The external examiner (EE) is the most important arbiter of whether a student’s submission earns the research degree for which it is entered. Based largely on personal experience as a research degree examiner and administrator, suggests that there are two main characteristics that should be required of any potential external examiner: they should be sufficiently aware of the intellectual frontiers of their subject that they can judge whether the thesis makes a contribution to knowledge or scholarship sufficient to justify the award; and they should also be mature adults, of enough humanity to ensure that the examination process is a worthwhile and developmental experience for the candidate, irrespective of the outcome. Argues that there are thus two principles that underlie the successful selection of an external examiner (EE): institutions should have carefully constructed regulations defining the qualifications and experience expected of the EE, and a scrutiny framework sufficient to ensure that they are followed; and supervisory teams have a duty to prepare and inform themselves well in advance of the selection of external examiners. Ways in which these principles can be made effective will be discussed and current practice at Nottingham Trent University outlined.
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