NUS advocates open external-examiner reports

June 25, 2009

The National Union of Students has called for external-examiner reports to be published openly.

In a briefing published this week, the NUS says students have "a right to understand how and why decisions on standards ... are made".

"External examiners have a tremendous responsibility and the outcomes of their work should be published openly," it adds, noting that summaries of reports used to be published online.

The NUS said information should be targeted primarily at union officers and course reps, but also at rank-and-file students.

Meanwhile, an NUS survey has reported "a small number of cases" where the advice of external examiners was not taken into consideration by universities. Most of the students' unions questioned said external- examiner reports were considered at staff-student liaison forums, but this was not always the case.

Jon Renyard, chairman of the Quality Strategy Network, which represents staff with a remit to maintain quality, said it was usual for students to see external-examiner reports during reviews, and routine for institutions to inform external examiners about the responses to their comments.

He added that the publication of external-examiner reports online had ceased because doing so involved a "huge" workload for only a "tiny" minority of viewers.

A review of the data on the now-defunct Teaching Quality Information website in 2006 recommended that summaries of external-examiner reports be removed as they were perceived to be "of little value".

The review said some institutions felt the requirement to publish "had adversely influenced external-examiner reporting, in that (they) are becoming more cautious in how they express their conclusions".

A Quality Assurance Agency review of a case at Kingston University in 2004, in which an external examiner was asked to change a judgment in her report, found: "The circumstances ... were strongly influenced by the requirement at the time for universities to publish summaries of their external examiners' reports on the TQI website."

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