University ‘confident’ exams will be unaffected as external examiner resignations mount

Of the 20 external examiners who have resigned from their post with Oxford, six have been from the Faculty of English Language and Literature

University staff protest outside the Clarendon.

Oxford has said that it is confident examinations will go ahead as scheduled next term, despite the mounting resignations of almost 700 external examiners nationwide.

External examiners across the country have been encouraged by the University and College Union (UCU) to resign from their posts at the 65 universities hit by strike action, including Oxford.

The move is designed to cause maximum disruption to the upcoming summer examination period, which could lead to the postponement of exams and students being unable to graduate on time.

The University said in a statement that it “usually makes around 600 external examination appointments each year. We have a process for the replacement of examiners who are not taking up appointments, whether through ill health or resignation.”

“We are confident that all exams can go ahead as scheduled next term,” it said.

The UCU has encouraged external examiners who have resigned from their post to fill in an online spreadsheet, which details their employing institution and examining role.

According to the spreadsheet, 20 examiners have resigned from their duties with Oxford, with six of the 20 being linked to the Faculty of English Language and Literature.

Professor Ros Ballaster, Chair of the English Faculty Board, told Cherwell: “Typically we require eight external examiners each year to complete assessment of our undergraduate and postgraduate degrees in English language and literature.”

“Without the contribution of external examiners we cannot complete our examining process. The timetable for submission and internal assessment should be able to continue as planned.

“We sincerely hope that the dispute will be resolved satisfactorily and in a timely fashion.”

One external examiner, who recently resigned from their duties with the English Faculty, told Cherwell that external examining “is work that is not very well paid for the amount of time that it takes up. It is largely done for reasons of goodwill and collegiality – the kinds of things which Universities UK (UUK) and intransigent vice-chancellors are risking in this action.”

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In their resignation letter, the examiner wrote: “I have been honoured to serve in this capacity, and to see the tremendous work undertaken by Oxford undergraduates, Faculty members and teachers.

“However, the currently proposed changes to the terms of our working conditions will do more damage to them than anything that I have witnessed in my twenty years working in HE,” they continued.

“It is clear to me, as it is to so many in our profession, that UUK are conspicuously failing in their duty to represent the best interests of vice-chancellors, of universities, and of the people who work in them.”

As is common practice, Oxford appoints examiners from other universities to their examination boards to standardise assessments across the country.

Through agreeing to set questions, moderating exam results, and ensuring that assessment procedures are rigorous, Oxford’s guidance documents explain that they ensure “the soundness of the procedures used to reach final agreed marks”.

UCU branch representatives are set to meet at 11am to discuss members’ feedback on the latest UUK proposal – put forward last Friday – aimed at resolving the dispute.

The proposed deal includes the formation of a “Joint Expert Panel, comprised of actuarial and academic experts nominated in equal numbers from both sides,” which will seek “to agree key principles to underpin the future joint approach of UUK and UCU to the valuation of the USS (Universities Superannuation Scheme) fund.”

Under the proposal, the current defined benefit scheme will remain in place until at least April 2019.

UCU general secretary, Sally Hunt, said in a letter to members: “We have worked hard to gain these concessions, but they were won on the back of the strike action that so many of you have taken.

“As always it will be for members to decide whether what has been achieved is sufficient to suspend our strike action.”

1 COMMENT

  1. The point of external examiners is not “to standardise assessments across the country”. It is to check that the University’s assessment is fair and sufficiently rigorous, and to check that the University is following its own assessment regulations.

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