Guidance for examiners and chairs

The system of PGR examinations across the HE sector works as a result of the dedication and generosity of colleagues in agreeing to act as examiners and independent chairs. At Keele we recognise the commitment of these colleagues, both internal to the University and from elsewhere. Our aim is to reduce the amount of administration connected with the process, whilst ensuring its validity and equity for all of our PGR students.

The information below describes, in some detail, the role of the examiners and the independent chair in Keele's PGR examination process. We hope that you will find this information helpful.

Institutional criteria for research degree awards





First Submission


External Examiner Expenses Form


 First Submission




The student's Faculty Research Office/Research Institute is responsible for nominating the examiners and independent chair for each examination to the Research Degrees Committee (RDC). There are criteria and a minimum level of expertise and experience that the University requires to be reflected in each of the PGR examination panels that RDC appoints. Full details of these requirements are explained in the Code of Practice on Postgraduate Research Degrees (PDF, 158KB) and the guidance available on the 'Examination guidance and forms' section of this web page‌.

After approval by RDC, the examiners and independent chair will receive a letter confirming appointment.

Once the student has submitted his/her thesis, copies will be sent to the examiners appointed by RDC. The independent chair will receive a copy of the abstract taken from the thesis. The thesis will be sent by colleagues in the Quality Assurance Office and the contact details given on the examination panel nomination form will be used. Accompanying the thesis will be copies of the standard covering letter explaining the next steps in the process and a coversheet which we ask examiners to send with their initial report.

The examiners are asked to reflect on the thesis that has been submitted and to write an independent Pre-Viva Examiner's Report which should include the following:

  • a critical synopsis of the thesis
  • comments on the standard and originality of the work submitted
  • areas to be explored in the oral examination
  • any suspicions about academic malpractice, or other doubts about the veracity of the student's Part 1 Declaration
  • a preliminary recommendation, referring to the standards required for an award published above in the 'Examination guidance and forms' section of this web page.
  • the grounds upon which the preliminary recommendation is made

We ask for the Pre-Viva Examiner's Report and the accompanying coversheet to be returned to us by email at within two months of the thesis being sent or no later than one week prior to the viva (whichever is sooner). The reports will then be exchanged between the examiners and the independent chair will be copied in.

The oral examination (also known as the 'viva voce' or simply 'viva') is conducted after the Pre-Viva Examiner's Reports have been returned and exchanged between the examiners. The conduct of the oral examination is set out in the 'Examination Guidance and Forms' section of this web page. While there is an expectation that all colleagues agreeing to examine PGR degrees at Keele will take the time to familiarise themselves with this, the role of the independent chair is to ensure that the examination is conducted as per these procedures.

Examiners are asked to keep in mind the three central objectives of the process:

  1. to confirm or revise the examiner's initial views about the standard of the student's research, based on the thesis
  2. to identify and discuss any amendments to the thesis which may be required to meet the standard for the award
  3. to determine, as far as possible, whether the Academic Honesty Declaration made by the student on submission of the thesis is true

It is a regulatory requirement that all PGR students will undergo an oral examination following the submission of his/her research thesis. The only exceptions to this are for students who are submitting for a Higher Doctorate (where there is a presumption that an oral examination will not be necessary) or for students re-submitting a thesis. In both of these cases, whether or not to hold an oral examination is at the discretion of the examiners.

At the end of the oral examination, the Examiners will need to come to a joint decision on the outcome. The recommendation system at Keele ranges from 1-7 and is described, in depth, in the 'Examination guidance and forms' section of this web page:

  1. Award the degree with no amendments to the thesis
  2. Award the degree once minor corrections have been made to the thesis to the satisfaction of the examiner(s) (3 months is the standard; if examiners give students 4, 5, or 6 months, the Post-Viva Report needs to contain a rationale for a decision)
  3. Award the degree, subject to the resubmission of the thesis following major corrections, to be completed within one year from the date of the Research Degrees Committee
  4. Award an MPhil, not a doctoral level award
  5. Award an MPhil, subject to the resubmission of the thesis following major corrections, to be completed within one year from the date of the Research Degrees Committee (only permited for doctoral level students)
  6. The student should not be awarded any degree (fail)
  7. The examiners are unable to come to a joint recommendation and an additional examiner or examiners should be appointed whose decision shall resolve the matter

This outcome should be confirmed on Post-Viva Examiners' Report Form. Within seven working days of the viva, the examiners are asked to submit a narrative report to, covering the following:

  • any supplementary comments arising from discussion between the examiners and the oral examination, including reasons for any changes of opinion from those expressed in Part 1 of the examiners' reports
  • justification for the final recommendation as set out in the joint certificate signed immediately following the oral examination, referring to the standards required for an award at doctoral and masters level as set out in the 'Examination Guidance and Forms' section of this web page
  • clear reasons for the recommendation, and details of any required amendments and revisions, so that Research Degrees Committee can be confident in the appropriateness of the recommendation and the student understands the reason for the outcome and can take appropriate corrective action if necessary
  • a statement that the examiners are satisfied that the student's Academic Honesty Declaration is true or, if not so satisfied, the areas and grounds on which the examiners have concerns about its veracity

Once all the paperwork has been received, Research Degrees Committee (RDC) will consider the Pre-Viva and Post-Viva Reports from the examiners and decide whether or not to approve the recommendation as to the outcome of the examination. The circumstances in which RDC may decline to accept a recommendation are extremely limited and, in all cases, will never question the academic judgement of the examiners. However, it may be useful to keep in mind the following instances when the committee may be minded not to accept a recommendation or else delay its approval:

  • In the majority of cases where RDC does not initially approve the examiners' recommendation, this will be because of deficiencies identified in the reports. The previous sections indicate what must be covered in the Pre-Viva and Post-Viva Reports. Overall, the committee must be able to see and understand the rationale that the examiners have used to reach their recommendation.
  • There are sometimes discussions on cases where the decision to go for Recommendation 2 (minor corrections) or Recommendation 3 (resubmission) require a difficult judgement call. Examiners are asked to keep in mind that minor corrections, when undertaken, should not materially alter the intellectual content of the thesis. Where this is likely to occur, recommendation 3 might be more appropriate.

Once RDC has approved the examiners' recommendation and reports, an outcome letter and copies of those reports are sent to the student, supervisor, Faculty Research Office/Research Institute and the examiners.

All of the paperwork you should need to claim your fee and any expenses you might incur as part of your responsibilities as a PGR examiner will be sent to you along with a copy of the student's thesis. These documents are produced centrally and linked to the student being examined. You should complete the fee payment form as soon as possible and return it to the address given or else email it to

Claims for reasonable expenses incurred in relation to the examination process should be similarly submitted following the oral examination. Where external examiners believe that they might incur expenses exceeding £200, they are kindly asked to contact Ed McCauley ( beforehand.

Your fee and expenses will be processed following approval of the full set of reports at RDC.

From 1st August 2014, the University's fees for PGR examining are as follows:

Type of degreeType of examFee
Doctoral degrees (PhD, Prof. Docs. etc.)  First submission £150.00
Master of Philosophy (MPhil) First submission £120.00
Doctoral degrees (PhD, Prof. Docs. etc.)  Re-examination £90.00
Master of Philosophy (MPhil) Re-examination £72.00