Externality: The role of External Subject Specialists and Employers

How are External Subject Specialists and Employers Engaged during Programme Development?

One of the Common Practices in the Expectations for Quality outlined in the QAA Quality Code for Higher Education (2018) states that:

“The provider’s approach to managing quality takes account of external expertise”

Whilst designing your programme, it is essential to secure the expert input of academic subject experts in other institutions and employers active in the field, to ensure the programme will deliver both current academic and pedagogic rigour and employability skills. As part of the development process, you will need to seek out and engage with representative individuals and request a formal report from both an External Subject Specialist (External Subject Specialist Reviewer Report Form) acting as a ‘critical friend’ and an appropriate employer (Employers’ Report Form). 

What is the Role of the External Subject Specialist?

The External Subject Specialist’s role is to review the academic and subject-specific content of the programme and advise the Programme Approval Committee on any aspects that require enhancement. The External Subject Specialist will be invited to join the Programme Approval Committee on a temporary basis to provide academic subject specific expertise for medium or high-risk developments. 

Who can be an External Subject Specialist?

External Subject Specialists are normally senior and experienced academics in a relevant field to the programme proposed, who will be able to assure the academic content and standard of the programme. External Subject Specialists should have no formal links to Swansea University, or any external partners for collaborative programmes.

How do I Nominate an External Subject Specialist?

External Subject Specialists are nominated using the Nomination Form for External Subject Specialists. At least two independent specialists should be nominated, and further nominations may be required. For programmes comprising more than one subject area, it may be necessary to recruit an External Subject Specialist for each area. Full information on each nominee’s experience, background and area of expertise should be provided. 

How are External Subject Specialists Appointed?

External Subject Specialists are selected by the Chair of the Programme Approval Committee or a Pro-Vice Chancellor from the nominations provided by the Faculty/School Proposing Team. One selected, they must complete appropriate UKVI Right to Work checks and present their passport in person (or virtually if engaging in this way).

How much are External Subject Specialists Paid?

External Subject Specialists are currently paid a fee of £200 per review, plus expenses. This fee is currently under review to ensure Swansea University remains competitive. 

What is the Role of the Employer Reviewer?

The Employer Reviewer role is to review the programme proposal from the perspective of industry to ensure that the programme provides graduates with the relevant skills and attributes to maximise their employability. This is more straightforward for some programmes than others, but the University aspires that all programmes should ensure graduates with relevant skills for employment. 

How are Employer Reviewers Selected?

Employers’ representatives can be selected in a number of ways, as relevant to the programme. For programmes to be delivered with an employer, the Employer’s Representative will be from the partner company. In other cases, the Employer’s Representative can be drawn from existing Industrial Advisors, the SEA Management Board or other relevant nominations who will be able to provide informed feedback on the effectiveness of the proposal programme from an employment perspective.

Do I need to Secure the Support of an External Examiner for the New Programme Proposal or for an Amendment to a Programme?

If you are proposing a programme in a new subject discipline or a substantial amendment there will not be an appropriate External Examiner in place. An External Examiner will not be appointed until a new programme is approved. If, however, you are proposing an amendment to an existing programme then the existing External Examiners support for the proposal must be sought and the amendment approved in advance of the Programme Approval Committee, using the External Subject Specialist’s Report Form.

How can I Ensure Students are Involved in the Development of New Programmes?

Students should be involved in the design and development of new programmes wherever possible, to ensure that the student experience is considered form a student perspective. Students can be involved as members of Boards of Studies and Faculty/School Learning and Teaching Committees, but it is best practice if programme developers engage with student representatives and students on similar programmes during the design phase to establish what students think about new proposals, and how they might be shaped to provide content and experience that meet student needs. The ultimate goal is co-creating new programmes with students. 

The UK Quality Code makes is clear that students should be involved in the creation and monitoring of programmes as per the Expectation for Quality that relates to student engagement in programme design, development, approval and review.

Academic Services has instigated the development of a Student Review Community. Members of this Community are committed to supporting a range of activities around the Quality Assurance and Enhancement function including programme design, development, approval and review. Members of the Student Review Community are fully trained supported to make effective contribution as members of approval and review panels. Students from the Student Review Community can be called upon to engage in the processes, thus ensuring that student involvement is secured.

Programme developers should be mindful that students’ key priority is their academic study. The timing of key events such as ‘programme development workshops’ held at Faculty/School level is critical and can affect the likelihood of student reviewers being available to support developments.

You may also wish to seek the views of Alumni and even potential future students undertaking A-Levels or the Welsh Baccalaureate, who may be able to provide useful insights and experience in terms of their expectations.

For further information on how to engage students in programme development, please contact Academic Quality Services.


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