"External examiners' anachronistic power over the PhD process can be painfully counter-productive." So wrote marketing professor Chris Hackley in the pages of Times Higher Education last year ("The kindness of strangers", 24 May 2012): sadly, this remains highly relevant.
An overseas postgraduate of ours at Durham University ("a world top 100 university") has waited two years since submission for a final verdict on his PhD thesis. The cause of the delay while his visa runs out? A supine and complacent home department, aided and abetted by an academic support office clinging desperately to the fig leaf of "academic freedom" to defend the inefficiency and the (very possibly) piqued ego of the external examiner. It's a disaster, but the costs are added to the poor candidate's already considerable bill.
"Do we care enough about our students to protect them from the rogue examiner?" Hackley asked. My sad and weary answer: no.
Mark Ogden, Senior tutor, St John's College, Durham University.