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Universities across the UK agree principles to reinforce the importance of external examining in UK higher education

Date: August 15 - 2022

UK universities have agreed a set of principles to reinforce the essential role of the external examiner system in protecting UK academic standards and the value of qualifications over time.

The principles have been developed by an expert advisory group overseen by QAA, working in collaboration with Universities UK (UUK) and GuildHE, on behalf of the UK higher education sector.

These principles have been agreed by the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment  (UKSCQA), and form an important addition to the Statement of Intent on Degree Classifications, which outlines specific commitments universities have made to ensure transparency, fairness and reliability in the way they award degrees. They reiterate the value of appointing external examiners to work alongside UK institutions, thereby ensuring that students and the public can be confident that the degrees being awarded are a reliable and consistent reflection of graduate attainment. While they are not mandatory under any of the UK regulatory systems, they have been developed with and for the sector and have a strong role to play in protecting quality and standards. Therefore, the UKSCQA calls on institutions to commit to follow them and review their practices against them.

The principles are directed at the two main stakeholders in the system: individuals performing the role, and the institutions that appoint them.

The agreed principles include a focus on protecting standards and ensuring fairness and transparency in assessment, as well as how providers can support staff who act as external examiners with appropriate training and engagement, and ensuring that conflicts of interest are avoided. Institutions are asked to review their policies and practices against these principles on a regular basis.

Professor Nic Beech, UKSCQA Chair and Vice-Chancellor of Middlesex University said: 'The principles underpin the importance of the external examining system for ensuring that fairness and transparency are applied when awarding degrees. They form a valuable addition to the Statement of Intent on Degree Classifications in providing continued confidence in the integrity of UK higher education.'

Vicki Stott, QAA’s Chief Executive said: 'The external examining system has been a key mechanism for upholding academic standards in UK higher education for almost 200 years, ensuring comparability across autonomous institutions. These new principles will enable UK higher education institutions to draw full value from the network of academic experts that the external examiner system represents.'

Professor Debra Humphris, UUK Student Policy Regulation Network Chair and Vice-Chancellor of the University of Brighton said: 'UK universities are world leaders in teaching and research, and external examiners play an important role in supporting educational standards across the sector. The principles set out here aim to further enhance academic rigor, ensuring that students can be confident their degrees will stand the test of time.'

Anthony McClaran, Chair of GuildHE and Vice-Chancellor of St Mary’s University, Twickenham said: 'External examiners are a key element in ensuring comparability, consistency and enhancement of academic quality and standards across the UK. These new principles and guidance will support the continued strengthening of this integral part of the quality assurance landscape.'

QAA, UUK and GuildHE will continue to work in mutually supportive ways on degree standards and classifications to ensure students at UK higher education institutions can have confidence in the awards they achieve.