A British MA
The importance of quality control
One of the less well-known features of British higher education is the institution of the external examiner. Each university department appoints one or more external examiners- a senior figure from a different university whose job it is to read the work of students in the department (essays, dissertations, examination scripts of undergraduates and graduates) and to confirm that the standard of work and the marks awarded conform to standards elsewhere in other British universities known to the examiner. ‘The decision of the external examiner is final’ is a sentence familiar to students checking university regulations before they begin their final examinations.
We are visited by an external examiner appointed by Lancaster University from a UK university other than Lancaster. The external examiner is usually appointed for three years only and a new examiner cannot be from the same university as the previous one. This examiner reads the work of all students ( essays and dissertations) after they have completed the programme in IFiS in order to decide whether they can be awarded the MA in Lancaster.
The programme’s students, with their particularly varied religious, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, can gain confidence from the knowledge that their final marks are subject to confirmation by someone they will very probably never meet but who has read their work thoroughly and has compared the standards of marking to those elsewhere in the UK.
The degrees awarded are those of Lancaster University and the programmes are therefore subject to review by the UK’s Quality Assurance Association for higher education (more details at http://www.qaa.ac.uk/)
External examiners’ reports are not normally public documents, and while it would be unusual to give quotations from them, it is permissible to note that since the programme opened here in 1995 they have consistently confirmed that standards are fully comparable with those at the best UK universities.