External Examiners' Role – Bath Spa University

Roles and responsibilities of External Examiners

  • Provide the institution with impartial and independent advice and informed comment on the institution's standards and student achievement in relation to those standards.
  • Provide informative comment and recommendations upon whether or not an institution is maintaining the threshold academic standards for its awards in accordance with the frameworks for higher education qualifications and applicable subject benchmark statements.
  • Provide informative comment and recommendations upon whether or not the assessment process measures student achievement rigorously and fairly against the intended outcomes of the programme(s) and is conducted in-line with the institution's policies and regulations.
  • Provide informative comment and recommendations upon whether or not the academic standards and the achievements of students are comparable with those in other higher education institutions of which the external examiners have experience.
  • To provide informative comment and recommendations on good practice observed by the external examiners and opportunities to enhance the quality of the learning opportunities provided to students.
  • Prior to the confirmation of mark lists, pass lists or similar documents endorse the outcomes of the award(s) they have been appointed to scrutinise.
  • Contribute as board members to examination / assessment boards to provide an expert view of the rigour and fairness of the assessment process by endorsing, or not, the decisions of the board and confirm that he/she is satisfied with the conduct of the assessment process.
  • Submit a report annually, to Academic Governance and Policy, at a time determined by the institution, to reflect the nature of the provision, the duration of teaching and assessment periods and their timing in the calendar / academic year.
  • Where the external examiner has reached the end of his/her term of office, the report should include an overview of that period.
  • Follow guidance concerning the expected contents of the reports, to ensure that the core content is addressed in each report. Individual staff and students must not be identified in the external examiner's reports.
  • Ensure annual reports provide clear and informative feedback to the institution and confirm that sufficient evidence was received to enable the role to be fulfilled (where evidence was insufficient, they give details), state whether issues raised in the previous report(s) have been addressed to their satisfaction, address any issues as specifically required by any relevant professional body and give an overview of their term of office (when concluded).

Additional responsibilities of Chief External Examiners

  • Meet with relevant external examiners to discuss issues common across the course, especially if such issues are inherent in the design and operation of the course as a whole
  • Provide feedback to the course team on generic issues both informally and via their Chief External Examiner's report
  • Attend final examination and resit boards

External examiners have the right to address any issues with the Head of Academic Governance and Quality should they wish.

Office for Students Complaints and Notifications scheme

The Office for Students Complaints and Notifications scheme exists for external examiners who wish to raise concerns about the standards and quality of HE, where Bath Spa University's internal procedures have been exhausted.

Meetings with students

Subject leaders will usually make an opportunity available for external examiners to see students and staff.

Sample and Determination of Marks

As outlined in the Academic Regulations, unless impractical, external examiners must see a 20% sample of all assessed work representative of each grade band (including firsts and fails) above level 4. This should equate to not less than eight pieces of work.

External examiners are asked to examine the course/subject as approved, within the regulations made by the Academic Board. Their function is different from internal markers. Their role is not that of "second marker" or "third marker", or adjudicator between conflicting judgements of internal markers. Their role is primarily to ensure that the marks of internal markers are consistent with marks awarded for similar subjects in relation to similar awards elsewhere in the UK HE sector. On the basis of samples (see below), the external examiner moderates or confirms the marks of a cohort or run of marks, but not individual marks or assessment items.

External examiners' reference points will be their experience at other HEIs and such expressions of national consensus as QAA subject benchmark statements.

Final judgements on, or approval of marks and classes of awards must be academic peer group processes. As with any such process, it is possible that members of the group will disagree. For disputes between an internal marker and the others, the means of resolution is straightforward - discussion and vote. Disputes between the external examiner and the internal examiner, or between external examiners, are more problematic since the mark sheet that forms part of the record of an assessment board's decision is not valid until it is signed by the appointed external examiner(s).

The Academic Board is the final authority for any award of the University, or for any marks assigned in connection with a Bath Spa University award. Any dispute that cannot be resolved at the level of an assessment board (for example where an external examiner has not signed an assessment board mark sheet) may come to Academic Board for resolution. Clearly this is cumbersome and a means of last resort.

Individual marks should not be altered to ensure equity of treatment of all students and to ensure that the examination board has not unofficially delegated responsibility to external examiners.

However, when an external examiner proposes to moderate a whole run of marks upward or downwards in the interests of preserving the standard of the Bath Spa University award, then he/she is performing precisely the function for which he/she was appointed. In such cases, the assessment board should consider rejecting the view of the external examiner(s) only after considerable deliberation and in the recognition that rejection implies that the external examiner(s) is unable to perform his/her proper function. Where the external examiner(s) differs from the assessment board even after discussion, he/she must exercise the right not to sign the mark sheet and the Academic Board will adjudicate.


Assessment boards at subject level do not and could not see the whole "run" of marks for a single candidate, nor should they consider any evidence relating to circumstances which might explain the performance of a candidate. Their role is to judge performance in a particular assessment item against the declared criteria for assessment, in the context of their experience and knowledge of marking similar items.

Students' performances across all assessment items, and circumstances that might have affected their performances, are considered only at the award level. It is important that any compensation or allowance for individual circumstances should be taken into account once only and the place for such consideration is the award board. Therefore, students' profiles and details of mitigating circumstances are not available at assessment boards.

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