Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Make External Examiners Independent, Says Report

Magazine article The Times Higher Education Supplement : THE

Make External Examiners Independent, Says Report

Article excerpt

HEA proposals aim to address 'cosy' relationships and quality assurance processes. Jack Grove writes

External examiners should be appointed centrally by an independent body rather than recruited directly by institutions themselves, a study recommends.

In a move to address concerns over "cosy" relationships between external examiners and universities, a new contracting process "managed by the sector but independent of institutions" should be introduced, says the Higher Education Academy report.

The study, commissioned by the Higher Education Funding Council for England, was published on 29 June alongside proposals to reform quality assurance processes.

Those plans suggest the creation of an external body to train and register external examiners, as well as degree "calibration" groups to ensure consistent marking practices.

That body would also assign external examiners to institutions, which currently seek out their own academics, the HEA report suggests.

The current system has led to a lack of exchange of examiners between mission groups, making it difficult to achieve comparability of standards, the report says.

At Russell Group universities, 80 per cent of examiners come from other research-intensive universities, whereas teaching-focused universities select 62 per cent of examiners from similar institutions and just 8 per cent from the Russell Group.

Several of the 602 external examiners surveyed for the study also said that there was a lack of comparability of standards across the sector, with some saying that there were "definitely different standards in different institutions".

Others said that it was impossible to know about standards at other institutions given the limited chances to meet other external examiners.

While 88 per cent of examiners agreed that the system was "fit for purpose", there was greater division over whether they could prevent grade inflation, with just 59 per cent saying that they could. …

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