External Examiners' Reports

Introduction

External Examining is a cornerstone of the UK Higher Education system for the assurance of standards and quality. External Examiners’ reports are therefore vital information to the University to confirm that this function has been fulfilled, to identify any areas for improvement along with features of innovative practice that may be worthy of sharing and adoption elsewhere.

External Examiners' Reports

How to complete the online report

You must fill out an annual report using our electronic submission system. The current report template can be found at:

https://intranet.swan.ac.uk/ExternalExaminers/

Reports should be sufficiently detailed, addressing each of the items raised in the report form template.  Where a report is deemed to be lacking in detail, it may be referred back to the External Examiner for revision.

What aspects does the report cover?

The report draws extensively on the relevant indicators of the QAA’s Quality Code.  External Examiners’ comments on the examining process shall be required, including observations on the structure and content of the programme of study and its delivery and also areas of good practice and opportunities to enhance the quality of student learning opportunities.

Topics include:

Assessment Practice

  • appropriateness and comprehensiveness of assessment methods to the curriculum and whether or not these are clearly demonstrated in the evidence reviewed;
  • quality and appropriateness of the examination papers and coursework materials and usefulness of feedback to students;
  • sufficiency of number and range of papers from the whole cohort to enable you to determine that the internal marking was appropriate and consistent;
  • the adequacy of moderation arrangements.

Standards

  • the appropriateness of the aims and intended learning outcomes for the programme and its structure and content;
  • student achievement/performance (e.g. pass rates, quality of work etc); and
  • comparison with national standards (subject benchmarks, Qualifications Framework and the requirements of Professional Bodies).

Administrative Arrangements

  • was adequate information provided on the programme/course aims;
  • the syllabus and marking schemes used to assess it;
  • did you receive the questions for approval (and in good time);
  • were model answers provided;
  • if appropriate, were arrangements for Examination Boards satisfactory;
  • arrangements for inspecting examination material or other forms of assessment, opportunity to meet students (if appropriate);
  • adherence to Assessment Regulations.

Other Aspects

Examples of good, interesting or innovative practice.

Collaborative Arrangements

If your duties have been extended to include consideration of students under an associated collaborative agreement, please comment on any specific issue relating to collaborative arrangements not covered in the above sections.

What not to include in a report

External Examiners are requested not to identify individual students or staff in the report, except in exceptional circumstances where the recognition of noteworthy practice or exemplary performance is felt to be important.

Reports on Postgraduate Taught Programmes

You are encouraged to wait until you have moderated the dissertations to submit one complete report that covers both Part One and Part Two.

When are Reports due?

For College/School Examination Boards held in June, the report is due within six weeks of the date of the Board (usually July 31) 

If the Examination Boards are held at times other than June, the reports are expected within a period of one month following the meeting.

Taught Postgraduate Programmes – reports are due by 6 December.

For taught postgraduate programmes, we ask that External Examiners communicate any urgent matters relating to the taught modules following the June examination board so that changes can be made prior to the next teaching of those modules. However, a specific report form is not required for this activity. Such issues, and the response to them, should be summarised in your Annual Report which covers Part One and Part Two to the University due by 6 December.

What happens if a Report isn’t submitted?

If an External Examiner does not submit a report, the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Academic) will take such steps as appropriate to the circumstances to obtain it, and/or may choose to issue a letter of premature termination as a result.

Failure to submit reports or situations of unsatisfactory performance can lead to an informal warning or the premature termination of an External Examiner’s contract. Fees are not paid until a satisfactory report is submitted.

How are reports on Collaborative Programmes considered?

External Examiners’ reports for collaborative programmes are reviewed in exactly the same manner as for programmes taught directly by the University. A copy is sent to the appropriate member of staff at the Collaborative Partner and it is expected that there will be a joint development of a response to the Examiner's report.

Overview Reports at End of Office

At the end of the period of appointment, an External Examiner is expected to provide in their annual report, an overview of issues that have arisen which will be conveyed to their successor.

Sensitive Issues

If the External Examiner wishes to raise a sensitive or confidential issue he/she may write directly to the Vice Chancellor of Swansea University.

Where an External Examiner has a serious concern that cannot be dealt with through the appropriate internal channels there is a further option which may be invoked namely the QAA’s Concerns Scheme available at www.qaa.ac.uk/complaints/concerns/pages/default.aspx.

Action to be taken Urgently

The Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Academic) and the Director of Academic Services receive copies of External Examiners’ reports.  If their attention is drawn to any issue of concern which requires urgent action the issue can be dealt with outside the quality assurance committee structure, but must involve the College and other relevant staff.  Reports on the action taken, if any, shall be provided to the Academic Standards and Quality Committee as appropriate.

External Examiners’ Responsibilities with regard to Reports

External Examiners are responsible for:

  • Preparing, on an annual basis, a report on the College/School provision for which they are responsible for overseeing;
  • Submitting the report in a timely manner (within six weeks of the Examining Board - for those held in June, i.e. by 31st July), or one month after the Examining Board;
  • For taught postgraduate programmes, submitting specific concerns about the taught modules directly to the Programme Director/Examinations Officer shortly after the Examination Board in June and completing an annual report which includes moderation of dissertations (i.e. Part One and Part Two) by 6 December;
  • Ensuring that the subject team respond adequately/with justification with respect to recommendations made to assure the standards and/or enhance quality.

What we do with External Examiner Reports

Who gets a copy of your report?

When you submit your report using our web-based application, it is immediately available to:

  • The Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Academic) - Chair of Academic Standards and Quality Committee;
  • The Director of Academic Services;
  • The relevant Head of College/School or nominee;
  • The Director of the College/School Learning and Teaching Committee;
  • The appropriate Programme Director.

And forwarded to the Principal of the relevant collaborative partner institution (where appropriate).

Academic Quality Services staff will also provide a copy of the report to the Chair of the Progression and Award Board for consideration as part of the University’s Quality Assurance procedures.

Student Access to External Examiners' Reports

External Examiners’ reports are made widely available to University and College Committees responsible for quality assurance. The membership of these Committees will include student representatives and consequently student representatives will also have access to the External Examiner’s report and College response to the report through the relevant committee structures and are expected to inform/contribute to the response.

Copies of reports may also be obtained upon request under the Freedom of Information legislation.

External Examiners may submit separate confidential reports on a programme directly to the Vice Chancellor. These confidential reports are however NOT made available to students or to the relevant University Committees.

Scrutiny of the Report and the College’s Response

Drafting a response – the Programme Director and Board of Study

The Programme Director drafts a response to the External Examiner’s report using an on-line template and consults with members of the Board of Study. Where individual students are mentioned in the report, the programme director will act in accordance with the Policy on Redaction of Personal Identifiers from External Examiners’ Reports (see below).

If the programme is delivered collaboratively, then input from the collaborative partner is required.

Board of Studies aren’t obliged to adopt/implement all recommendations made by an External Examiner. However, a strong justification for not adopting the recommendation must be made and outlined in the response template.

The response template has a section asking the programme director to reflect on the progress attained regarding the previous year’s action plan. It is important for Boards of Studies and College Learning and Teaching Committees to monitor their action plans during the academic year.

Reviewing College-wide Issues from External Examiner’s Reports

The College Learning and Teaching Committee must approve the proposed subject level response from the Board of Study and consider any College-wide issues. Where possible, there should be sufficient discussion to assure the students on the rationale of any proposed actions (or inactions).

The Chair of the College Learning and Teaching Committee can return and request revisions to the intended actions if he/she is dissatisfied with the robustness of the proposed response. There may then be an iterative process in which further revised response templates are reviewed and considered.

Once approved at College level, the response template along with the report are submitted to the Academic Registry in order for further scrutiny by the institutional-level Academic Boards and for a copy of the report and response to be returned to the External Examiner for his/her information.

While institutionally a response is returned, it is expected that normally the College would also keep their External Examiners informed of developments.

Deadline for responding to the External Examiner’s Reports

Ideally, approved subject-level response templates should be submitted within one month of receipt of the External Examiner’s report being submitted. For the majority of undergraduate programmes, the expected submission date is September 30 (see When are Reports due? above).

The responses should be submitted in a timely manner to ensure that the experience of students in the next cohort is assured and wherever possible, enhanced.

Ongoing Monitoring of Actions

Programme Directors and Boards of Studies are expected to undertake ongoing implementation and monitoring of their actions in response to the recommendations of the External Examiner and to report upon such progress in subsequent response templates. See the Boards of Studies standard agendas. Similarly, College L&T Committees should keep College-wide issues under scrutiny.

Colleges – the responsibilities of academic staff in responding to External Examiners’ reports

The Head of College has ultimate responsibility for ensuring that the College addresses any issues of concern promptly and that a relevant course of action is agreed. Where the issue relates to a particular module, then the Head of College must ensure that this is communicated to the module coordinator and that necessary changes are acted upon. He/she may delegate the operational responsibility to e.g. the Chair of the College’s Learning and Teaching Committee.

College staff are required to;

  • Ensure that an appropriate response (using the set template) is drafted in response to the report in a timely manner and that reasons for NOT adopting the recommendations of an External Examiner have robust justification.
  • Consider and respond to College-wide issues and involve student representatives in meetings of the College Learning and Teaching Committee where reports and responses must be formally discussed.
  • Periodically monitor that intended actions are being progressed, including college wide matters.
  • Programme Directors should ensure that progress towards the intended actions outlined in their response template is monitored through Boards of Studies meetings as part of the annual programme review process.
  • Where collaborative programmes are involved, the Head of College is responsible for ensuring that the collaborative partner has also responded appropriately to issues raised and including this information in the College Response Form.

 

How the University Scrutinises External Reports and College responses

The Role of Academic Boards

To receive:

  • a copy of the reports of External Examiners
  • all response templates from each College Learning and Teaching Chair

The role of the Academic Boards is to:

  • ensure that Colleges have considered the reports and have produced an acceptable and sufficiently detailed response and proposed actions to the External Examiner’s recommendations
  • follow up with any inadequate responses
  • identify examples of good practice
  • highlight any issues that need to be addressed by the College or to be referred to the Regulations, Quality and Standards, Committee i.e. issues that lie outside the immediate control of the Academic Board
  • monitor submission of External Examiner reports and college responses
  • produce a detailed minute outlining the Academic Board’s scrutiny of External Examiners reports to the RQSC
  • administrative support staff to the Academic Board will ensure that the College’s response and any specific comments are returned to the External Examiner.

If the response template is deemed to be incomplete or inadequate, the Dean may refer the response back to the College for revision.

Following this, if the response is still considered unsatisfactory, the Dean will inform the Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Student Experience) who might undertake further investigation of the matter with the Head of College.

The Role of the University’s Regulations, Quality and Standards Committee

The RQSC is responsible for:

  • undertaking the relevant quality control functions to ensure that the procedures for considering reports have been applied
  • responding to institutional level issues that arise from the reports.

Issues of good practice are drawn together into an institutional Digest and shared through the University’s Learning and Teaching Committee and SALT.

Policy on Redaction of Personal Identifiers from External Examiners’ Reports

Any information which identifies individual students stated on an External Examiner’s report will be redacted. Due to the volume of reports received and the instantaneous electronic availability of reports to Colleges, it is the responsibility of the programme director to review the External Examiner’s report and to advise the relevant staff in the Quality Office, Academic Registry of any report in which a student is identified and where redaction is necessary. Reports requiring redaction must be identified as soon as possible, preferably within two weeks of their receipt by the University.

Only student names/numbers will be blanked out in the redaction process. Only specified staff of the Academic Registry will be enabled to perform this redaction to retain security of the system and the confidence of the External Examiners in providing a full report.

Once redacted, a version of the report, suitable for circulation to student representatives, will be made available to the College for internal scrutiny and response. This redacted version of the report will also be made available to the University’s quality committees for consideration.

What are examples of Institutional Issues?

Institutional issues would encompass comments made by the External Examiner that:

  • There were serious concerns about the academic standards, content and
  • structure of the programme;
  • Standards of marking or moderation were poor;
  • There were serious concerns about the integrity of the assessment process;
  • Assessment regulations had been incorrectly and/or inconsistently applied.

Reporting Back to the External Examiner

Once reports and responses have been scrutinised through the University’s quality assurance committee structures, the Academic Registry provides to the External Examiner:

  • a copy of their report
  • a copy of the college response
  • any additional specific comments made by the Academic Board,
  • a copy of the Institutional Digest.

Action to be Taken Urgently

The Pro-Vice-Chancellor (Student Experience) and the Director of Academic Services receive copies of the External Examiners’ reports and will ensure that action is taken quickly to address any urgent issue of concern.

Deadlines for External Examiners’ Reports

The table below outlined the normal timescale of full consideration of External Examiner reports (assuming submission of the report by 31st July).

Receipt of External Examiners' reports. Reports circulated by 31st July
College Committees to consider reports and to address issues of concern, etc. by start of term
Heads of Colleges/nominee to ensure response template completed by November meeting of Academic Board
Academic Boards to consider reports during November and December meetings
Response Form copied to External Examiners November/December
Academic Boards report to RQSC by end of Michaelmas term
Institutional Digest produced summarising good practice. Copies to External Examiners and internal staff spring term

Programmes with Irregular Start/End Dates

For those programmes with irregular start/end dates in which the cohort does not ‘complete’ in June, External Examiners’ reports are received during the academic year. As a result the specific deadlines outlined above are not relevant, however the full process should normally be completed within five calendar months.

The Process, in Outline

See Useful Links for the flow chart summarising the process for dealing with External Examiners’ Reports, giving deadlines as appropriate.