External Examiners

Role and appointment

Every programme must have an external examiner. This person will:

  • provide an independent check on marking and academic standards;
  • provide advice on assessment and the curriculum;
  • submit an annual report indicating their impression of the programme’s strengths and areas for development.

It is the responsibility of the Collaborative Academic Lead to identify and approach a potential external examiner, in consultation with the partner institution. The examiner should be somebody with academic experience, knowledge of UK Higher Education and (for professional courses) knowledge of the profession. The Collaborative Academic Lead is responsible for dealing with the QMU appointment process.

Arrangements for payment of external examiners will be as stated in the Memorandum of Agreement.

Examiners are normally appointed for four years. At least six months before the examiner’s term expires, the partner institution and Collaborative Academic Lead should look for a replacement. This allows enough time to cope with any unexpected delays.

Following approval of the appointment, Registry will send external examiners their contract and provide a handbook explaining the examiner’s role and responsibilities. The examiner will also be sent a programme document and module descriptors.

External examiners are required to review student work that 'contributes towards the students' final award'. In practice this means that external examiners must look at:

  • all modules for a Masters programme
  • all modules for an HECert or HEDip
  • only modules at SCQF 9 and 10 for a Bachelors degree

Liaison with the External Examiner

The external examiner is an invaluable source of advice on curriculum and assessment. Draft essay questions and exam papers should be uploaded onto the shared drive for external examiner approval before they are given to students. The examiner may be able to offer suggestions for improvement.

Normally it is staff from QMU who will liaise with the external examiner but it may be agreed that the programme leader from the partner institution can liaise with the examiner direct. (This is often the case for established programmes that have been granted responsibility for their own internal moderation.)

Once marking is complete, work must be made available to the external examiner to moderate. Ideally, work should be sent at least ten working days before the exam board to give the examiner time to look at it properly. Occasionally an examiner may prefer to look at work on site when they visit – it is important to check with the examiner about their preference.

When sending work the examiner should be provided with:

  • the assignment as set to students, with any guidelines provided;
  • a sample of assessments*;
  • a full module mark list;
  • copies of the first marker’s feedback to students;
  • copies of any comments from the second marker;
  • marking criteria or model answers
  • as appropriate, the formal report of the QMU internal moderator

* When there are eight or fewer students all the assessments should be sent. When there are more, the following guidelines apply:

  • The minimum sample is six scripts. For large cohorts, the minimum sample is the square root of the total number of students (rounded up).
  • Send one script from each grade (70+%, 60-69%, etc)
  • Send all borderline fails.

The external examiner may make suggestions as to changes to marks but only the module marker can decide to change marks before the Board of Examiners. This is because only the module marker will have seen and ranked all the scripts and will therefore be able to judge whether other scripts of a similar quality need to be re-graded. If the examiner is determined to change marks he or she must view all scripts in the cohort to ensure equity.

Where the language of assessment is not English, appropriate arrangements must be put in place to ensure the external examiner can review the work.

External examiner’s report

The examiner’s annual report will be sent to the partner institution for a response. Usually, examiners raise at least some queries or put forward suggestions for improvement. The programme team must reply to the examiner, explaining what changes they have made or plan to make, or justifying why they feel no change is appropriate. The response must be sent to GQE and the Dean of School within eight weeks as part of QMU’s ongoing quality assurance. This allows the University to reassure itself that any issues are being addressed.

For further guidance on responding to external examiners, see this exemplar response.

Further information about the role of the external examiner is available on the Quality website.



Collaborations and Partnership Development

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Collaborations and Partnership Development

Sheila Adamson Partnership Development Manager 0131 474 0000