External Examining Principles

Working alongside Universities UK (UUK), GuildHE and an expert advisory group, QAA undertook a review of external examining practice in UK higher education. As a result, QAA have developed a set of principles for effective external examining. These have been agreed by the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assurance (UKSCQA) and are appended to the Statement of Intent on Degree Classifications. They are available on the QAA website.

In developing the principles, QAA gathered views from a range of stakeholders including academic staff, quality professionals, students and external examiners themselves through a survey and a series of roundtable discussion events. The survey, which was carried out between December 2021 and January 2022, received responses from 44 higher education institutions. Over 170 individuals engaged with the roundtable events held during December 2021 and January 2022. QAA also engaged with students and student representatives through their Student Strategic Advisory Committee and with professional, statutory and regulatory body (PSRB) representatives during a workshop held as part of their regular PSRB Forum. QAA are grateful to the expert Advisory Group members for their time and expertise in supporting this work.

The External Examining System

The external examining system has been a key mechanism for upholding academic standards in UK higher education for almost 200 years, ensuring comparability across different institutions. Within a system where autonomous institutions develop their own curricula, the UK higher education sector enables a vast range of courses to be offered which are linked to institutional research specialisms, local and industry needs, and student demand.

External examiners perform an essential function in supporting this diversity of subjects, acting as constructively critical peers. For example, they support course teams to ensure that students are assessed fairly and transparently by offering independent advice and support on modes of assessment and learning outcomes.

External examiners form a pan-sector network across UK institutions, offering a wealth of intelligence about academic standards and the quality of provision. The principles are aimed at supporting the two main stakeholders in the system: individuals performing the role, and the institutions that appoint them. They reiterate the value of appointing external examiners to work alongside UK institutions, providing confidence for students and the public that the degrees being awarded are a reliable and consistent reflection of graduate attainment.

Further advice to support institutions and externals in implementing these principles and reviewing their own external examining policies and practices is under development and will be made available in Autumn 2022.