Survey finds divide in law

March 29, 2002

Law schools in old universities overwhelmingly employ external examiners from old universities, making it difficult to ensure comparability of degrees across the sector, according to one of the first surveys of external examiners and what they do.

"The divide between the old and new universities is alive and kicking," said Phil Harris, head of academic quality in law at Sheffield Hallam University and co-author, with Alison Bone, principal lecturer in law at Brighton University, of The Experience of External Examiners for Undergraduate Law Degrees - a Research Survey .

External examiners are set to "sign off" courses in the new quality framework, which was set out by the Quality Assurance Agency last week. In the QAA code of practice, externals are expected to help universities compare the standards of their awards with those of other universities.

The survey found that 98 per cent of examining jobs at old universities were held by externals from old universities. At new universities or colleges, 74 per cent of examining jobs went to new university or college academics and the remaining 26 per cent were taken by old university academics.

Three-quarters of external examiners at old universities were male, compared with 60 per cent at new universities. Some 96 per cent of respondents described themselves as "white".

Induction was offered in 43 examining jobs. Of these, four were at old universities.

Old universities also tended to allow examiners to change individual marks, whereas new universities tended not to allow this.

What was consistent across all externals was dissatisfaction with pay. Almost two-thirds of respondents said they were unhappy.

The response rate to the survey was 43 per cent, about 30 per cent of all law externals. The survey, which will appear in the Law Teacher later this year, was presented at an Association of Law Teachers conference this week.

* The new "light touch" quality-assurance regime for universities will not significantly reduce the burden of red tape, a former senior quality watchdog will warn next month, writes Phil Baty .

Southampton Institute principal Roger Brown, who was chief executive of the Higher Education Quality Council until it was taken over by the Quality Assurance Agency in 1997, will, however, tell the Association of University Administrators in a lecture next month that the framework will offer better value for money as it will be more robust and will produce more reliable judgements.

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