Gordon Kirk (THES, January 6), raises two issues which need to be resolved regarding the external examiner system -- the duality of role as external examiner and course consultant, and the duality of the external examiner's responsibility to the institution and to the community as a whole. The first duality has considerable potential for generating conflicts of interest: however, his proposal regarding the second (locating external examining under a national agency) is likely to prove more contentious.
There is a widely-held belief that the arrangements for quality assurance are cumbersome and that streamlining is desirable. It would be a pity if the issue of external examining, soon to be brought again to the fore through the report of the Higher Education Quality Council-sponsored project led by Professor Harold Silver, were to be treated on a piecemeal basis rather than as a part of a broader framework (made up from both external and internal components) for the assurance of quality and standards.
Mantz Yorke Director, Centre for Higher Education Development Liverpool John Moores University