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Institutional Case Study: Improving the dialogue on standards – University of West London

The University of West London is a post-1992 institution with just under 9,000 students at undergraduate level. The Academic Quality and Standards Office led the institution’s involvement in the Degree Standards project.  A facilitated professional development course was held in November 2017 and subsequently two further courses have been delivered, by institutional staff participating in the develop the developer process. 

The second course offered at the University was targeted not just at staff members but also at external examiners appointed to the University. Engagement with the professional development course prompted a review of both induction content and delivery style. The revised institutional external examiner induction, trialed in Spring 2018, contains input and discussion over the role of externals in maintaining academic standards, which is expected to drive more critical engagement by external examiners and strengthen the institution’s approach to maintaining standards.

There is a desire within the university to improve the dialogue about degree standards between staff and appointed externals including maximising the impact and usefulness of external examiner reports, and the professional development course is one of the mechanisms being used by the institution to address this. The university is particularly interested in developing this dialogue to enhance student awareness of how disciplinary progression on both an academic and professional basis build during their time at university.  Therefore, the university has positioned the course as a development opportunity for academic staff, particularly programmer leaders, which has allowed colleagues to reflect on how they currently work with external examiners and to identify how changes to external examining arrangements might strengthen delivery and standards within their own provision.

The current develop the developer model is resource intensive for the institution and requires a relatively long lead-in period, however the quality team will explore possible collaboration with other institutions as a way to resolve the issue in the short term. The university is keen to trial different approaches to the delivery of the professional development course over the next academic year and will offer the course not only to staff who are aspiring and existing externals, but also to academic staff with a general interest in academic standards. External examiners appointed by the university will be offered two different induction experiences; they will self-select whether to attend the newly developed institutional induction or attend the professional development course plus a shortened institutional induction.  It is hoped to offer four professional development courses in total, with two being aimed at staff and two for externals appointed by the university.

A review will take place at the end of the academic year to assess patterns of take up and to reflect on course feedback. Ultimately, the university will measure the success of the course and other changes through the annual synthesis of external examiner reports and specifically the team is looking for change in how staff respond to external examiner findings and comments.