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Information for examiners of research degrees

Examiners of research degrees are nominated by the supervisors of research degree students. Supervisors may approach examiners informally to check if they are willing to act, but the official invitation will be issued by the Research Degrees Office only once the nomination has been approved by the College’s Research Degrees Programmes and Examinations Board.

The Research Degrees Office will contact you by email to invite you to act as an examiner. If you agree, once the candidate has formally submitted their thesis, the Office will send you a bound copy of the thesis together with:

The Research Degrees Office can also send an electronic copy of the thesis upon request.

If the candidate contacts the examiners, or if either the candidate or the supervisor send the thesis to the examiners, the examination may be declared invalid. Examiners must contact the Research Degrees Office if they are contacted by the candidate, or if they receive a copy of the thesis directly from the candidate or supervisor.

Payments and expenses

Please send the following to the Research Degrees Office within two weeks of the viva:

  • outcome of examination form
  • final joint report from both examiners
  • preliminary reports from each examiner
  • personal details forms
  • photocopies of your passport
  • photocopies of any immigration permission/work permit
  • expenses claims

Examiners external to the College may claim reasonable travel and other expenses. The Research Degrees Office will authorise any incidental expenses as soon as possible after receipt.

Fee payments can be authorised for payment only after all reports and outcome forms have been received by the Research Degrees Office. Payments are processed via Human Resources Payroll and paid via BACS directly into bank accounts once a month. Fee payments have to be processed this way due to the requirements placed upon the College by the HRMC (Her Majesty's Revenue and Customs). Fee payments are taxable income and need to be logged as such.  This is why the personal details form asks for information such as date of birth.

Please note that in order to demonstrate their eligibility to work in the European Union, all examiners must provide a copy of the picture page of their passport along with a copy of any work permit (for those requiring a permit). Overseas examiners may be appointed in exceptional circumstances. If you are not an EU national and/or will require a Tier 5 certificate to enter the UK for the examination, please inform the Research Degrees Office as soon as possible.

Organisation of the oral examination
The supervisor is responsible for arranging the oral examination.
The supervisor may attend the oral examination as an observer where the candidate indicates on the examination entry form that they permit this. The examiners are informed if this is the case. 

Preliminary Independent Reports 

Each examiner writes an independent preliminary report on the thesis in advance of the oral examination. It is expected that each examiner will write their report after reading the thesis but before conferring with the co-examiner about it. Typically the preliminary report identifies particular areas which the examiner believes should be explored with the candidate during the oral examination, and, if possible, makes an initial recommendation, based on an assessment of the thesis, for the result of the examination.  These recommendations should not be indicated to the candidate in advance of the oral, which is an integral component of the examination.

The examiners should exchange their preliminary reports with each other before conducting the oral examination and send copies to the Research Degrees Office after the examination has been completed.

Arrangements for the examination

The purpose of the oral examination is to examine the candidate on the subject of the thesis and relevant subjects. During the oral the examiners should seek to establish whether all the requirements for a thesis submitted for the relevant degree have been met (as set out in Chapter 8, pages 138-161, of the Academic Regulations) and to establish that the thesis is genuinely the work of the candidate. If there is any doubt that the thesis is the candidate’s own work the examiners should contact the Research Degrees Office. Further information on the conduct of the examination is provided in the guidance notes sent to examiners with the thesis. If the examiners have any queries about the College’s requirements for the award of the research degree and about the regulations they should contact the Research Degrees Office. 

If the examiners have any queries about the thesis which they wish to raise with the supervisor in advance of the oral examination, they may do so.

All matters relating to the examination are confidential and examiners should not contact any third party, other than the supervisor as provided for in the regulations and this guidance. Otherwise all queries must be made through the Research Degrees Office.

The educational needs provisions of the Disability Discrimination Act require institutions to make reasonable adjustments for candidates with physical and special learning difficulties in their assessment.  Candidates are asked to inform the Research Degrees Office at the time of examination entry (or as soon as possible afterwards) if they require any special arrangements to be made.  Examiners will be advised of any such arrangements with their appointment letters. If examiners are informed directly by the supervisor or candidate of any disability they should seek the advice of the Research Degrees Office.

The outcome of the examination 

The options open to the examiners in determining the results are set out in detail in the Academic Regulations . In summary these are:

  • Pass;
  • Pass subject to minor amendments to be completed and checked by one or both examiners within three months;
  • Pass subject to major amendments to be completed and checked by one or both examiners within nine months or within a period specified by the examiners if less than nine months are required.
  • Not pass, but the candidate is allowed to revise the thesis and resubmit it within 18 months (for the PhD and MD(Res) degrees) or 12 months (for the MPhil degree);
  • Not pass, but the candidate is allowed to take a written paper or practical examination;
  • Not pass, but the candidate is allowed to submit to a second oral examination on the same thesis and by the same examiners within 18 months;
  • Fail but the candidate is deemed to have met the requirements for an MPhil (with or without minor amendments) or should be allowed to resubmit a revised thesis for the MPhil degree within 12 months;
  • Fail outright: no re-entry permitted.

Option b) – pass subject to minor amendments – is the outcome that should be specified when the corrections required will make no difference to the arguments or conclusions of the thesis.  The amendments will usually be typographical in nature, but may also include minor changes to the text to improve explanations or descriptions.  Minor amendments must be completed within three months and certified by one of the examiners before the award can be made.

Option c) – pass subject to major amendments – is the outcome that should be specified when the corrections required are more significant in nature, including the re-writing or re-structuring of significant parts of the thesis and the clarification of arguments.  ‘Major amendments’ is a ‘pass’ outcome, so should not be specified when, in the opinion of the examiners, any significant re-conceptualisation or additional research needs to be undertaken.  Major amendments must be completed within 9 months (though a shorter period may be specified by the examiners) and certified by both examiners before the award can be made.

Option d) – not pass, but revise and resubmit – is the outcome that should be specified when the thesis presented, in the opinion of the examiners, does not meet the criteria for the degree, but might do so following a significant period of re-working and revision.  The revisions required might include re-conceptualisation of and amendment to the arguments and conclusions of the thesis, and additional research work may need to be undertaken.  Re-entry must take place within 18 months of the notification of the original result, and although both examiners must re-examine the thesis they may choose to waive the need for a second oral examination.

Examiners should not consider option g) unless they have first considered and rejected as inapplicable the preceding options; and should not consider option h) unless they have previously considered and rejected as inapplicable all the previous options

Reporting the decision

Examiners are required to complete the Outcome of Examination form indicating which of the available decisions they have made and write a joint report giving the grounds on which their decision is based. The joint report should be on a separate sheet and should include the following:

  • Name of the candidate;
  • Thesis title; and at the end of the report:
  • Signatures of each of the examiners; and
  • Date

The report should have regard to the requirements of a thesis for the relevant research degree. It should not cross-refer to the examiners’ preliminary reports unless the examiners wish the candidate to be sent a copy of those preliminary reports.

The examiners should agree between themselves at the end of the oral examination the arrangements for drafting and finalising their joint report and for sending it, the Outcome of Examination form, their preliminary reports, and expenses paperwork to the Research Degrees Office. This should be done within two weeks of the examination.  If, for any reason, it is not possible for the reports to be returned within two weeks of the oral examination, one of the examiners should contact the Research Degrees Office to discuss the problem.

If the examiners have indicated on the Outcome of Examination form that they require the candidate to make minor or major amendments, the Research Degrees Office will send a further request to the examiner responsible for checking the amendments (usually the internal examiner) for certification that the amendments have been completed satisfactorily. If satisfied with the amendments, the examiner should inform the Research Degrees Officer for the candidate’s School.

Notification to the candidate

If the examiners wish to advise the candidate orally of their decision at the conclusion of their deliberations following the examination, they must make clear to the candidate that the result is not formal and final until confirmed and notified by letter from the College to the candidate.

A copy of the Outcome of Examination form and the examiners’ joint report is routinely sent to the candidate when he/she is officially informed by letter from the Research Degrees Office of his/her result. The candidate does not normally see the examiners’ preliminary reports, but may do so if the examiners so request and will do so in the event of his/her appealing against the examiners’ decision.

Examination of re-entry candidates

Unless it is impossible for them to do so, it is expected that the original examiners will examine the candidate on re-entry.

In examining a re-entry candidate the examiners should have regard to the report they made on the first examination, copies of which can be made available to them.

Examiners have discretion on whether or not to hold an oral examination on a revised and resubmitted thesis, but will need to have regard to any statement they have made about this in their joint report on the original examination. When the revised thesis is dispatched to the examiners the Research Degrees Office will ask them to confirm whether a further oral examination is required. If so, the Research Degrees Office will inform the supervisor who will make the necessary arrangements.

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