Examination and degree classification

6.1 Boards of Examiners

6.1.1 Introduction The overarching remit of boards of examiners is to oversee and conduct the assessment process according to the University’s Undergraduate Regulations and Taught Postgraduate Regulations and associated policy and procedure such as that relevant to Assessment, Boards of Examiners and Determination of Degree Classifications. This is informed by statutory external requirements as laid down in the UK Quality Code for Higher Education. Boards of examiners are required to: make decisions on student module marks; make recommendations to Academic Council for degree awards and honours classifications; and review and evaluate the soundness and fairness of the assessment process. Extenuating circumstances sub-boards; module boards; awards boards; and faculty boards operate collectively in a sequential manner to ensure that the outcomes of student assessments and awards are appropriately considered and concluded. Collectively they make up the boards of examiners and each has a specific membership, remit and responsibility. This process represents an essential element of the University’s quality assurance arrangements.

6.1.2 Boards of Examiners Key Principles Decisions made by the boards of examiners are made under authority delegated by Academic Council. All final module marks attained by students must be considered and confirmed by the relevant board prior to their being notified to students. Where it is necessary, as part of the commitment to provide feedback within 3 weeks of the assessment, to provide a module mark to students prior to the consideration of the relevant board it must be clearly stated that these are provisional. The relevant part of the boards of examiners process must be actioned and carried out:

  • where a student or group of students has completed the assessments associated with the module;
  • and the mark for the student(s) for that module can be determined;
  • in line with the principles and process set out in this document;
  • in line with specified timelines;
  • sequentially. In respect of the sequential process of Boards of Examiners activity, Module Boards must be held where there are marks to consider and in order to operate, a Module Board must have available to it both marks and any Extenuating Circumstances Sub-Board outcomes. Furthermore, Awards Boards require to have Module Board outcomes available to it. Boards of examiners must be scheduled in line with the annual planning for the conferment of awards. Dates must be scheduled in line with the academic and operational cycle and must be confirmed at the start of the academic year. Comprehensive records of business and decisions must be prepared at each meeting of a board in line with University templates and requirements and retained appropriately. Section 6.1.11 provides guidance on record keeping. Undergraduate and Taught Postgraduate students can be considered at the same board, there is no requirement to consider these marks separately. Likewise, there is no requirement to consider main and resit module marks at separate boards, where timing allows these can be considered together. Extenuating Circumstances sub-boards can be considered immediately prior to the relevant board if this facilitates planning and attendance.

6.1.3 Summary of Boards of Examiners Process

Summary of Boards of Examiners Process graphic

6.1.4 The Role of External Examiners The role of external examiners is to ensure that the standards of awards from the University of Stirling are comparable with similar programmes in other UK higher education institutions, are appropriate in relation to the SCQF and national subject benchmark statements, and that the processes for assessment, examination and awards are sound and fair. External examiners are also asked to comment on the standard of student attainment. External examiners will attend the relevant board meetings as set out below, and contribute to the decision-making at both module and programme level by providing feedback on whether:

  • The module(s) and programme(s) are coherent, with outcomes aligned to the relevant module/programme outline and/or benchmark statements;
  • Assessments in modules of the same level are of a comparable standard and that the curriculum remains current;
  • Assessment criteria, marking schemes and arrangements for classification are set at an appropriate level;
  • The programme reflects any additional Professional Statutory and Regulatory Body (PSRB) requirements. The final decisions on awards are the responsibility of the relevant board. External examiners may be asked to provide guidance on individual cases, in such circumstances the final decision would still be made by the award board with the views of the external examiners made known to the board. Further information can be accessed from Section 6.4.3 of the Assessment Policy and Procedure and the External Examiners Handbook (Taught) sections 6-11 for more information on the role of External Examiners.

6.1.5 Extenuating Circumstances

The University recognises that during the course of their studies, a student may encounter personal difficulties that are out with their control, have a short period of impact and which have a negative effect on their ability to study and/or complete assessments. In order to ensure appropriate support for students in such circumstances, the University provides a number of potential routes to assist the student in terms of their studies, in addition to the pastoral and academic advice and support that is routinely available. The most appropriate route will depend on the circumstances.

The University’s Extenuating Circumstances arrangements set out the provisions the University makes for a student’s ‘Extenuating Circumstances’ to be taken into account within the assessment process, as one potential route to assist the student where personal difficulties are experienced.

Procedure and further guidance on extenuating circumstances

6.1.6 Extenuating Circumstances Sub-Board The Chair of the faculty board should constitute an extenuating circumstances sub-board, virtually or in person, to make decisions in relation to extenuating circumstances cases that have been submitted. It is recommended that the sub-boards be held at faculty level, exceptionally, if necessary sub-boards may be held at divisional or subject level. The sub-board is the first step in the boards of examiners process, and is therefore held prior to each subsequent relevant board as required. (See Extenuating Circumstances Sub-Boards may be held, as required, throughout semester to consider requests for extensions beyond standard extensions, removal/reduction of late penalties or other application where a complete set of grades are not required in order for the Sub-Board to reach a decision.  The Chair of the Sub-Board has delegated authority to consider requests for extensions, beyond standard extensions. A final Extenuating Circumstances Sub-Board will take place each semester, as required, after the relevant examination diet and prior to each relevant Module and/or Award Board as required. This Sub-Board will note the decisions of all Sub-Boards held during semester and deal with outstanding applications submitted within the time limit specified in the Extenuating Circumstances Procedure. Membership

An extenuating circumstances sub-board must normally include at least the following staff:

  • Faculty or Divisional or Subject Chief Examiner as Chair;
  • At least two Subject Examiners from the Faculty/Division or Subject;
  • Secretary appointed by the Dean of Faculty.

Other staff members from either academic or professional services areas may be invited to contribute to the discussion of the sub-board as relevant, at the discretion of the Chair.

All members of the sub-board should have access to the information necessary to make the decisions specified below. This information must include all module learning outcomes and module marks achieved by students whose extenuating circumstance is to be considered by the sub-board. Remit and Responsibilities

a) Decisions of Extenuating Circumstances Sub-Boards are made on the basis of a majority decision of the Sub-Board considering the request.

b) The Extenuating Circumstances Sub-Board must ensure that all Extenuating Circumstances Requests submitted by students are considered in line with this procedure, and therefore in a manner that is consistent across faculties and supports the overall assessment process. Specifically the Sub-Board should ensure that students who consider their performance to have been affected by extenuating circumstances have their requests considered fairly.

c) Extenuating circumstances requests will be judged at the discretion of the Sub-Board, which will seek to determine whether, and to what extent, they have affected academic performance, and what action, if any, might be taken in response. In assessing the significance of extenuating circumstances the Sub-Board will normally take into account;

  • the severity of the issue and the length of time involved;
  • any supporting documentary evidence;
  • whether it is possible to gauge the effect of extenuating circumstances upon academic performance.

d) The Extenuating Circumstances Sub-Board may decide on the following outcomes:

  • Provide an extension longer than the standard extension, or as provided under an ARUAA. However, the new submission date should provide sufficient time for marking and grade upload, before the upload deadline immediately prior to the next progression date. For example, for a spring assessment, the assessment grade should be uploaded, before the July upload deadline.
  • Remove or reduce late penalties incurred as a result of an extenuating circumstance where there was good reason that appropriate extension requests were not made.
  • Where a student has not yet met all the learning outcomes nor completed all the assessment elements the Sub-Board may recommend an alternative assessment, to enable the student to do so, in agreement with the module-coordinator.
  • Allow the student to take a resit, with an uncapped grade, where the original assessment was impacted by an extenuating circumstance.
  • Remove a grade cap incurred as a result of an extenuating circumstance.
  • In exceptional circumstances, allow the student to have a further assessment opportunity, where the current assessment opportunity was impacted by an extenuating circumstance and they have exhausted their assessment opportunities under the assessment policy. However, the additional assessment must be taken, and grade uploaded, before the upload deadline immediately prior to the next progression date. For example, for a spring resit, the additional assessment must be taken and grade uploaded before the July upload deadline.
  • Reduce the relative weighting of an assessment that was impacted by an extenuating circumstance, taking into account the need for the student to assure that they have met the learning outcomes of the module.
  • In exceptional circumstances which affect a cohort of students but which are out with their control, other outcomes as are reasonable and appropriate in the circumstances.
  • If a number of assessments are affected by extenuating circumstances then different outcomes may be appropriate for each, depending on the nature of the assessment.
  • Make a recommendation to an Awards Board that extenuating circumstances are taken into account in an award consideration.

Where the circumstances affecting the student are not within the parameters of extenuating circumstances, or where the Sub-Board deems it appropriate in addition to offering an outcome, Sub-Boards may refer students to relevant support services such as Accessibility & Inclusion for assessment for an ARUAA; the personal tutor or recommend a leave of absence be taken or where it is felt the student may not be fit to continue with their studies at the present time, make a referral of the student’s case to Academic Registry for consideration in line with the University’s Fitness to Study policy and procedure.

6.1.7 Module Board Where a student completes the assessments associated with a module, the mark to be awarded to the student for the module must be approved through the boards of examiners process, prior to the mark being notified to the student. (See for guidance regarding release of marks prior to a board meeting.) The first stage of approval is the module board which is expected to meet after each examination diet. (See for more guidance on scheduling.) Module boards should be convened at a divisional level, and normally each division should operate one module board, convened by the subject chief examiner. Where the size of division renders one meeting impracticable it is permissible for the faculty to hold subject level module boards. Where a faculty considers that subject-level module boards are required, this should be confirmed when submitting the annual meeting schedule (See Membership

A module board will normally include the following staff:

(i) The Subject Chief Examiner(s) as Chair

(ii) The Subject Chief Examiner(s) if not included as (i) above

(iii) The Module Co-ordinator(s)3

(iv) The External Examiner(s) for the module(s) on which the Board is taking decisions (see c) )

(v) Secretary appointed by the Dean of Faculty

(vi) Members of teaching staff involved in the assessment of the module, as considered appropriate to inform discussion by the relevant Module Co-ordinator or Programme Director

(vii) Programme Directors are invited to attend modules boards.

[3] Where modules are taught overseas an appropriate Stirling based representative should be nominated by the Programme Director to attend in the place of the overseas Module Coordinator.

a) The Subject Chief Examiner will act as chair of the module board. Where there is more than one subject chief examiner in a division it should be agreed by the Dean of Faculty who will chair the meeting. It is recommended that the chair remains consistent over the course of an academic year where possible.

b) A module board will normally be judged to be quorate if attended by the Chair, Secretary and External Examiner(s) (See c) and 2/3’s of all other members. Programme Directors are invited to attend and therefore a not included in the quoracy count.

c) External Examiners can attend module boards either in person or remotely through the submission of written comments which must be submitted to the Chair prior to the meeting for consideration and discussion by the module board.

d) All members of the board should have access to the information necessary to make the decisions specified below. This information must include all module marks achieved by students whose module performance is to be determined by the module board. Remit and Responsibilities

a) The module board is responsible for making decisions on and approving all module marks and uploading all approved module marks to the student record for all modules owned by the division. The board will:

(i) consider the marks achieved;

(ii) consider internal moderators reports and comments on the fairness and consistency of marking (See Section 6.2.5);

(iii) consider external examiners’ reports on the fairness and consistency of marking (based on sampling) and adjust cohort marks as appropriate;

(iv) note the decisions and recommendations of the extenuating circumstances sub-board and adjust module marks as appropriate;

(v) note the outcome of any Academic Misconduct meetings the adjustment of marks as appropriate;

(vi) make recommendations regarding the assessments set in each module;

(vii) agree and approve final module marks and the nature of any re-assessment offered, where applicable.

b) Following resit examinations and coursework reassessments, the module board should ensure a similarly robust process is followed in respect to all marks.

c) Where it is not possible for the board to meet the approval of these marks should be undertaken by the Chair, in appropriate consultation with colleagues and following the underlying process and principles of this guidance. These decisions should be reported to the next available board.

d) Once approved, the faculty’s exams officer or other designated member of staff is required to upload the marks to the University’s student record system, via the portal. The Chair of the module board is required to confirm the accuracy of the marks at the point of upload and confirm that all decisions by the board have been reflected correctly within the upload by verifying these details on Portal, by the required date.

[4] In the case of INTO UoS student this is recorded on INTO UoS’s system, although the principles of the management of marks is identical.

6.1.8 Awards Board Faculties should operate one Awards Board for undergraduate programmes and one for taught postgraduate programmes, per division (or equivalent), convened by the Subject Chief Examiner(s). Where the size of division (or equivalent) renders one meeting impracticable it is permissible for the faculty to hold subject level awards boards. Where a faculty considers that subject-level Awards Boards are required, this should be clearly recorded in the minutes/decisions records of the meeting. Awards Boards should meet in advance of the appropriate Undergraduate or Taught Postgraduate graduation ceremony and: after the relevant Module Boards are completed and awards algorithms have been run; and in time to meet the required deadline for the return of award recommendations. Membership

An Awards Board should normally include the following staff:

(i) A Subject Chief Examiner as Chair

(ii) The Subject Chief Examiner(s) not included as (i) above

(iii) The Programme Director(s) for the programme(s) on which the Board is taking decisions

(iv) For Awards Boards taking decisions on combined awards, a representative from each relevant division (or equivalent) is required

(v) The External Examiner(s) for the programme(s) on which the board is taking decisions.

(vi) Secretary appointed by the Dean of Faculty

(vii) In addition, the Chair of the Board may at his or her discretion invite any person who has been involved in the teaching or assessment of the work under consideration by the Board to be present ‘in attendance’.

a) The Subject Chief Examiner will normally act as chair of the Awards Board. Where there is more than one subject chief examiner in a division it should be agreed by the Dean of Faculty who will chair the meeting. It is recommended that the chair remains consistent over the course of an academic year where possible

b) An Awards Board will normally be judged to be quorate if attended by the Chair, Secretary, External Examiners (See c) ) and divisional representatives as required for the relevant items of business and ⅔ for all other members.

c) In exceptional circumstances, and where it is essential in terms of progressing board of examiner business, a member may attend the meeting remotely or provide written comments prior to the meeting.

d) All members of the Awards Board should have access to such information as is necessary to make the judgments specified below. This information must include all module marks achieved by those students whose overall performance or degree classification is to be determined by the board. Remit and Responsibilities

a) The Awards Board is responsible for all programmes owned by the division (or equivalent). The undergraduate board considers discussable cases for Honours classification, the postgraduate board considers discussable cases for merit and distinction. Both determine the final award outcomes for all students.

b) As set out in the Determination of Honours Degree Classifications Policy, an Honours degree Discussable Case is defined as one where a student’s mark falls within the higher classification but does not meet the predominance criteria of at least 50% of all their grades falling in that higher classification

c) The Awards Board is responsible for recording all decisions and notifying final award classifications by the advised date.

d) During a meeting of an Awards Board, members will:

    (i) confirm awards and classifications determined through the University algorithm unless any concern exists or is raised;

    (ii) discuss and take decisions on any awards determined by the algorithm for which there is a concern and any Discussable Cases in line with the provisions of the Determination of Honours Degree Classifications Policy and;

    (iii) consider comments from the external examiner(s) on the assessment process and standards of student attainment;

    (iv) consider comments on the programme(s) and recommendations to the programme director(s) for the future shape of the programme(s);

    (v) delegate authority to the Chair to take decisions on particular cases where all the information is not available at the time of the meeting.

e) Discussable Cases should be considered by an Awards Board as follows:

(i) In advance of the meeting of the board the divisions will run the relevant University awards algorithm which will enable the identification of discussable cases.

(ii) The judgement of whether to award the higher classification or whether the student should remain with the existing classification requires to be made by the Awards Board. The board can exercise discretion and decide to award a higher classification where this would fairly reflect the student’s overall performance profile.

(iii) Extenuating Circumstances are taken into account by Boards of Examiners when awarding module marks and are therefore not considered as criteria for determining discussable cases at the Awards Board, except where competently requested to do so by the Extenuating Circumstances Sub-Board or  in exceptional circumstances, such as a student in their final year of studies making the University aware of circumstances that impacted them in their final semester and after the last Module Board sat.

(iv) All decisions made relating to Discussable Cases, and the factors considered, must be clearly documented in the minutes of the meeting and reported to Academic Registry along with the award recommendations.

(v) Guidance for Awards Boards on exercising discretion in Honours Discussable Cases is provided at

(vi) At postgraduate level the awards are defined by the University’s regulations for taught postgraduate programmes. In borderline cases for the award of distinction or merit, discussion will be based on the relevant criteria set out below:

Decisions to award a higher classification may be based on one or more of the criteria. The list does not imply any ranking of importance or order in which the criteria should be applied.

  • outstanding performance in the extended individual study
  • outstanding performance in compulsory modules
  • outstanding performance in professional practice modules
  • exit velocity that demonstrates sustained improvement
  • outstanding performance in viva voce examination where relevant
  • predominance of the weighted module marks is in the higher classification

The board may consider other relevant criteria, where this is the case the criteria should be clearly documented in the minutes of the meeting.

“Outstanding” is defined as performance graded in any award classification above that in which the student is currently positioned.

f) An Awards Board can recommend to Academic Council that an aegrotat or posthumous award be conferred in respect to an undergraduate or taught postgraduate programme.

  • Aegrotat awards may be considered where no degree award may be made within the regulations, and the student is close to completing the award but is prevented from doing so because of illness. In recommending an aegrotat award, the Award Board should be satisfied that: the student's prior performance clearly demonstrates that he/she would have satisfied the requirements for the award, but for the illness experienced; and the student is unlikely to be able to return to complete his/her studies at a later date.
  • A posthumous award can be considered where a student has died and has either; completed the programme of study, including the required assessments, and has satisfied the requirements of the award; or has not completed the programme of study but the award board is satisfied that the student would have been able to complete or satisfy the requirements for the award. In making a recommendation for a posthumous award the award board shall consider the evidence of the student’s academic performance overall and in respect to any coursework submitted or assessments completed. Guidance for Awards Boards on Exercising Discretion in Honours Discussable Cases

Discussable Cases occur where a student’s mark profile falls within the higher classification but does not meet the predominance criteria of at least 50% of all their relevant grades falling in that higher classification. In these cases, the Awards Board can exercise discretion to fairly reflect the student’s overall performance profile, and factors considered should be clearly documented in the minutes of the meeting.

A Discussable Case can arise in a number of ways and therefore it is difficult to be more prescriptive as to how discretion should be exercised in the policy, without causing anomalies and unfair outcomes. This guidance has been produced to help Awards Boards exercise discretion fairly and consistently.

There is no expectation that every Discussable Case should be elevated to the higher classification. The operation of the honours classification calculation algorithm is robust and accepting its outcome should be the default position. However, when there is a clear anomaly in its application to a particular grade profile, then discretion may be exercised. Award Boards are always conducted using anonymous grade profiles and discretion must be applied on this basis.

The key question the award board must address is:

Does the overall profile of the student demonstrate that they have met the programme learning outcomes at the higher classification level?

Examples of profiles and outcomes:

Example 1:

57;65;53;55;64;65;64;51;58;58;58 = GPA 60. Factors in discussion: GPA marginally in the higher classification; dissertation 58; 4/12 of 20 credit modules in higher classification; distribution of lower grades not consistently at borderline of upper classification. No compelling features in the profile to suggest that the award should be raised: 2:2 award.

Example 2:

69,77,77,69,69,77,68,77,77,69,69,69= GPA 72.63 – Factors in discussion: GPA in higher classification; consistent performance in upper classification (and well within the classification); lower performance within 2 percent of classification boundary; no exit velocity; dissertation borderline; 5/12 in upper classification: 1st award.

Example 3:

67;67;67;67;67;97;66;70;70;69;69;69=GPA 70.82 – Factors in discussion: GPA in the higher classification but only just. One very high module; 3/12 in higher classification: 2:1 award.

6.1.9 Faculty Board The faculty boards provides quality assurance at the faculty level by undertaking detailed scrutiny of the outcomes and outputs of the faculty’s assessment arrangements ensuring consistency of practice and taking steps to revise or develop assessment arrangements or practice in response to any outcomes of the scrutiny. Faculty boards do not make decisions on marks or awards and do not replicate the business of either module or awards boards. Faculties are required to convene a meeting of the faculty board at least once per year. Membership

The faculty board should normally include the following staff:

    (i) The Dean of Faculty or Faculty Chief Examiner as chair

    (ii) The Faculty Chief Examiner if not included as (i) above

    (iii) All Subject Chief Examiners for the Faculty

    (iv) The Faculty Associate Dean of Learning and Teaching

    (v) The Faculty Operations Manager

    (vi) Secretary appointed by the Dean of Faculty

All members of the board should have access to the information necessary to fulfil the remit specified below. This information may include, but not be limited to, extenuating circumstances, assessment and award trend data, analysis of input and output profiles. Remit and Responsibility

a) Faculty board will:

  • review and evaluate the decisions of the faculty’s extenuating circumstances sub-board, module and awards boards to consider consistency in assessment and award and the impact of the University’s assessment and policy regulations.
  • consider the external examiners’ reports, and responses, in order to identify patterns or points of recommendation.
  • agree arrangements to share best practice across divisions/subject areas.
  • consider factors external to the institution that may impact on the business of the Boards of Examiners.
  • An annual report on the assessment process and practice within the faculty should be submitted by the faculty board to the University faculty chief examiners committee for consideration. This report may also be presented to the faculty learning and teaching committee and faculty executive group as deemed appropriate by the chairs of these groups.

b) The faculty board will work with the relevant faculty learning and teaching committee to ensure information identified in sections (i) to (iv) can support the enhancement of learning and teaching.

6.1.10 Conduct of Boards of Examiners Boards of examiners members and others due to attend a meeting of the board of examiners are obliged to declare any personal interest, involvement or relationship with a student being assessed. In such cases the Chair of the relevant board will ensure that the relevant individual withdraws and a suitable alternate attends as appropriate. The assessment process should proceed on an anonymous basis until final award decisions have been confirmed. Therefore, student registration numbers, and not student names, should be used throughout the boards of examiners process. A board makes decisions collectively, with no individual member having primacy. However, in cases of disagreement, the Chair’s decision will prevail. Professional service staff may be in attendance at boards of examiners meetings in order to provide advice and guidance as required. However, only academic members of the board take part in decision making. Minutes and papers from board meetings are lodged with the appropriate Faculty Office and a copy forwarded to Academic Registry. (See 6.1.11) Students shall be formally notified of award decisions only on the formal award date. The formal award date is set annually by the Graduation Team and the University Faculty Chief Examiners Committee. Boards of examiners shall not reopen decisions which have been made and published unless a procedural irregularity is confirmed upon appeal.

6.1.11 Boards of Examiners Records The Dean of Faculty should appoint a secretary(s) to the Boards of Examiners who will be responsible for preparing the agenda, minutes and records of meetings in line with University requirements. The agenda and minutes of the Board of Examiners should follow the University template and record the following as a minimum:

  • attendance and quoracy of the meeting;
  • any declaration of personal interest by a member of the Board of Examiners, together with any action arising from the declaration;
  • decisions on all students, including noting if students have withdrawn or transferred;
  • decisions on, and the criteria used in respect to all ‘discussable cases’ (See b))
  • any candidates selected for viva voce examination, with a note of the criteria for selection;
  • any candidates noted for re-assessment;
  • any further action required by the Boards of Examiners or the Faculty;
  • any general comments from internal and external examiners on the assessment process;

The agenda template (form ARO 032a) and minute template (form ARO 032b) are available here. It is the responsibility of the Chair(s) of a board of examiners to ensure that a comprehensive and appropriate minute is prepared as a complete record of the decisions made at each board of examiners meeting. The minute of each meeting should be approved by the Chair prior to any actions to be taken in respect to the decisions made, and the minute should be provided to the next formal meeting of the relevant Board. Decisions on all discussable cases should be recorded, appropriate extracts from the records should accompany the award recommendations so that examiners’ use of these discretionary powers can be monitored. Boards of examiners meetings should be scheduled to ensure that the Faculty can submit results by the deadlines specified. Except in exceptional circumstances, the signature or electronic signature of the Chair of the awards board of examiners and at least one external examiner must be included on the final list of degree awards/honours degree classifications before records of the meeting are submitted to Academic Registry. These signatures are regarded as an endorsement that assessment processes have been carried out in accordance with the policies and regulations of the University. If an external examiner is unwilling to endorse the outcomes of the assessment process, a written statement from the external examiner citing his/her reasons for the decision should be sent to Academic Registry viaquality@stir.ac.uk in the first instance. Records from boards of examiners should be stored confidentially in the Faculty Office records. Immediately on completion of the awards board meeting the award recommendations, examiners report forms and the minutes of the discussable cases should be sent to Student Programmes. Within one month of the meeting a full set of minutes should be sent to Academic Registry via quality@stir.ac.uk. All records submitted must be stored confidentially and in accordance with the relevant records retention policy. Such records are strictly confidential and not disclosable under Freedom of Information.

Section 6.3 Updated and Approved April 2017 University Academic Quality and Standards Committee.

6.2 External Examiners

6.2.1 Aims and Objectives The external examiner system at Stirling has been developed with reference to the UK Quality Code for Higher Education Advice and Guidance on External Expertise. The aims of the system are:

  • to verify that the academic standards for each award or award elements, for which the external examiner, is responsible, are set and maintained by the University at the appropriate level, and that the students’ performance is properly judged against these;
  • to assist the University to maintain levels of students’ academic attainment comparable to those in other universities in the United Kingdom;
  • to ensure that the assessment process measures student achievement against the intended outcomes of the programme appropriately and that the assessment system is operated fairly in the marking, grading and classification of student performance. In order to achieve these aims external examiners are required:

  • to report whether the standards set are appropriate for the University’s awards or award elements by reference to published national subject benchmarks, the University’s programme specifications, the Scottish Credit and Qualifications Framework and other relevant information;
  • to report on the standards of student performance in the programmes or modules which they have been appointed to examine, and on their comparability to the standard of achievement on similar programmes in other UK higher education institutions;
  • to report on the extent to which the University’s processes for assessment, examination and the determination of awards are sound and have been conducted fairly;
  • to review, evaluate and moderate examination and other assessment instruments and practices, particularly at the final year or award level;
  • to assist the University in the calibration of academic standards through the review and evaluation of the outcomes of assessment processes;
  • to be a member of, and attend, appropriate examination boards to ensure fairness and consistency in decision-making processes;
  • to present an electronic written report to the Principal and other relevant agents as appropriate, which includes commentary and judgments on the validity, reliability and integrity of the assessment process and the standards of student attainment, and on any aspects of good practice which they wish to commend. In order to achieve these purposes, the external examiners must be able:

  • to participate in assessment processes for the award of degrees;
  • to comment and give advice on programme content, balance and structure. The final decision on degree awards rests with the University, not the external examiner. In the event of a dispute, where the external examiner challenges the recommendations of the Board of Examiners, the matter shall be referred to Academic Registry in the first instance via quality@stir.ac.uk. Except in exceptional circumstances, no degree of the University shall be awarded without participation in the examining process of at least one examiner external to the University. When, exceptionally, an external examiner cannot participate, degree awards and classifications may nevertheless be confirmed by the Deputy Principal (Education and Students) under delegated authority from Academic Council. In the case of a degree award that requires to be considered at a later point than the normal awards boards, if the component module outcomes have been confirmed through the appropriate module board procedure and therefore have been subject to scrutiny by an external examiner, then the degree award can be considered and confirmed without the input of an external examiner if required. Where in these circumstances the outcomes of the component modules or elements of a programme have not been confirmed through the standard procedure, the input of an external examiner must be included in the award consideration. 

6.2.2 Appointment of External Examiners External examiners shall be appointed by the Academic Council on the recommendation of faculties. The normal period of appointment shall be four years with an exceptional extension of one year to ensure continuity. Applications for an exceptional fifth year should be made via the submission of pro forma ARO 005 to Academic Registry. An external examiner may be re-appointed in exceptional circumstances, but only after a period of five years or more has elapsed since their last appointment. External examiners shall be responsible to the Academic Council. Faculty nominations for the appointment of taught external examiners are made via submission of pro forma ARO 004 and in accordance with the nationally specified criteria. They are scrutinised by Academic Registry and approved by the Deputy Principal (Education and Students) on behalf of Academic Council. In approving nominations consideration must be given to appropriate subject expertise, genuine externality from the University, familiarity with the UK higher education sector, and examining experience. While the first two are absolute conditions of appointment, the experience of one or more internal examiners may compensate for inexperience in relation to the second two. Faculties must avoid simultaneous reciprocal appointments with other institutions. Faculties are responsible for regulating the number of external examiners that are appointed to its programmes.  However, any significant increase or decrease would require a case to be made and approved through the route specified in The invitation to act as external should be supported by adequate background information, including a written briefing on the institution’s policies for assessment and external examining in general, to ensure that the role and responsibilities are understood. It is the University’s responsibility to provide for the proper preparation of external examiners. This should include a written briefing on the University’s policies for assessment and external examining in general, together with appropriate specific programme documentation. Documentation issued by Academic Registry to newly appointed external examiners will include:

  • an introduction to the University’s policies, procedures and regulations concerning the structure and administration of its examining and awarding bodies;
  • a statement regarding the responsibilities and role of external examiners;
  • contractual arrangements (fee, expenses, length of appointment);
  • links to codes of practice and other relevant policies and procedures relating to academic quality assurance and standards, and learning and teaching;
  • a copy of any  University handbooks or other resources relevant to  external examiners.. Faculties are responsible for providing external examiners with supporting documentation on the programmes/subject area to be reviewed, including:

  • information on the programmes/modules and their method of assessment for which the external will have responsibility;
  • programme regulations;
  • structure and content of the curriculum;
  • learning outcomes;
  • internal faculty marking schemes;
  • dates of boards of examiners’ meetings;
  • arrangements for the sampling of scripts, including principles for selection of samples;
  • assessment structures, assignments and examination papers in relation to agreed learning outcomes;
  • arrangements for access to any work contributing to the final award, to determine that internal marking has been carried out according to marking schemes and that classifications are of an appropriate standard;
  • faculty principles for the selection of candidates for viva voce, oral and practical examinations and the external examiner’s role in conducting these examinations with students. Faculties should encourage their external examiners to visit the faculty.  They should provide opportunities for them to become familiar with the institution and to discuss their responsibilities and other matters prior to the first visit to undertake assessments. This is particularly important in the case of external examiners with little or no previous experience of the role, or who are from outside higher education. Faculties should include the names, positions and institutions of their external examiners within the information provided to students together with a statement advising students that it is inappropriate for them to make direct contact with external examiners. Faculties will occasionally have cause to appoint a substitute external examiner for a period of less than four years to cover periods of unforeseen absence by an external examiner, due to illness or other exceptional circumstances. In such cases, the faculty should follow the procedures as set out in this section with a clear statement of the temporary period. A central register database of external examiners is maintained by Academic Registry which details length of appointment, area(s) of responsibility, fee and contact details.

6.2.3 Role of External Examiners in the assessment process External examiners shall participate in the assessment of all modules of study at level 9 and above, including postgraduate modules. It is not expected that external examiners should review resit examination papers or be involved in modules below level 9, except where necessary for professional or statutory purposes. Draft examination papers should be sent to the external examiner for approval.  Model answers should be included to aid external examiners in gauging the quality of individual questions.  External examiners are not expected to approve coursework or assignments, except for those modules which would otherwise receive no scrutiny. An external examiner has the right of access to any work that contributes to the assessment of an award and the degree classification, dependent on availability. The normal expectation will be that a sample of work will be sent to an external examiner and the principles for such a selection should be agreed in advance. Normally:

  • the sample will include a selection of examination scripts and assessments, where the range of marks are represented;
  • the proportion of work considered by an external examiner will depend on the size of the module;
  • the selection will ensure that external examiners have enough evidence to determine that internal marking and classifications are of an appropriate standard and are applied consistently;
  • the sample will include all failed cases, borderline cases, and some, but not necessarily all, top mark cases. The external examiner is a full member of the Board of Examiners whose opinion is important when the board is deciding problematic cases.  The external examiner must not be used as the arbiter for the final decision in such cases.  This decision is the responsibility of the board. External examiners should be given the opportunity to meet students on the programmes/modules which they are examining, if they so wish. Where a viva voce examination is held for a proportion of the candidates, the principles for the selection of candidates should be agreed by the Board of Examiners.  The examiners for such an examination should be decided by the Board of Examiners and may include the external examiner if considered necessary by the Board. An external examiner concerned with the final classification of honours degrees or degree awards is a full member of the relevant board of examiners and attend (in person or remotely) the normal meetings at which honours degree classifications and degree awards are determined. The signature of at least one external examiner must be appended to the final list of degree awards. In the case of results lists for individual modules of study, the signature of the Chief Examiner will imply that such external participation as may be required has taken place. Faculties should ensure that externals are given adequate notice of their required attendance. Externals should be clearly informed on what basis they are required or not required to attend meetings of examiners or awards meetings. External examiners should be provided with adequate opportunity to hold meetings with internal examiners. External examiners should be encouraged to comment on the curriculum and on the assessment process, and should be consulted on changes to the curriculum and assessment arrangements. External examiners should be asked to comment on new programme proposals in their subject area. External examiners may often be able to give advice to internal examiners, especially inexperienced examiners, either directly or through the dean of faculty or nominee. Members of academic staff should use the opportunity afforded by the visits of external examiners to discuss with them programme structure, curriculum and assessment procedures. Consideration should be given to involving external examiners in the faculty’s quality enhancement activities. (e.g. by spending a day with the faculty once in a four year cycle, and having the opportunity to meet with students as part of this process). External examiners retain the right to raise any matter of serious concern with the Principal, this may be in the form of a separate confidential written report.  Any such matters arising will be considered and responded to as appropriate. Where an external examiner has serious concerns relating to systemic failings with the academic standards of a programme and all internal procedures have been exhausted (see also, the external examiner may invoke the Quality Assurance Agency’s concerns scheme (http://www.qaa.ac.uk/scotland/en/reviewing-higher-education-in-scotland/how-to-raise-a-concern-in-scotland) or inform the relevant professional, statutory or regulatory body. The external examining requirements for higher degrees by research are set out in the Research Postgraduate Regulations.

6.2.4 Submission and Receipt of, and Response to, External Examiners’ Reports For taught programmes, external examiners are required to submit an electronic written report annually and at the end of their period of service. No fee shall be paid to the external examiners until the reports have been received.  Individual staff and students must not be named in external examiner reports.  Reports will be amended by the University where individuals are identified. Academic Registry will set a deadline for the submission of reports for undergraduate and postgraduate externals. Reports are addressed to the Principal and submitted to the Academic Quality and Governance team. Receipt of the report is acknowledged by Academic Quality and Governance. Outstanding reports are pursued by Academic Quality and Governance (where a second follow-up letter is required this will be issued via the Academic Registrar or the Deputy Principal (Education and Students). Upon receipt, each external examiner’s annual report is provided to the relevant faculty by Academic Registry. Faculties are required to:

  • consider the reports and forward action points to other relevant committee(s) within the faculty as appropriate. Student representatives should be given the opportunity to be fully involved in the consideration of external examiner reports;
  • respond to external examiners to confirm action taken in response to issues raised within reports or reasons for not taking action.  A copy of the response must be sent to Academic Registry via quality@stir.ac.uk.
  • produce a faculty summary report on issues arising from all external examiner reports together with action taken; the report should be submitted to Academic Registry at the end of March each year via quality@stir.ac.uk.
  • make external examiners’ reports available in full to students upon request (with the exception of any confidential report made to the Principal).

Academic Registry is required to produce an institutional summary report on themes, issues arising from reports and actions taken for consideration by the Education and Student Experience Committee and/or one of its sub-committees. The faculty must make Academic Registry aware of any serious matters arising in external examiner reports to ensure appropriate and timely action is taken. For research postgraduate programmes: the procedure for research postgraduate examiners’ reports is set out in the Research Postgraduate Regulations.

6.2.5 Termination of an external examiner’s contract An external examiner may choose to resign prior to the completion of their contract. A minimum of six months notice is required, and the examiner must normally complete the academic year. Letters of resignation should be addressed to the Principal. The University reserves the right to terminate the contract of an external examiner at any time if, in the opinion of the University, the external examiner does not fulfil the University’s requirements as set out in 6.2.1 to 6.2.4 above, performs at an inadequate standard in the context of the University’s policies and procedures, if there has been any breach of confidentiality on the part of the examiner or where a conflict of interest may arise.

6.2.6 Appeals

The University’s appeal procedures for both undergraduate and postgraduate students are set out in the policy and procedure for academic appeals.

6.2.7 Collaborative Provision

In respect of collaborative provision, external examining procedures for programmes offered by a partner organisation should be the same as, or demonstrably equivalent to, those used by the University for its own programme. The procedures should be clearly specified and documented in the collaborative memorandum of agreement, and rigorously applied.

6.3 Determination of Honours Degree Classifications

General Principles

1. Honours degree students follow either a standard sequence of modules laid down in the degree programme table, or an approved variant sequence. Academic Registry ensures that no student falls outside these two categories.

2. Honours degree classification is based on performance in the modules specified for years 3 and 4 (or equivalent for part time) in the degree programme table or variant programme.

3. Module marks expressed in terms of the Common Marking Scheme are used for determining Honours degree classifications.


4. The determination of an Honours degree classification is made on the basis of the following data, within the overall methodology set out in paragraph 5:

  • the marks, on the University’s Common Marking Scheme, for all those modules of study specified as part of years 3 and 4 (or equivalent) of the programme, as set out in the degree programme tables, or approved as a variant programme.
  • the credit value associated with each mark.

5. This data is used within the University’s institution-wide weighted grade point average (GPA) approach, along with the concept of predominance in the methodology for determining Honours degree classifications. Determinations are made as follows:

a. The classification is derived by calculating the mean of marks for individual modules, weighted by the number of credit points for each relevant module.

b. The calculation does not differentiate between compulsory and option modules.

c. The dissertation (or equivalent) must be included in the calculation.

d. Where a student’s mark profile includes modules assessed on a pass/fail basis, these modules will be discounted for the purposes of classifying the degree.

e. The lowest marked 20 credits will be discounted including modules with a failing mark. The classification is then based on the remaining credits with attributed marks.

f. If a student has more than 240 credits from years 3 and 4, only the best 220 credits are considered in the calculation.

g. Where the total number of credits with attributed marks is equal to or less than 120, e.g. a student has pass/fail modules, entry credit, placements and study abroad credit where no marks are assigned, the classification must be based on all available credits with associated marks, i.e. no modules may be discounted.

h. The mean mark is rounded to a whole number and the classification thresholds are as follows:
        i. First class 70
       ii. Upper second class 60
       iii. Lower second class 50
       iv. Third class 40
       i. A predominance rule is applied on the basis that, for any classification to be awarded, the mark profile must have at least 50% of all the credits (before the lowest grade has been removed from the calculation) at or above the classification mark threshold.

Discussable Cases

6. Boards of Examiners, and specifically Awards Boards, consider discussable cases for Honours classification and make decisions to ensure that the classification awarded fairly reflects the student’s overall performance profile. Awards Boards may decide to award the higher classification but such a decision is not automatic, and is made at the judgement of the Board. Factors considered should be clearly documented in the minutes of the relevant meeting.

7. A Discussable Case is defined as one where a student’s mark profile falls within the higher classification but does not meet the predominance criteria of at least 50% of all their relevant grades falling in that higher classification.

8. Extenuating Circumstances are taken into account by Boards of Examiners when awarding module marks and are therefore not considered as criteria for determining discussable cases at the Awards Board, except in exceptional circumstances, such as a student in their final year of studies making the University aware of circumstances that impacted them in their final semester and after the last Module Board sat.


Further Guidance for Students on Degree Classification Calculations

9. Guidance on how the University calculates honours degree classifications.

6.4 Examination Procedure

6.4.1 Examination officers In each examining subject the dean of faculty or the chair of the relevant committee concerned, e.g. Faculty Learning and Teaching Committee, shall appoint a subject examiner and an examinations officer and shall inform Academic Registry and Governance Services of each appointment and of the period of each appointment. In so far as the University’s code of practice regarding external examiners requires the involvement of an external examiner in a particular examination, examinations officers shall ensure the agreement of external examiners to the papers before sending them to Academic Registry and Governance Services for printing and retention until examination. The examinations officer shall ensure the security of examination papers during their preparation and during transmission to Academic Registry and Governance Services. A designated member of the staff of Academic Registry and Governance Services shall be responsible for the security of examination papers during printing and until the examination.

6.4.2 The examination The period of the examinations shall be fixed by the Academic Council. Only authorised staff will be entitled to be present in an examination room until shortly before the official start. Academic Registry shall appoint invigilators for each of the exam venues used for candidates with agreed exam adjustments.  Invigilators for all other on campus exam venues should be nominated by the Faculty drawing from either academic staff, administrative staff or postgraduate research students. Sufficient invigilators should be in attendance to a ratio of one invigilator to fifty candidates. The Faculty shall supply the Academic Registry with the names of invigilators in advance of the commencement of the exam diet. Students should not be permitted to enter the examination room until requested to do so by an authorised member of staff or invigilator. Each candidate shall fill in an attendance slip giving name, registration number, signature and examination to be taken. Invigilators shall compare these with identity cards, and collect them in the first half hour of the examination. Students attending examinations must produce their student card. With the exception of bottled water, candidates are not permitted to bring food or drink into examination rooms. Use of mobile phones, iPods and MP3 Players, smart watches, or equivalent, is prohibited.  Students must not carry such equipment about their person and should ensure that all equipment stored within their belongings away from their desk, or in the care of the invigilator, is switched off prior to commencement of the examination. Students shall not bring into examination rooms any unauthorised material.  Invigilators shall enforce these rules. (‘Unauthorised’ material is any material not specified on the examination paper.) Examinations officers shall draw the attention of students to the notice issued by the Academic Registrar and which shall be attached to the examination timetable that to make use of unfair means in any University examination or test, or to assist another student to make use of such unfair means is a University disciplinary offence. The Academic Registrar shall provide Invigilators with a full list of students entitled to attend the examination. Invigilators shall check the names on the list with attendance slips collected. Invigilators shall collect scripts from candidates and deliver them to the appropriate examinations officer, or nominee, together with the list annotated to indicate the person to whom scripts have been delivered. Invigilators shall deliver completed attendance slips to Registry and Governance Services in an envelope the office provides, these attendance slips shall constitute the University record of students’ attendance at examinations. Examinations Officers shall ensure the secure transfer of scripts to examiners for marking.

Revised April 2016

6.4.3 Agreed Learning Needs Adjustments Where a disability is disclosed, students may require adjustments to the University’s current arrangements to meet their learning and other needs. Decisions regarding adjustments to arrangements will be considered by Student Support Services and made according to the individual student’s particular needs.  (See also section 9.5)

6.4.4 Illness

The Academic Registrar shall issue a notice attached to the examination timetable informing students of the following: Students who feel they are unwell during an examination must inform an invigilator who shall annotate the front cover of the script accordingly. If the student is unable to continue the examination because of illness, invigilators shall complete the appropriate report form and submit this to Registry and Governance Services.

Revised April 2010

Revised August 2014