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The University of Southampton
Quality HandbookExternal examiners

Roles and Responsibilities

Role of an external examiner

External examiners are responsible, through the appropriate School Programmes Committee (SPC) and Academic Quality and Standards Committee (AQSC), to Senate.  All external examiners must be formally appointed to the role and sign an appointment letter prior the commencement of their role. 

The primary role of an external examiner is:

  • to assist the University in ensuring that the standard of its awards is maintained at the appropriate level in accordance with the framework for higher education qualifications and the relevant national subject benchmarks;
  • to assist the University in ensuring that its assessment process measures student achievement rigorously and fairly against the intended outcomes of the programme(s) and is conducted in accordance with the University’s policies and regulations;
  • to assist the University in ensuring that the academic standards and achievement of students are comparable with those in other UK higher education institutions of which the external examiner has experience;
  • to assist the University in enhancing the quality of teaching, learning and assessment by advising on good practice identified within the University and beyond.

External examiners’ reports are an essential aspect of the quality assurance and enhancement processes operated by the University.  The University views the external examiner system in general and external examiners’ reports in particular as key mechanisms for the management of academic standards and reflection on the quality of the student learning experience.

Overview of external examiner responsibilities

External examiners should approve the form and content of draft examination papers, coursework and other assignments that count towards the award in order to ensure that all students will be assessed fairly in relation to the objectives, syllabus and regulations for the programme and will reach the required standard. The external examiner may also ask to be involved in the approval of any other assessment tasks.

In some subjects, it may be essential for model answers to be provided and scrutinised by the external examiner.  The external examiner should be given feedback as to how their comments on draft assessment material have been taken into consideration, and whether changes have been made as a result.

An external examiner has the right to see and/or moderate all assignments, examination scripts, projects, dissertations and other student work that contributes to an award, including seminar/ presentation work.

The Programme Team must agree at an early stage with the external examiner the basis on which the selection of the students’ work will be made and provided to him/her. The guiding principle should be that external examiners must have enough evidence to determine that internal marking and classifications are of an appropriate standard and are consistent. The sample should include a range of work awarded the highest marks, fail marks, and work in each class of the award and may include some of the work of borderline candidates. It must be agreed with the external examiner how he/she will engage with assessment such as practice-based learning, performance, presentations etc. For clarity these arrangements should be confirmed in writing by the School and should be re-visited with the external examiner annually.

Samples of students’ work being sent to the external examiner must be shared using a secure method of transmission.  The University’s recommended method for sending documents securely is SafeSend - should not be used to share students’ work with external examiners. 

External examiners should compare the performance of students with that of students on comparable programmes elsewhere of which they have experience.

External examiners must not be directly involved in marking. All Schools are required to have in place documented mechanisms to resolve cases of disagreement between internal markers, and these should be followed.  If, exceptionally, the external examiner is asked to comment on an individual case where these mechanisms have not led to a resolution, the final decision in such cases must remain with the Board of Examiners collectively.

External examiners are asked to note that University policy is that internal marking standards are scrutinised and monitored by means of moderation of a sample (independent academic scrutiny of marks awarded, on a sample basis, to verify that the marks awarded are appropriate and consistent in relation to the relevant assessment criteria) rather than by double marking.  If the moderator has concerns about the marking standards of the sample, arrangements should be made for the marks for all the work for the specific assessment item to be reviewed. Where this occurs the outcome should be documented and communicated to the Boards of Examiners for Taught Programmes.

External examiners may not change marks or degree classifications for individual candidates. Rather their role is to confirm that marking criteria and marking standards are appropriate and are being applied appropriately and consistently.  If an external examiner disagrees with the standards of marking for assessed work within a sample he/she may request further action such as the:

  • additional marking of all the student work within the group; or
  • additional marking of the work of all students taking the affected examination or piece of work; or
  • moderation of the marks of all the students taking the affected examination or piece of work; or
  • adjustment of marks for all students taking the affected examination or piece of work.

External examiners do not have any special role in individual student cases involving Special Considerations or breaches of academic integrity; their role in such cases is to ensure that the Academic Integrity Regulations and the Special Considerations Regulations are applied fairly and consistently.  As such decisions affect the remit of an examination board external examiners can expect to be informed of any applicable regulations or procedures.  They can also expect to be informed of any decisions affecting a module result or a progression/award decision.

External examiners are required to be present at all relevant Boards of Examiners’ meetings at which decisions on recommendations for awards are made on the programme(s) in which they are involved.  Virtual attendance by the external examiner, using a University of Southampton approved platform such as Microsoft Teams, is considered as being 'in attendance' at the Board of Examiners meeting.  See Participation in Boards of Examiners’ meetings for further information.

External examiners are usually expected to visit the relevant University campus for their programme annually.  This will normally be to attend the meeting of the Board of Examiners but may be at other times during the year if they attend the Board of Examiners meeting virtually.  During these visits, external examiners will be asked to consider samples of assessment, meet students and the programme team.

Participation in Boards of Examiners’ meetings

The University’s Policy and Procedures for Boards of Examiners for Taught Programmes sets out the University’s policy on the membership, attendance, responsibilities and operation of Boards of Examiners for taught programmes.  It includes information about the key roles involved in the operation of the Board, the standard agenda to be followed and issues to be considered by all Boards of Examiners.

As a key part of the process for monitoring standards of performance the external examiner will have a role in commenting on module assessment data. This is facilitated through the use of a standard agenda for Boards of Examiners and programme statistical information that will be considered by Boards of Examiners.

If a programme is delivered in collaboration with a partner or at different campuses, external examiners should specifically highlight if they have any issues or concerns related to comparability of student performance or experience arising specifically from this delivery.

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