantive external examiner will not be entitled to the fee for external examining.  If more than one external examiner has undertaken duties over the course of an academic year, the fee will be split between the substantive and interim external examiner in a method determined by the Deputy Head of School (Education).

Schools should inform QSAT of any interruptions to appointments and the planned arrangements to cover the period.  Once approved, QSAT will write to each external examiner concerned to confirm the interruption period and the temporary arrangements in place.  If a new external examiner has been appointed, QSAT will send a letter of appointment on behalf of Senate.

Termination

An external examiner’s contract may be terminated by the University as a result of the following circumstances:

1.  in the event of a conflict of interest arising during the term of office.  The external examiner’s contract will be terminated from the point at which the conflict of interest arises;

2.  in the event of a serious breach by the external examiner of the terms of their appointment, for example:

*  failure to attend Board of Examiners meetings without the prior agreement of the Dean of the relevant Faculty and without arranging an alternative means to input to the meetings;

*  failure to submit an annual report within the specified time;

*  failure to carry out the duties outlined in this document.

3.  as a result of a failure of the external examiner’s part to engage with the procedures for appointment, including fulfilling the University’s statutory employment requirements;

4.  withdrawal of, or non-recruitment to, the programme(s);

5.  when only a full, rather than an interim, external examiner appointment can be made as a result of a request from the external examiner of an interruption in their term of office.

Recommendations for termination of appointment for non-performance of duties in line with the above must be made by the Dean of the Faculty concerned and approved by the President and Vice-Chancellor as specified in the Statement of the Senate’s Primary Responsibilities and delegated and related matters. 

A Termination Form should be completed and forwarded to QSAT who will obtain the approval of the President and Vice-Chancellor and report the outcome to the School and Faculty. 

The School may also wish to discuss the potential upcoming termination with the external examiner, particular if termination is not as a result of any fault of the external examiner.  If the termination is agreed, QSAT will arrange for a termination of appointment letter to be sent to the external examiner.  At the discretion of the relevant Deputy Head of School (Education), a full or partial fee for the year of office may be paid to the eternal examiner.  If an external examiner wishes to query the reason for termination, they should be directed to the Deputy Head of School (Education) in the first instance.

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