Information about the University’s expectations of postgraduate research degree examiners and Independent Chairs including the composition of examining panels and nominating PGR examiners for appointment and organising the viva.


E16 Examiners

  1. The Examining Board is responsible for the appointment of examining panels.
  2. Each examination will be overseen by an Independent Chair appointed by the Examining Board.
  3. Student candidates for MPhil, PhD and Professional Doctorates are normally examined by two examiners: normally one external and one from the University.
  4. Staff candidates for all research degree awards and external candidates for MPhil/DPhil by Publication will normally be examined by two examiners who will be external to the University. The same principle applies for staff at an affiliated institution.
  5. External examiners will:
    • be independent of the University (or affiliated institution) and any collaborating establishment connected with the research project
    • not have acted previously as the candidate’s supervisor or advisor
    • not engage as an examiner when their own work is the focus of the research being examined.
  6. Internal examiners will:
    • ne members of staff of the University, of the candidate’s collaborating establishment or of the partner institution at which the candidate is registered
    • not have been the candidate’s Director of Studies (DoS), supervisor or advisor
    • not be appointed if they are also a research degree candidate at the University and there is a potential conflict of interest.
  7. Individuals acting as a research degree examiner are expected to comply with the published expectations for professional conduct and declaration of conflict of interests, as outlined in the Doctoral Academy Handbook.

Expectations of the examination panel's objectivity and impartiality

These expectations link to regulation E16.v-vii.

The University expects that individuals appointed as examiners of postgraduate research degrees (PGR examiners) will exercise professional and academic integrity with regard to potential conflicts of interest. The appointment process will require that nominated examiners consider and confirm that they are able to comply with the University’s expectations.

Conflicts of interest that will preclude appointment

Individuals are not normally able to act as a Postgraduate Researcher (PGR) examiner if they:

  • are related to the candidate, or have a close professional or personal relationship with the candidate
  • have published with the candidate, or who have had significant input into the design of their research project
  • are related to, or have a close professional or personal relationship with a member of the supervisory team
  • have acted as an external examiner for a UWE Bristol postgraduate research degree three times in the last five years.

In addition, former members of UWE Bristol staff are not permitted to act as an external examiner until five years after their employment has ceased.

Potential conflicts of interest

Potential conflicts of interest which proposed examiners should consider before confirming that they can exercise independent judgement include:

  • publication with a member of the supervisory team in the last five years
  • any other interaction with the personal or professional activities of the candidate, their supervisors, or the other examiner which might be, or be perceived to be, prejudicial to the exercise of independent judgement.

Appointing progression examiners as internal examiners

Internal examiners at final assessment may previously have acted as the candidate’s progression examiner or independent reviewer as long as they meet the requirements set out at regulation E16.vi and can comply with the expectations set out above.

Professional standards

Examiners will refrain from using information gained during the examination for their own or another’s advantage, or to disadvantage or discredit others. In addition, they will have no direct contact of any kind with the candidate at any point during the final assessment period, other than that during the viva itself.

Independent chairs – criteria for appointment

The University retains a pool of experienced UWE Bristol staff who have been appointed to act as Independent Chairs for PGR final assessment. The role of the Independent Chair is to ensure that the assessment is fair and held in line with the Regulations.

Appointments are made by the Examining Board on recommendation from the designated College committee. Individuals eligible for consideration will:

  • be experienced researchers
  • be current and experienced supervisors, having supervised at least four students to successful completion at doctoral level in a reasonable timescale, which includes experience as a DoS
  • be experienced examiners at doctoral level having examined a minimum of four theses including a minimum of two as an external examiner
  • have an understanding of the nature of the type of programme being assessed (for example professional doctorate awards or PhD/MPhil with a creative practice focus) but do not have to be staff from within the field or subject discipline
  • be individuals who meet the University’s expectations regarding objectivity, confidentiality, and impartiality.

Independent Chairs will receive appropriate training before acting in this capacity. Training is the responsibility of the Examining Board.

Procedures about appointing examining panels

Director of Studies responsibilities

  1. During the 12 months preceding the expected date of the viva voce examination, the DoS will nominate examiners and an Independent Chair for appointment to the candidate’s examining panel. This nomination will have been made at least three months prior to the candidate’s submission of their thesis or critical commentary for assessment.
  2. The DoS will contact the Doctoral Academy Assessment Team at research.degrees@uwe.ac.uk to obtain three potential Independent Chairs (IC) from the appointed pool. The DoS is responsible for contacting an IC from this list who confirms they will act in this capacity. The DoS is then responsible for ensuring the IC is included in all arrangements for the viva.
  3. The DoS will submit the proposed EX1 – Examination arrangements (DOC) to the designated Committee, normally the College Research Degrees Committee (CRDC), with sufficient time to allow the Committee to consider the proposal and make a recommendation for appointment to the Examining Board. It should not be necessary to rely on Chair’s action to approve this recommendation because the EX1 has been left to the last minute.
  4. DoSs should note that the candidate must have no contact with the proposed or appointed internal and/or external examiners(s) in connection with the examination either before the viva voce or at any other point during the final assessment period other than during the viva itself.

Composition of the examining panel

  1. The examining panel will comprise:
    • an Independent Chair
    • at least one internal and one external examiner (see regulation E16.iii) or two external examiners for all staff or otherwise defined candidates (see regulation E16.iv)
    • a balance of experience and subject specific expertise
    • a combined experience between the two examiners of examining at least four research degrees at or above the level that is due to be examined
    • examiners who do not know the PGR personally/are not aware of personal information about the PGR (see University examiner expectations)
  2. The proposed internal examiner may have acted previously as the PGR’s progression examiner or independent reviewer as long as they meet all the necessary examiner requirements detailed in the regulations and examiner expectations.
  3. Where the Examining Board or the designated College Committee judges it necessary for the fulfilment of academic assurance requirements or for other reasons it deems appropriate, an additional external examiner may also be appointed for any candidate, making three examiners in total.

Defining staff candidates in the context of assessment

  1. Definition of permanent UWE Bristol staff, and PGRs with previous UWE Bristol employment who are deemed to be staff in the context of assessment. A permanent member of staff is someone who:
    • is or has been employed by UWE Bristol or an affiliated institution for more than 12 months either on a permanent contract, or on a single fixed term contract of more than 12 months
    • Or

    • has had a series of fixed term contracts of less than 12 months each, but which have run in succession meaning that the total period of employment is more than 12 months.
  2. Examination arrangements for staff candidates (two external examiners) will normally be required for PGRs falling into either of the categories above for up to two years after their last period of employment with UWE Bristol has ended. Up to two years means from the last date of employment to the expected date of the final assessment viva examination.
  3. PGRs are however, permitted to undertake some teaching activities without being categorised as 'staff' for assessment purposes. The table below summarises the required examiner arrangements that are detailed in full in the UWE Bristol Policy for PGRs who Teach (PDF).
PGR status Employment status Max hours per year of teaching activity permitted Required examiner arrangements

Full time PGRs

Appointed as:

  • Demonstrators, Occasional Associate Lecturers, Associate Lecturers


  • No standard academic contract.

Can teach up to 120 hours per year and retain FT registration.

One external examiner and one internal examiner.

Part time PGRs

Can teach up to 220 hours per year.

One external examiner and one internal examiner.

Any PGR candidate

Whose teaching activities make them eligible for a fractional standard academic contract.

Two external examiners required.

Any PGR candidate

Whose teaching activities of up to 220 hours per year could potentially compromise the independence of the examination (Examining Board decision).

Two external examiners required.

Please note: an Independent Chair is required for all final viva examinations.

Notification and length of appointment of the examining panel

  1. Following approval by the Examining Board the examiners will be appointed for a period of 12 months from the date of approval.
  2. The Doctoral Academy will send letters of appointment, information and guidance on examining at UWE Bristol to the examiners, and will confirm the appointment of the panel with the IC.
  3. Where a confidentially agreement to restrict access to the thesis has been approved the Doctoral Academy will send a copy of the agreement to the external examiner.
  4. The examiners will receive a further briefing from the IC during the pre-viva preparation session.

Doctoral Academy Handbook sections