9.3 Examiners

9.3.1 Role of examiners

The competence and independence of examiners is of fundamental importance to the integrity of the assessment process and in maintaining the academic standards of the University's research degrees.

In keeping with the importance that the University attaches to oral examinations being conducted fairly and consistently, examiners are invited to comment on the examination process in confidence to the Research Degrees Examination Board. There is also a section on the Examiners’ Joint Report Form for the internal examiner to complete on the conduct of the examination. If an Independent Chair has been appointed, they will complete a separate report on the conduct of the examination.

The examiners are jointly responsible for ensuring that the requirements for the assessment process in these Regulations and Code and in the regulations for the degree are followed.

Examiners should treat the candidate's work with strict confidence.

 External examiner

The main function of the external examiner is to assure that the academic standards of the research degrees awarded by the University are comparable with those at similar institutions. The external examiner normally takes the lead in the discussion of the candidate's work during the oral examination.

Internal examiner

The internal examiner participates fully in the examination process and acts as the examination co-ordinator, including:

Where an Independent Chair has been appointed because there is an inexperienced internal examiner (see below), the internal examiner will normally act as the examination co-ordinator with support and guidance from the Independent Chair.

Independent Chair

An Independent Chair will be appointed:

a)    where there are only external examiners;

b)    where any member of the examining panel is inexperienced; or

c)    where the Faculty PGR Director considers that the presence of an academic with extensive experience would assist in ensuring that the examination is fair and conducted in accordance with the University’s regulations for the award being examined.

An examiner is deemed to be inexperienced if they have not completed the examination of at least two research degree candidates. The prior experience required to perform the role of the Independent Chair will typically be higher.

The Independent Chair will act as the examination co-ordinator where there are there is no internal examiner. Where an internal examiner has been appointed, the Independent Chair will provide support and guidance on the co-ordination role to the internal examiner, if required.

The Faculty PGR Director will ensure that the candidate is aware that an Independent Chair will be appointed.

To be appointed, the Independent Chair must:

a)    be an academic member of staff at the University of Bristol;

b)    have a good understanding of the University’s procedures and regulations for the award being examined; and

c)    have extensive experience of oral examinations as an examiner.

The Independent Chair must not have had any prior involvement with the project or with the candidate.

An Independent Chair is not expected to read the dissertation in preparation for the examination. They must however receive copies of the examiners’ preliminary reports and must preside over discussions concerning issues raised in those reports and the plans for conducting the oral examination. An Independent Chair may make a request to the Academic Quality and Policy Office to have access to an electronic copy of the dissertation for reference if this will assist them in undertaking their role.

An Independent Chair oversees the oral examination and the deliberations of the examiners in reaching their recommendation. In the case of disagreement between the examiners, the Chair is confined to advising the examiners on their options and should use their best endeavours to assist the examiners in reaching agreement. The Independent Chair does not have a casting vote.

Where there is no internal examiner, the Independent Chair’s responsibility includes the administrative activities for the examination, including on any required corrections. In these cases, the candidate may make a request for clarification of corrections to the Independent Chair who is permitted to contact the examiners once for this purpose. The Independent Chair must also ensure that corrections are approved when there is no internal examiner.

The Independent Chair must complete a report after the oral examination to confirm that it was conducted in accordance with the University’s regulations for the award being examined.

 9.3.2 Selection of examiners

During the preparation of the dissertation, the candidate and their supervisors must agree on the intended submission date and discuss possible examiners (see Section 5.1.2). The main supervisor must propose suitable examiners to the Head of School (or nominee) no later than three months before the agreed intended submission date, using the appointment form available at http://www.bristol.ac.uk/directory/exams/staff/research-degrees-staff-information/.

The Head of School (or nominee) agrees and the Faculty PGR Director approves the examiners for research degree candidates. Both the Head of School (or nominee) and the Faculty PGR Director must be assured of the competence and independence of the examiners selected. If there are unresolved concerns about the appointment of an examiner or examiners, the main supervisor must propose a new examiner or examiners.

The criteria to be used when selecting external and internal examiners for research degrees are:

The examining panel

  • Two or more examiners will be appointed, at least one being external to, and independent of, the University, and one normally being a member of the academic staff of the University.
  • Under specific circumstances, e.g. where required by the nature of the research undertaken or the nature of the award, it may be appropriate to appoint a second external examiner.
  • Examiners are normally expected to hold a research degree at the level being examined or have other relevant expertise. It is not permissible for an individual who is registered for a research degree to be an examiner.
  • Examiners are deemed to be inexperienced if they have not completed the examination of at least two research degree candidates. An Independent Chair will be appointed where any of the examining panel is inexperienced.
  • The examiners between them (and including the Independent Chair if appointed) must have adequate experience of examining research degrees for the same type of programme as that leading to the candidate’s intended award.

Internal examiners

  • Internal examiners will normally be a non-probationary member of academic staff at the University of Bristol holding an open contract of employment of at least 0.5FTE.
  • Exceptionally, an honorary, visiting or emeritus member of academic staff who meets the other selection criteria may be appointed as an internal examiner, but this would usually be with the appointment of an Independent Chair to ensure that the examination is conducted in accordance with the University's regulations for the award being examined.
  • Internal examiners must not have any connection with the candidate, the research project or the supervisors that might impair their ability to make a fair and impartial assessment of the candidate's work.
  • Where the proposed internal examiner has participated in an annual progress review for the candidate, the Faculty PGR Director must be satisfied that the level of involvement with the research project has not impaired independence of judgement.
  • The internal examiner must understand the requirements of the University's regulations that apply to the award unless an Independent Chair is appointed to cover this requirement.

Internal examiners from partner institutions

  • Academics from institutions that are part of collaborative partnerships or centres with the University may perform the role of internal examiner, if this is specified in a partnership agreement. Where this approach is used, there must be an Independent Chair or a further internal examiner who meets the standard selection criteria.
  • Where a partnership agreement specifies that academics from partner institutions may act as the internal examiner, it is not permissible for academics from those institutions to be appointed as external examiners for candidates linked to the collaborative partnership or centre.
  • A minimum period of five years must have elapsed before an academic who held a post at a partner institution with this type of agreement may be nominated as an external examiner for candidates linked to the relevant collaborative partnership or centre.

External examiners

  • The external examiner must have the required expertise in the candidate's subject area.
  • External examiners must not have any connection with the candidate, the research project, the supervisors or the University that might impair their ability to make a fair and impartial assessment of the candidate's work.
  • Emeritus members of staff from other universities may perform the role of external examiner if they are still appropriately active in the field.
  • University of Bristol honorary, visiting and emeritus staff cannot be external examiners but may exceptionally act as internal examiners (see above).
  • A minimum period of five years must have elapsed before anybody who has held a post at the University, including in honorary or visiting roles, may be nominated as an external examiner.
  • To ensure that familiarity does not prejudice objective judgement, an individual must not be appointed as an external examiner more than twice a year by the University. Exceptions to this are permissible for external examiners of Masters degrees by research where this has been approved (see Section 9.3.3). The Faculty PGR Director must agree any other exceptions to this limit.
  • It is important to ensure that there are no reciprocal arrangements with other institutions to provide examiners.

External examiners from partner institutions

  • Faculties have discretion in the selection of external examiners from other institutions that are part of collaborative partnerships or centres with the University as long as there are no connections to the student, project, supervisor, University or the collaborative partnership/centre that might impair, or call into question, the fair and impartial assessment of the candidate's work.
  • Where a partnership agreement specifies that an academic from partner institutions may act as the internal examiner, it is not permissible for academics from those partner institutions to be appointed as external examiners for candidates linked to the collaborative partnership or centre.
  • A minimum period of five years must have elapsed before an academic who held a post at a partner institution with this type of agreement may be nominated as an external examiner for candidates linked to the relevant collaborative partnership or centre.

 Candidates who are members of staff

  • Where the candidate is a member of staff of the University, two external examiners will be appointed, unless approval has been obtained from the Faculty PGR Director to appoint an external and an internal examiner.
  • The Faculty PGR Director will determine whether there are any potential conflicts of interest or any other reason that could undermine the impartiality of the internal examiner before granting approval. This consideration will include candidates who may become members of staff prior to the award of the degree.

 Independent Chairs

  • An Independent Chair may be appointed to oversee an examination, but they are not an examiner.
  • The appointment of an Independent Chair is required where there are only external examiners, where any member of the examining panel is inexperienced, or where the Faculty PGR Director considers that an academic with extensive experience is required to oversee the examination.
  • An examiner is deemed to be inexperienced if they have not completed the examination of at least two research degree candidates. The prior experience required to perform the role of the Independent Chair will typically be higher, with the Faculty PGR Director deciding on the level of experience required from the Independent Chair based on the individual situation.
  • An Independent Chair must be an academic member of staff at the University of Bristol who has a good understanding of the University’s procedures and regulations for the award and who has extensive experience of oral examinations as an examiner.
  • An Independent Chair must not have any significant connections with the candidate or the research project.
  • The Independent Chair oversees the oral examination and the deliberations of the examiners, including receiving the examiners’ preliminary reports and presiding over the discussion of those reports and the plans for conducting the oral examination. The Independent Chair will participate in the oral examination only insofar as is needed to advise the examiners on the University's relevant regulations and procedures. The Independent Chair is not an examiner.

 

9.3.3 Appointment of external examiners for Masters degrees by research for multiple examinations

As for the examination of all research degrees, at least one external examiner who has relevant expertise must be appointed for each candidate. Where deemed appropriate by the Faculty PGR Director, external examiners for Masters degrees by research may be appointed for a three-year period with an allowance to examine a maximum of 15 students within those three years. This approach is appropriate where, for example, there are cohort-based programmes or where there are many students within a specific area.

An initial appointment for each external examiner who has been selected to serve for three years will be approved by the Faculty PGR Director. Several external examiners may be appointed at the same time to cover a specific programme or area, if required.

Examiners will be selected for individual candidates through the standard procedure and form. Where an external examiner with a three-year appointment is selected, this will be identified on the form. There will therefore be a two-stage selection: the general appointment for the three-year period and the specific appointment in relation to an individual candidate. The criterion that the external examiner has relevant expertise is a primary consideration in the individual appointment.

It is not permissible for an external examiner appointed for a three-year period to be re-appointed to this role at the University for at least five years after their period of appointment has ended.