7.11 External Examining of Research Degrees

1. All External Examiners for Research Degrees are ultimately responsible to the Senate, which is responsible for the conduct of all examinations at Aberystwyth University.

Criteria for the appointment of External Examiners

2. No External Examiner may be appointed who has advised the student or commented specifically on the work that they are submitting for examination.

3. Faculties should take care to ensure that they do not overuse a particular examiner.

4.  Only persons of sufficient seniority and experience to be able to command authority should be appointed as external examiners. The External Examiner must possess specialist knowledge and expertise in the subject of research. They should also have experience of successful supervision of research students and internal examination of research degree candidates.

5. Examiners from outside the university system are appropriate where professional expertise is required but such appointees must have suitable experience of research degree examinations.  Where this is not the case, the internal examiner should be a senior member of staff with extensive experience of research degree examinations, or a second external examiner from a university may be appointed.

6. Former members of staff at Aberystwyth University who have joined the staff of another university may not be invited to become External Examiners before a lapse of at least five years, or sufficient time for students supervised by that member of staff to have passed through the system, whichever is the longer.

7. Former members of staff at Aberystwyth University who have retired will not normally be nominated as External Examiners. Members of staff of other Universities who have retired during the preceding 3 years may be invited to act as External Examiners at Aberystwyth University.

8. Former students of the University may not be invited to become External Examiners before a lapse of at least five years, or sufficient time for students acquainted with that former student to have passed through the system. Former students should not act as external examiner for candidates supervised by their own PhD supervisor, nor should they act as an external examiner when their supervisor is the internal examiner.

9.  In addition to the points above, external examiners should not be nominated if there is any other conflict of interest, or perceived conflict of interest, that would:

  • impact upon the independence of the examiner
  • give rise to any perception of a lack of independence
  • in any way undermine or appear to undermine the integrity of the examination

This is necessary to protect students, examiners and the university from any suggestion that awards are not made objectively.

10. Examiners for research degree students are nominated by departments and approved by a Panel chaired by the Head of the Graduate School, with two other members of staff in the Graduate School. Appointments are made on behalf of Research Degrees Committee and the Academic Board. A report is prepared for each RDC and AB meeting, listing external examiner appointments approved since the last meeting along with key data, and commentary on any issues that have arisen. The Panel will check that proposed examiners meet the requirements of the AQH for research degree examination and the regulations governing the examination of research degrees. The Panel will consider the two proposed examiners as a team and may approve one examiner with less experience of examining than would normally be expected if this is compensated by substantial experience in the other examiner.

Guidance for Examination Boards for Research Degrees

11. Upon appointment, each External Examiner shall be supplied with copies of the relevant Regulations of the University, Section 7 of the Academic Quality Handbook, the Guidance for Examining Boards for Research Degrees and the appropriate examination Result and Report Forms.

12. Examiners are asked to ensure that they are familiar with the content of the Guidance (which will be issued to them upon appointment) and that they act in accordance with them.

Unacceptable Academic Practice

13. An External Examiner who, either in the course of the examining process or subsequently, considers that a candidate has engaged in Unacceptable Academic Practice shall immediately report the circumstances in writing to the Chair of the Examining Board concerned. Further guidance on Unacceptable Academic Practice is to be found in 3. Assessment of Taught Schemes of the Academic Quality Handbook.


14. The University attaches considerable importance to the External Examiner’s report and payment of the fee is conditional upon its receipt. In accordance with the University’s Standing Orders an External Examiner will be asked to report upon the work as soon as possible, and normally within twelve working weeks from the date of submission of the work by the candidate.

Arbitrating Examiners

15. When a dispute arises between the External Examiner and Internal Examiner(s) the usual Report and Result Form should be marked by the Examiners and Chair so as to indicate that the Board has been unable to agree upon a recommendation.

16. In such a case it is within the power of the Head of the Graduate School to resort to another external examiner who shall be asked to arbitrate.

17. When selecting an Arbitrating External Examiner the Head of the Graduate School may take into account any written reports submitted by the members of the Examining Board and may also take into account – but need not be bound by – any nomination made by the original Board.

18. Upon appointment, an Arbitrating External Examiner shall be given a copy of the candidate’s work together with the reports of the original examiners and the Report and Result Form and ‘Notes for Arbitrating External Examiners’.

19. When considering the candidate’s work an Arbitrating External Examiner may choose whether or not to refer to the reports of the original examiners (and if so, when he/she might do so). He/she may also choose to conduct a further oral examination and, if so, whether or not the original examiners may be invited to attend.

20. When the Arbitrating External Examiner has concluded the consideration of the work, the outcome should be communicated to the Chair of Examining Board, in the first instance. The Chair shall arrange for the Report and Result Form to be completed, signed and returned to the Academic Registy.