Be honest about externals

July 2, 2009

Problems relating to the role of external examiners are unlikely to be resolved easily, especially given the idea that universities are not replicas of each other, so a central body responsible for appointing (and, horror, training) externals makes no sense ("Outside looking in", 25 June).

To tackle the problems, here are alternatives that universities should be forced to choose between:

• If institutions do not want external examiners to interact fully with internal examiners or recommend changes, they should stand by their practices and withdraw from the external-examiner system.

• If universities value the input of external examiners, they should allow all examiners sufficient time for marking work and discussion with colleagues - where necessary, adjusting the examination-board schedules, which, if tight, are unfair on administrators and examiners alike. They should also take external-examiner comments seriously, engage in dialogue where necessary, implement changes where appropriate and reject misguided requests to "publish" reports. This permits raw honesty on both sides - far more valuable to students than sham transparency.

Gillian Ania, Reader in Italian, University of Salford.

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