Examining the examiners

July 3, 2008

Geoffrey Alderman's wishes in respect of the external examiner system are not entirely clear. He wants "a complete overhaul", but he also wants its abolition ("External examiners under pressure to uphold marks and avoid criticism", 26 June). He trusts "academic professionalism", but throws his hands up in horror if anyone dares to query the absolute right of external examiners unilaterally to alter marks awarded by others. He then argues in favour of an all-internal examination regime.

He accepts hearsay statements (entirely false) that the Quality Assurance Agency code of practice on external examining prevents external examiners from regrading scripts (the code actually says institutions should be clear about the powers they give to externals, but makes no prescription). That's because there is no national external examiner system with a single set of regulations, and that's because higher education institutions are autonomous.

A Geoffrey Alderman code of practice would be an interesting work, but I fear it would be remaindered very quickly.

By the way, academic standards have not collapsed.

Peter Williams

Chief executive, Quality Assurance Agency.

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