The missing examiners

July 16, 1999

Is it acceptable that external examiners' meetings go ahead when the external examiners have not turned up? This seems to be a valid practice at some universities, including the University of Stirling.

An external examiners' meeting for Stirling's MBA courses was held earlier this year to discuss the academic futures of 30 MBA students and the distribution of 180 exam grades. But two of the three external examiners apologised for absence.

Minutes obtained by The THES reveal that the meeting addressed important quality issues in the wake of the withdrawal of accreditation of Stirling's MBA by the Association of MBAs. These include: a course in which "weak students had been helped by the better ones". Other items were the absence of checks on whether examiners had read all students' exam texts, a group course in which it was difficult to "distinguish between the poor and the strong students", and a course that "was difficult to audit" because there was no explanation with marks. There was concern about "too high" and "overmarking" on courses.

The one external examiner who did attend warned that exam papers were of poor quality, with poor grammar and spelling and "badly shaped" questions, with "bland statements leading to bland answers". Such discussions are not uncommon and both absent externals sent in written reports. But there is growing concern about absenteeism. One external examiner for Trinity College, Dublin, said:

"Unfortunately it is not uncommon for externals to be absent from important meetings, but it is simply not right. Can a meeting be valid?"

A source at Stirling University said: "Perhaps this provides a reason for looking at the sanctity and value of the external examiner system as a whole."

A spokesman for Stirling said: "We prefer if examiners attend, but we have got to accept they have other commitments. No damage was done in this case."

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