Advance HE has been granted a three-year licence by the funders, the Office for Students, the Higher Education Funding Council for Wales (HEFCW) and Department for the Economy Northern Ireland (DfENI), to continue to deliver the professional development of external examiners developed by the Degree Standards project. The publicly funded project has now ended and new arrangements are now in place.
The licensing agreement authorises Advance HE to continue to offer the Professional Development Course (PDC) to open cohorts of staff and enables partner institutions, which have ‘adopted’ the PDC, to continue to deliver the course to their staff using facilitators who have had professional development through a Develop the Developer programme. It also facilitates the provision of calibration activities where subject specialists come together to agree a shared understanding of academic standards in their community.
So far just over 4000 academic staff have undertaken the certificated PDC; fifty institutions have adopted the course with 94 developers having completed the professional development to deliver it to their colleagues. It has been extremely well received, for example, one participant described it:
"An excellent, informative and thought-provoking course that captured the essence of the external examining role while underlining the complexity and variation in applying standards equitably across institutions."
The main benefits of the PDC identified by participants are an increased confidence in the role, improvement in their ability to deal with challenges, and increased reference to national standards. But the course has also impacted on their home institutions with changes to the induction of incoming external examiners and to the format of their annual reports. Calibration exercises have been carried out with particular departments.
The provision is a key element in the efforts overseen by the UK Standing Committee for Quality Assessment to combat unexplained grade inflation. As one way of implementing the Statement of Intent to protect the value of UK degrees issued by the sector in 2019, UUK and GuildHE recommend that institutions ‘build on the external examiners work of Advance HE, considering further ways of strengthening externality’.
Dr Geoff Stoakes, Special Adviser (Degree Standards), said, “Under the new post-project arrangements, Advance HE will continue to coordinate the provision, to provide quality assurance and regular updates, to deliver training to open cohorts, and to support delivery inside partner institutions. We are working to ensure a cost-effective and sustainable provision of the professional development.
“Advance HE is also committed (and looks forward) to continuing to collaborate with UUK and GuildHE in their efforts to further strengthen the system of external examining.”
The Advance HE training provision is open to aspiring, new and experienced external examiners from all four nations of the UK and internationally.