Cardiff University Procedures for the Conduct of Research Degree Examinations

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1 Cardiff University Procedures for the Conduct of Research Degree Examinations 1 Introduction 1.1 The purpose of this document is to provide guidance to those involved in arrangements for and conduct of oral (viva voce) examinations for research degrees, including Convenors and Chairs of Examining Boards, Examiners and Candidates, and to outline the University s expectations of those involved. 1.2 This document draws on and expands upon relevant Senate Regulations of Cardiff University. If there is any discrepancy between Senate Regulations and this document, Senate Regulations shall take precedence. 1.3 The oral (viva voce) examination is an integral part of the research degree examination process; it is not merely a ritual. An oral (viva voce) examination, as described in this document, is mandatory for all research thesis submissions, with the exception of the MRes. 1.4 For PhD, MD/MCh and MPhil degrees, the Examining Board that is constituted for the purpose of the viva voce examination undertakes the only summative assessment of a Candidate's work. 1.5 For professional doctorates, including the EngD, directed learning elements are separately assessed and contribute to the overall assessment of the Candidate. Nonetheless, an independent research project is a core element of all professional doctorates and a viva voce examination, as described here, is required for the assessment of that work. 1.6 The only circumstances in which the viva voce examination requirement can be waived are where the appointed Examiners are independently of the view that a resubmitted thesis meets the requirements of the intended degree award (see below). 2 Criteria for awards and thesis word limits 2.1 Criteria for research degree awards are contained within the relevant Senate Regulations ('Senate Regulations for the Award of the Degree of PhD', etc.), and are provided on the relevant 'Result and Report Form' for completion by the Examining Board. 2.2 Senate Regulations also give the maximum word length of a thesis for each given award: 80,000 words for PhD and EngD, 60,000 for MD, 50,000 for MPhil and MCh. Senate Regulations state that the thesis shall not normally exceed the given word length. This allows the School and the Examining Board some degree of flexibility where the nature of the particular thesis lends itself to a longer than usual length In accepting for examination a thesis that exceeds the stated word limit, the School is required to have determined that its length is appropriate for its particular form, and is expected to have alerted potential Examiners during the initial approach and sought their agreement to examine the thesis. 2.3 Particular forms of submission are required for PhD by Published Works and for research degrees relating to the creative and performing arts. Here, Senate Regulations stipulate the minimum and maximum word length for the accompanying written commentary. Similarly, professional doctorate theses, other than for the EngD, are defined in terms of minimum and maximum word lengths. 1

2 3 Responsibilities for the examination: Head of School, Convenor and Chair 3.1 A Head of School is responsible to the relevant Pro Vice-Chancellor, Head of College for the overall management of the research students in their School, including their examination, and for assuring the integrity of the examination process. 3.2 Arrangements for the viva voce examination are overseen by the Convenor of the Examining Board. The Head of School will act as the Convenor or will delegate this responsibility to another member of senior staff in the School. 3.3 Where the Head of School shares responsibility with an appointed Convenor, the division of duties should be made clear to all parties. 3.4 The Convenor will act as Chair of the Examining Board or will ensure that another senior member of the School's staff is appointed to this role. The Chair is responsible for the fair and proper conduct of the examination and for guiding the Candidate and Examiners through the proceedings. 3.5 A Candidate's supervisor cannot assume the role of Convenor or Chair. Where the Head of School is the supervisor s/he must appoint other staff member(s) to these roles. 4 Composition of the Examining Board 4.1 Every research degree Examining Board shall comprise three members: the Chair; an External Examiner; and an Internal Examiner (except in those cases where two External Examiners are appointed, see below). No individual may assume more than one of these roles. 4.2 A Head of School/Convenor may appoint other appropriate persons to act as expert advisors to the Examining Board if merited by the project's topic or scope (e.g. an industrially-based doctorate). A person so appointed may be invited to attend the viva voce examination but has no right to vote on the decision of the Examining Board. 4.3 Two External Examiners are required where, at the time of thesis submission, a Candidate is, or has been within the past three years, a member of Cardiff University staff (at Lecturer grade or above). The Examining Board will be constituted with a second External Examiner in lieu of the Internal Examiner. 4.4 Where there is a close personal relationship between the Candidate and a member of staff in the School concerned, the Head of School/Convenor should consider the appropriateness of appointing a second External Examiner, in lieu of an Internal Examiner, to the Examining Board. 4.5 No member of the Candidate s supervisory team can act as the Internal Examiner. A supervisor may, however, be invited to attend the viva voce examination (see below). 5 Appointing the Members of the Examining Board 5.1 Examiners must be appointed in accordance with the relevant Cardiff University Regulations ('Senate Regulations for the Award of the Degree of PhD', etc.). 5.2 The External Examiner is nominated by the Head of School/Convenor and is appointed by the Registry, using the 'Nomination of Examiners' form. 5.3 The Internal Examiner and the Chair of the Examining Board are appointed by the Head of School/Convenor. The appointments are reported to the Registry, using the 'Nomination of Examiners' and 'Confirmation of Examining Board' forms. 2

3 6 Choosing the External Examiner 6.1 Proposal(s) for the External Examiner are generally made by the Candidate's supervisors(s) to the Head of School/Convenor and their merits are considered in accordance with the local protocol in the School. The University expects the supervisor(s) to consult the Candidate on the proposal(s). 6.2 The External Examiner should possess specialist knowledge and expertise in the subject area of the Candidate's research project, and should normally: - be an experienced and published researcher; - hold a research degree; - have experience of examining UK research degrees, and particularly the degree for which the thesis has been submitted; - hold/have held appointment within the university system at Senior Lecturer grade or above. 6.3 In certain cases, it may be appropriate to appoint an external Examiner from outside the university sector (e.g. a leading industrialist, researcher or professional practitioner), and/or to appoint a relatively inexperienced or junior External Examiner, where specialist knowledge and expertise is an overriding consideration. In either case, the School will be required to show that the Internal Examiner and the Chair are well-experienced in research degree examination (including for the degree for which the thesis has been submitted). 6.4 An External Examiner should not normally be a former staff member of the University or a former higher degree student of the School concerned, unless at least five years have elapsed since retirement/resignation or qualification, respectively. 6.5 An External Examiner should not normally be invited on a frequent basis to examine research degrees in the same School: it is unusual for the same External Examiner to be appointed more than twice in a three-year period. 6.6 In addition, an External Examiner should not have direct personal or professional knowledge of the Candidate. It is not uncommon for a Candidate to have met their External Examiner during the course of their research studies, e.g. at a conference, and discussed their work: this would not necessarily prohibit the appointment. The School should exercise caution, however, and ensure that the nominee has not provided direct advice or input into the Candidate's project. 6.7 Where a second External Examiner is appointed in lieu of an Internal Examiner, there some flexibility may be permitted in respect of applying the criteria for appointment (i.e. 6.2 above). 7 Choosing the Internal Examiner 7.1 The Internal Examiner should be a non-probationary member of the academic or research staff (at grade 6 or above), be competent in the area of the work to be examined, and have experience in examining research degrees or have received training for this role. 7.2 No member of the Candidate's supervisory team can be appointed as the Internal Examiner. 7.3 It is usual for the Internal Examiner to be appointed from within the School concerned, but they may be appointed from another School of the University. 7.4 The person appointed as an Internal Examiner is likely to be known to the Candidate but it is important that s/he is unconnected to the project and has an impartial view of 3

4 the final thesis. Where an appropriate level of knowledge in the topic is limited in the School and in the University, a Head of School/Convenor may appoint as an Internal Examiner a member of staff who has acted as an Independent Reviewer for the student's academic progress monitoring, so long as: - the Independent Reviewer has reviewed and commented only on discrete parts of the Candidate's work, and not the full or substantive thesis; and - the Independent Reviewer has not acted in that capacity within the last 12 months of the Candidate's fee-paying registration. 8 Arranging the viva voce examination 8.1 It is the responsibility of the Convenor to ensure that the practical arrangements for the viva voce examination are made. 8.2 The Convenor is responsible for ensuring the following: - that a comfortable room is set aside for the examination, in a quiet and neutral location; - that the room is properly accessible, equipped and functioning in respect of any special provision requests of an Examining Board member or the Candidate (including any adjustments following previously reported Extenuating Circumstances), and/or of any specific requirements identified for the viva voce examination (e.g. if the Candidate is required to give a presentation, see below); - that the arrangements for the examination are confirmed, in writing, to the Candidate and the members of the Examining Board; - that each Examiner is sent one copy of the thesis, and instruction on submission of their pre-examination written reports; - that the Chair and Internal Examiner are provided with the relevant examination paperwork; - that the Chair of the Examining Board is notified of any known extenuating circumstances that may affect the Candidate's performance during the viva voce examination and is advised of appropriate action. 8.3 The Registry is responsible for sending the examination paperwork and the payment forms to the External Examiner when making the appointment. The Registry also directs the Chair and the Internal Examiner to the relevant documents on the web when notified of their appointment. 8.4 The viva voce examination should normally take place within three calendar months of the date of submission of the thesis. If this is not possible, the Candidate should be kept informed on the progress being made to arrange the examination. The viva voce examination must be held within twelve months of submission unless there are highly exceptional circumstances. 8.5 An examination may not proceed without both the appointed Examiners being present. In the event of an Examiner s unexpected incapacity, the examination must be postponed to another date. If circumstances arise that prohibit the appointed Chair from attending, the Convenor may appoint a replacement if an appropriate member of staff is available. 9 Holding the oral examination away from Cardiff or by Electronic Means 9.1 The viva voce examination should take place at Cardiff University and on a face-toface basis with all concerned present in the same room and at the same time. Notwithstanding this expectation, it is recognised that it may be necessary - under exceptional conditions - for arrangements to be made for examinations to take place either in a different location or through electronic media. 4

5 9.2 An application for an examination either to take place in a location other than Cardiff University or by electronic media should be submitted to the Registry for the consideration of the Chair of the Academic Standards and Quality Committee. 9.3 The Convenor may seek approval for the examination to be held in a location away from Cardiff University if, for example, the Candidate or the External Examiner has long-term health problems and has difficulty in travelling. 9.4 The Convenor may seek approval for the examination to be held through electronic media where: - conditions have arisen such that it would not be possible otherwise to proceed with a viva voce examination (e.g. where a student cannot return to the UK because of visa or other restrictions, or where there is a limited pool of expertise and the nominated External Examiner is unavailable to travel to the UK); or - agreed arrangements for a face-to-face viva voce examination have had to be abandoned because of unexpected circumstances: e.g. severe weather; incapacity of one of the participants. (Note that where such circumstances as these arise, the viva voce examination should normally be rescheduled rather than be held through electronic media, unless the Candidate would suffer disproportionately as a result of postponement.) 9.5 Applications should be made in accordance with Cardiff University's 'Procedure for Examination by Electronic Means'. 10 Extenuating circumstances 10.1 If the Candidate wishes to report any extenuating circumstances that will have an impact on his or her performance during the viva voce examination, s/he should notify the Convenor of the Examining Board, providing supporting evidence as appropriate. The Convenor should take such circumstances into account in the timing and/or location of the viva voce examination and in giving advice to the Chair on the conduct of the examination. A scheduled examination will be postponed only in exceptional and unforeseen circumstances If, following the outcome of the viva voce examination, the student feels that there were extenuating circumstances that impacted on his or her performance during the examination, s/he may appeal the result via the Appeals Procedure. 11 Purpose of the viva voce examination 11.1 The viva voce examination may serve different purposes, according to a Candidate's differing qualities and those of the written thesis, but the essential purposes of the viva voce examination are: - to enable the Examiners to assure themselves that the thesis is the Candidate's own work; - to enable the Examiners to assure themselves that the Candidate understands the research that s/he carried out and what s/he has written in the thesis; - to enable the Examiners to assess the Candidate's ability to locate his/her work within the broader context of the particular field of scholarship to which the project relates; - to give the Candidate an opportunity to defend the thesis and to clarify any obscurities or weaknesses in it: this is particularly important in borderline cases; - to enable the Examiners to explore how the thesis might be raised to the required standard should they be unable to recommend the award at this stage. 5

6 11.2 Examiners may also take the opportunity to discuss with the Candidate their subsequent research or professional direction and/or to explore prospects for publication. 12 The duties of the Examiners before the viva voce examination 12.1 The Examiners are required independently to assess the thesis and each to prepare a written report on their reading of the work. These written reports are submitted to the Convenor or the Chair of the Examining Board before the viva voce examination takes place Immediately prior to the viva voce examination, the Examiners will confer with one another, in the presence of the Chair, in order to: - exchange copies of their independent reports (if this has not already been done); - identify the issues to be raised in the examination; - agree the broad strategy for the examination - who will ask which questions and in what order. 13 The conduct of the viva voce examination: duties and responsibilities of the Chair 13.1 The Chair is responsible to the relevant Pro Vice-Chancellor, Head of College for the proper conduct of the examination: that it is fair and that due process is followed. The Chair must remain present throughout The Chair should be conversant with the regulations and criteria governing the award of the relevant degree in order to be able to advise the Examiners as required, and be responsible for seeing that the formal documentation is properly completed once the examination has been held. The Chair is also responsible for taking proper account of any extenuating circumstances reported by the Convenor and for adjusting the running of the examination accordingly The Chair should not allow a candidate to be apprised of the likely result at the outset of the viva voce examination. To do so would be to deny one of the primary purposes of the examination - to confirm that the thesis is the Candidate's own work The viva voce examination should be allowed to run for as long as necessary for it to serve its proper purpose. This is typically between two and three hours but may be shorter or longer Specifically, the Chair should: - greet the Candidate on arrival and introduce him/her to the Examiners; - take care to put the candidate at ease and explain the form that the examination will take, as has been agreed by the Examiners; - ensure that each of the Examiners has proper opportunity to contribute to the examination process; - ensure that the questioning of the Candidate is not allowed to become aggressive; - ensure that a supervisor, if accompanying the student, does not speak unless asked specifically, by the Chair, to do so; - ensure that the correct running order is adhered to (see below) A supervisor, if present, must be asked to withdraw before the Candidate so as to provide the Candidate with an opportunity to say anything to the Examiners that they would prefer to say without the supervisor being present. The Candidate should be asked whether they wish to make any further points pertinent to the thesis or research project or their supervision. Candidates should not feel obliged to add such comments. 6

7 13.7 The Candidate must be asked to withdraw before the Examiners begin their final deliberations. 14 Summary presentation by the Candidate 14.1 Typically, a viva voce examination starts with the Candidate being asked to give a brief overview of their research project, the research questions, key methods or sources and the main outcomes. It has become common practice in some disciplines/schools for the Candidate to be asked to prepare a presentation for this purpose. In such cases, the Candidate should not be judged on their presentation skills; it is just a means of conveying the project summary to the Examiners It is the responsibility of the Convenor to ensure that the Candidate has adequate notice of such a requirement, to include this aspect in the notification of arrangements to the Examining Board members and the Candidate, and to ensure that any necessary equipment is provided and functioning in the room assigned for the examination. 15 Attendance of a supervisor 15.1 The University permits attendance of the supervisor(s) at the viva voce examination. Regardless of the prevailing discipline practice concerning supervisor attendance, all Candidates may invite their supervisor to attend their viva voce examination. Further, if it is the standard practice of the School to invite a supervisor and the Candidate is uncomfortable with this prospect, the Candidate's views should be respected and the supervisor should not attend. In order to facilitate the arrangement of the viva voce, the student should inform the Convenor whether they want their supervisor(s) to attend at the earliest opportunity If attending, a supervisor may offer clarification to the Examining Board on a given matter, for example if the PhD is linked to a wider research project, but only when called upon specifically to do so by the Chair; the supervisor may not contribute in any other way to the discussion or answer questions on behalf of the Candidate. The supervisor cannot be present at any pre-viva discussion of the thesis or of the Candidate, and must leave the examination before the Candidate does so, to give the Candidate the opportunity to speak freely. 16 Completing the viva voce examination 16.1 Once the Examiners have concluded their deliberations and agreed a recommendation, the Candidate should be invited back into the room and informed of the outcome of the examination. If the Candidate wishes, the supervisor(s) may also be present If the Candidate has not been successful on this occasion, the Chair should outline the key deficiencies of the thesis. If the Candidate is permitted to resubmit, the Chair should advise them that they will, in due course, receive a written statement of the deficiencies to assist in the revision of the work (see 19 below) If the Candidate has been recommended for the award but this is subject to corrections and/or amendments, the Candidate should be provided with the appropriate instruction when called back in to the examination room to be informed of the outcome: it is the responsibility of the Chair to outline the areas that require correction or amendment At the conclusion of the viva voce examination, the Examiners should agree upon, and sign, the 'Joint Examiners' Report' section of the Result and Report Form, and the 'Formal Recommendation' which must be countersigned by the Chair. 7

8 16.5 The External Examiner is asked to complete an additional section of the Result and Report Form, 'Comments on Quality and Standards' The outcome of the viva voce examination should be reported immediately to the Registry so that official notification can be issued to the Candidate of the result and of any deadline for the completion of corrections or resubmission Where the recommendation of the Examining Board is to pass the thesis or to pass the thesis subject to corrections and/or amendments, the original documentation should be retained by the School until any required revisions have been carried out satisfactorily and the thesis has been uploaded into the University's digital repository. The Head of School/Convenor is then required to confirm successful upload of the approved version into the digital repository as part of the transfer of information to the Registry Where the recommendation of the Examining Board is not a pass, the Head of School/Convenor should ensure that the examination paperwork is sent to the Registry immediately following the examination. 17 Outcome of the viva voce examination: Examining Board recommendations 17.1 The permitted Examining Board recommendations are contained within the relevant Senate Regulations ('Senate Regulations for the Award of the Degree of PhD', etc.), and provided on the relevant 'Result and Report Form' for completion by the Examining Board The Result and Report Form also includes advice to Examining Boards on interpreting the decisions available to them. Definitions and example deficiencies are provided to help the Examiners distinguish between 'pass subject to minor corrections', 'pass subject to corrections and amendments' and 'not approved, permitted to resubmit', etc. A thesis should only be recommended for one of the pass category decisions if it is deemed to be satisfactory in substance and any defects are in detail and/or presentation. Where a thesis is not approved, a resubmission within a period of one further year should only be recommended where the Examiners can see evidence that the Candidate is capable of modifications required for the thesis to meet the criteria for an award. 18 Examiners' dispute: failing to reach agreement 18.1 In the rare event that the Examiners are unable to reach agreement over the outcome of a research degree examination, no decision must be recorded. The Chair of the Examining Board should write, via the Director of Registry, to the Chair of the Academic Standards and Quality Committee giving a clear account of the disagreement. The full Result and Report Form should accompany this account The Chair of the Academic Standards and Quality Committee shall make appropriate arrangements for arbitration If an Arbitrating Examiner is appointed, the Candidate may be required to undergo a further oral examination. 19 Written advice to candidates not recommended for the award but permitted to resubmit 19.1 Where the Examiners do not recommend the award of a research degree but permit a resubmission, then the Candidate will be provided with a written statement of the deficiencies of the thesis, which has been agreed by both Examiners. 8

9 19.2 The Convenor will arrange for this statement to be issued to the Candidate as soon after the examination as is practicable; the University expectation is that no more than two weeks as a maximum are required to provide the Candidate with the statement. A copy of the statement shall be given to the Candidate's main supervisor It is the responsibility of the supervisor to advise their student through the resubmission period. This responsibility cannot be assumed by the Internal Examiner since doing so would compromise their impartiality in re-examining the thesis The Data Protection Act provides that all candidates have the right to request access to any comments or reports made about them, including those made in the context of the examination. 20 Examination of a resubmitted thesis 20.1 In the case of candidates resubmitting a thesis for further examination, the original Examining Board should be re-constituted Occasionally, circumstances dictate that a member of the original Examining Board cannot continue in their role. If one of the original Examiners cannot continue, the Registry must be notified and a replacement appointed 20.2 The Convenor is responsible for ensuring that each Examiner is sent one copy of the thesis, and instruction on submission of their independent written reports If the Examiners are both satisfied that the resubmitted work meets the criteria for the award of the degree for which it is being presented, it is open to them to waive the viva voce examination requirement on this occasion. They may still stipulate that some corrections are required If, however, the Examiners do not agree that the thesis can be approved for the intended degree, a further viva voce examination must be held The same Result and Report Form template is used for resubmissions. The documentation should be completed by the members of the reconstituted Examining Board as above (with the exception of the 'Joint Report on the Candidate at the Oral Examination' if this has been waived), and the Convenor should arrange for Registry to be notified, as normal. 21 Appeals by Candidates against decisions of research degree Examining Boards 21.1 A Candidate who is not recommended for the award of the degree for which s/he submitted a thesis, may appeal against the decision reached by the Examining Board Permitted grounds for appeal and the procedure are described in the Academic Regulations Handbook: 'Cardiff University Appeals Procedure (Postgraduate Research Degrees)'. 22 Suspicion of unfair practice 22.1 If there is reason to suspect unfair practice either during the examination of a thesis pre-viva, or during the viva voce examination of the Candidate, suspicions must be investigated in accordance with the 'Unfair Practice Procedure (Research Degrees)' 'Cardiff University's Policy and Procedures in Relation to Academic Integrity in Research Degree Study', which includes the Unfair Practice Procedure, is included in the Academic Regulations Handbook. 9

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