Developments in the training of external examiners

This post provides an update on the live project run by the Higher Education Academy (HEA) to develop a training course for external examiners. It follows-on from a previous blog post in July 2015 that described the proposals to develop such a course as part of HEFCE’s consultation on future approaches to quality assessment. As part of the HEA’s communications plan, an update on the project was given on 12th June to the Academic Registrars’ Council (ARC) Quality group (of which I’m a member).

The original intention remains the same, that is to introduce “UK-wide training – separately [sic] from, and in addition to, the practical induction arrangements made by individual host institutions” (HEFCE, 2015, 25). These ‘practical induction arrangements’ are concerned with informing examiners about institutions’ own regulations and practices, whereas the training course is aimed at helping new examiners to undertake the role.

Pilot activities are underway. The initial model comprises a 3-4 hour online briefing taken in advance of a one-day face-to-face group workshop. The course covers i) developing an understanding of the nature and purpose of the role; ii) assessment literacy; iii) knowledge of key external reference points; iv) standards and the development of calibration activities (the development of which is part of the HEA’s project); v) real-life dilemmas. Future plans include the development of an online-only course, which may mitigate some of the costs of putting-on a one-day workshop.

To address some of my earlier questions in the July 2015 blog post, here are some specific points based on the latest information given at the event:

Frequency: it is intended as a one-off course for new examiners rather than an annual CPD requirement. Presumably experienced examiners will need to complete the course in order to be added to the HEA’s list (see ‘National register’ below).

Costs: it remains unclear what the course costs will be, although in the first instance there is funding in place to cover the costs of the pilot course. It appears likely that institutions will continue to induct the examiners they employ whilst also delivering the generic course, therefore the costs involved are staff time and physical resources (venue, catering etc.). The course could be made available to an institution’s own staff as a professional development opportunity.

This structure is predicated on the premise that all institutions recognise the benefits of delivering the generic course, and value the reciprocity of the model in that they will benefit from potential external examiners receiving training at their home institution.

National register: it is not intended for the HEA’s training course to be compulsory or for institutions to only employ examiners who have completed it. That said, the HEA does intend to publish a list of those who have completed the course.

Reward and recognition: there is no solution proposed as yet to the conundrum of including a mechanism to appropriately reward and recognise the role. The HEA’s project does not touch upon the issue of variable fees, as, with no central agency responsible for the appointment of external examiners, institutions will remain the employer. The project will, however, look at the creation of national/institutional incentives, for example HEA Fellowship status via the UK Professional Standards Framework.

Next steps:

The approach taken to this project has been measured, with an emphasis on developing it in response to participant feedback before seeking wider adoption. It remains to be seen how widespread the take-up will be for what is a voluntary course.

The project does not appear to deal with the tendency for institutions to appoint examiners from similar types of institution to their own (as highlighted in HEFCE’s Revised operating model (HEFCE, 2016, 35)), and the jury is out on whether examiners will be disincentivized from undertaking the role. Regarding standards, it is unclear whether examiners will be better placed to provide assurances on the ‘reasonable comparability’ of standards between institutions and it also remains to be seen whether institutions will be tested through Annual Provider Review on their consideration of standards issues through “Confirmation of the appointment of a suitable range of external examiners, increasingly to be appointed in future from those who have undertaken training” (HEFCE, 2016, 39).


Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE) (2016), Revised operation model for quality assessment. Available at:,2014/Content/Pubs/2016/201603/HEFCE2016_03.pdf [Accessed 16 June 2017]

Higher Education Funding Council of England (HEFCE) (2015), Future approaches to quality assessment in England, Wales and Northern Ireland. Available at:,2014/Content/Pubs/2015/201511/2015_11_.pdf [Accessed on 15 June 2017]



One thought on “Developments in the training of external examiners

  1. Pingback: Update on the degree algorithm project | Exit Velocity

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