It is an absolute requirement that one examiner should be external to the University for research examinations. The absence of specific reference to external and internal examiners in the Examination Regulations allows the responsible board to appoint two external examiners where particular circumstances suggest that this would be prudent. It is not possible to appoint more than two examiners in total.
Where two external examiners are appointed, it is common practice to appoint a member of the department/faculty to act as a point of liaison and information for the examination, and to undertake some of the routine tasks (posting notices of the examination, booking a room, finding hospitality) which would normally be undertaken by the internal examiner.
The University’s policy in relation to examiners from overseas is intended to ensure that students should, as far as possible, be examined by those well qualified to do so. The University has not therefore put a formal restriction on invitations to examiners from overseas. Boards are asked to consider examiners from within the UK and Europe as a first choice, and only to look further afield if there is no one appropriately qualified from within this group, and if the quality of the student’s examination would be reduced without an examiner from elsewhere. Boards or committees are asked in these circumstances to try to fit the viva around a pre-arranged visit to the UK by the proposed external examiner. Remote vivas may also be used (see Section 7.3.4 below).
Examiners act on behalf of the body which appoints them, and there is no restriction on who may act as an examiner if they are considered suitable by a board/committee, bearing in mind conflicts of interest (see below). It is not necessary to hold a permanent post to act as an internal examiner, but it is important that the internal examiner should have expertise in the subject of the student’s thesis, should understand the procedures which operate in Oxford, and have a clear sense of the expectations and standards associated with a successful Oxford doctoral thesis.
Conflicts of interest
No one in the following categories or circumstances should be appointed as an external examiner:
- A member of a governing body or committee of the University or a current employee of the University
- *Anyone with a contractual or personal relationship with either the student or his/her supervisor(s) or who has a financial interest in the research of the student: personal is taken here to mean a social and/or family connection
- Anyone who is already, or knows they will be, in a position significantly to influence the future of a student: e.g. a person who is on the appointment panel for a post for which the student has applied
- Anyone significantly involved in recent or current substantive collaborative research activities with the student
- Former staff or students of the University, unless a period of three years has elapsed
*Relationships in this category will be on a spectrum such that appointing bodies may exercise an element of discretion and consider carefully whether the relationship presents a potential risk of perceived or actual bias.
Departments and faculties should also give careful consideration to whether the same external examiner should be appointed for successive students of the same supervisor.
An internal examiner should be sufficiently distant from the candidate and supervisor, both academically and personally, to ensure an impartial and objective opinion of the thesis. It is accepted, however, that in small departments/faculties there will inevitably have been some prior academic interaction between the examiner and candidate.
- The supervisor should not be appointed as an internal examiner. However, it is permissible for a Transfer or Confirmation assessor to be appointed as an internal examiner
- Anyone who has had substantial co-authoring or collaborative involvement in the candidate’s thesis should not be appointed as an internal examiner
- Anyone having a close personal relationship with the candidate or supervisor should not be appointed as an internal examiner