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The Degree Standards Project

The Degree Standards project , which is led by Advance HE and managed by the Office for Students on behalf of England and the devolved administrations in Northern Ireland and Wales, is exploring, across those three nations, sector-owned processes focusing on professional development for external examiners.

The purpose of this five-year project is to:

  • Design, pilot and deliver different approaches to the professional development of external examiners.
  • Propose evidence-based and cost-effective longer-term approaches to the professional development of external examiners operating across the higher education system in England, Northern Ireland and Wales.
  • Explore approaches to the calibration of standards, presenting recommendations for future work in this area.

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What we have done for 2018-19:


  • Working with 35 higher education providers as to deliver the professional development course.
  • Reviewing the offering of the Developer the Developer programme and running a regional workshop to staff from 10 higher education providers.

  • Delivering the well-established blended professional development course for external examiners extensively: by means of the Develop the Developer programme, by direct delivery in two institutions, and regionally on seven occasions (Belfast, Birmingham, York, Cardiff, and three times in London)

  • Holding 6 assisted courses and 17 observed courses at 17 institutions;
  • Reviewing and modifying the online course so the course can be run for large cohorts and has been successfully delivered with an open cohort of 100 initial registrants

  • Producing a synthesis report on calibration, reflecting on the experience of devising and delivering calibration exercises. This complements the existing guidance on how to carry out calibration activities and the toolkits in Geography, Veterinary Science and Music. 

  • Increasing the regional collaboration. The north west consortium has been expanded to involve 13 higher education providers. Also a Northern Ireland Group led from Queen’s University, Belfast and a ‘London Group’ made up of smaller providers have emerged.

  • Devising and piloting two integrated courses; one in partnership with the Royal Geographical Society for external examiners in Geography and one in collaboration with the British Association for Sport and Exercise Science (BASES) for external examiners in Sport and Exercise Science.

  • Organising a one-day national conference (attracting 122 participants) in collaboration with Universities UK (UK), GuildHE, and the Quality Assurance Agency (QAA) on ‘Protecting the value of HE qualifications in the UK: degree classification and external examining’.

  • Setting up communities of practice for external examiners and, separately, for facilitators who have completed the Develop the Developer programme;
  • Evaluating the long-term impact of the course and associated calibration activities, applying the agreed methodological framework.

Find out more about the development work from this project briefing.

The project benefits significantly from advice from Advance HE’s Degree Standards Project Board and the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment.

Develop the Developer Programme

Find out more about how to adopt the project as our institutional partner.


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Professional Development Course

Find out more about professional development courses for external examiners.


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Calibration of academic standards

Find out about different models being explored for the development and delivery of subject-based calibration of academic standards.

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