Posted tagged ‘external assessors’

External quality control

May 23, 2009

Long before the recent culture of quality assurance arrived in higher education, most universities in these islands would have argued that a key guarantor of quality and standards was the framework of external review. This was in evidence in particular through the system of external examiners, under which all marking of examinations or other assignments would be double-checked by examiners from other institutions. Furthermore, appointments to senior positions would be made with the help of interview panels the membership of which included external assessors.

I have myself been an external examiner in several universities, and have participated in selection interviews as an external assessor. On the whole, my experience has been that this system of externality has been a reasonably effective way of protecting standards. However, it has now been reported by the UK Quality Assurance Agency that external examiners have in many cases voiced doubts about their own effectiveness, and raised questions about the extent to which universities take their views and reports into consideration.

The external examiner tradition still plays a key role in ensuring fairness and consistency in the sector. However, if doubts have arisen as to whether this role is as effective as it should be, then it is time to undertake a more systematic examination and to consider whether the system needs to be adjusted or changed. This is not being helped, it has to be said, by new rules in Ireland on the part of the tax authorities under which both fees (which are extremely modest) and the actual reimbursed expenses of external examiners now have to be treated (and taxed) as salary, which may seriously undermine the system. The time is right, therefore, for a fundamental review.