Appointment of examiners

It is the supervisor’s responsibility to nominate suitable examiners with appropriate subject expertise and experience
well in advance of the student submitting their thesis. It is essential, therefore, that the student keeps their supervisor informed of progress towards thesis submission, so that a recommendation for the appointment of examiners can be made to the Faculty in good time. Students who submit their thesis without first informing their supervisor should note that this may result in delays in the examination process if the examiners have not yet been appointed. All nominations for the appointment of examiners require Faculty approval prior to the thesis being sent out.

Supervisors should informally approach the external examiner(s) initially to verify their willingness to act and should then complete the Appointment of Examiners form for approval. Supervisors should also check that the proposed
examiners are aware of the timescales for examination of the thesis and completion of examiners’ reports and available to act within the relevant timescales. 

At least two examiners must be appointed for every examination, at least one of whom must be an external examiner. The external examiner is a senior academic or professional/practitioner with expertise in the relevant subject area of the thesis and must be appointed from outside the University. Most University staff candidates are required to have two external examiners. With the exception of staff candidates, most students will also have an internal examiner. If it is not possible to appoint a suitable internal examiner, it may be possible to appoint two external examiners and an internal coordinator. In all cases where there are two external examiners departments must also nominate a senior member of academic staff to act as internal coordinator and to liaise with the examiners and the student concerning the arrangements for the oral examination.

To avoid any potential conflict of interest, examiners should have no previous association with the student or direct involvement with their research project and must declare any past or planned future connections with the student. This includes, but is not limited to: current or former academic supervision, pastoral relationships, family relationships, friendship, employment or professional connections. The examiners should also advise Research Services if they have a connection to the supervisor that might constitute a conflict of interest (such as those listed above). In cases of uncertainty, Research Services should be consulted.  It is not considered appropriate to re-appoint the same examiners, internal or external, on multiple occasions. Regular pairings of the same internal and external examiner should also be avoided.

Examiners should always regard the contents of the thesis they are examining as confidential throughout the examination process. However, in some cases there may be an additional requirement for a formal confidentiality agreement to be put in place to cover the examination of the thesis. If required, this will usually be stipulated as part of the terms and conditions of the student’s sponsorship. Supervisors should make arrangements for a confidentiality agreement to be drawn up at an early stage, i.e. when the examiners are nominated. Confidentiality agreements can be drawn up by Research Services and enquiries should be directed to the PGR Support Team in the first instance.

Eligibility criteria for appointing examiners

The University has agreed eligibility criteria for the appointment of examiners for research degrees to ensure that the composition of the examination team is appropriate in terms of specialist expertise and experience. The external examiner is expected to have significant and demonstrable knowledge of the field covered by the thesis in order to provide an in-depth analysis of the thesis and in order to provide a rigorous viva voce examination. The internal examiner should be in a position to assess the thesis and to ensure that the examination process is conducted fairly and rigorously and must therefore have a sound knowledge and understanding of University regulations and procedures governing the examination process.

In order that the candidate is treated in a fair and equitable manner consistent with the standards and expectations
of the University of Sheffield, the examiners should have demonstrable experience of the PhD process beyond their
own candidature and should have experience of successfully supervising at least one doctoral candidate and/or significant experience of examining at least three doctoral theses. Should this not be the case, the curriculum vitae of the proposed examiner and a supporting statement as to why they are considered appropriate should be provided. The case will then be assessed by the relevant Faculty Officer.

Honorary members of the University’s academic staff may act as internal examiners provided they meet the above criteria and provided they will continue to hold their honorary status for the duration of the examination process.

Former members of the University’s staff are not eligible to act as an external examiner until a period of at least 4 years has elapsed following their departure.

A more detailed document describing the eligibility criteria for examiners is available to download here.

The Appointment of Examiners form for completion by supervisors is available to download. Completed forms must be forwarded to Research Services for faculty approval, along with any additional supporting information on the proposed examiners' qualifications/suitability. If it becomes necessary to replace an examiner, the same appointment procedure must be followed, and the Replacement of Examiners form must be used.

In all cases, examiners must be formally appointed by the faculty before the thesis is dispatched to the examiners and the date of the viva voce examination is set.  

Eligibility to Work (ETW) checks for external examiners

A temporary change to the eligibility to work process is in place as a result of the restrictions imposed by the coronavirus. This right to work check applies to any external examiners based in the UK and the process can be found here

To comply with the Immigration, Asylum and Nationality Act 2006, departments should confirm the eligibility to work of all External Examiners. External Examiners should be asked to confirm that they are eligible to work in the UK and to provide a copy of their passport or other relevant document(s) as evidence. The Home Office provides guidance on the range of documents which they consider to be acceptable proof of eligibility, which can be found at:, or the UK Visas and Immigration website.

Eligibility to work checks should be completed, wherever possible, at the time of appointment of an examiner. Where this is not possible, eligibility to work should be checked when the external examiner attends for the viva examination before any work is undertaken.

When undertaking an eligibility to work check for an External Examiner, please do the following:

  1. Check that the presented document is on the UKBA list of accepted documents
  2. Ensure that a full copy of the document has been taken (for passports this includes: front cover, personal details page, pages with endorsements and expiry dates)
  3. Retain copies of documents and store them securely
  4. Tick to confirm the External Examiner is eligible to work in the UK on the appointment form.

It is important to note that eligibility to work checks must be conducted for all external examiners, including UK nationals. However, if a UK national is employed on more than one occasion as an external examiner, provided a copy of their original documentation has been taken and retained by the department, they should not require another check.

If it appears the External Examiner is not eligible to work in the UK contact your HR Team for further guidance. The External Examiner may be eligible for a visitors route (permitted paid engagement). This is a category for a limited group of migrants including external examiners and visiting lecturers, to come to the UK for up to 1 month without the need to be sponsored under the points-based system. Please be aware that external examiners who are NOT eligible to work in the UK cannot legally be paid a fee and expenses UNLESS they enter the UK under the appropriate visa route.

Please note that any external examiners entering the UK on a Permitted Paid Engagement visa should not use eGates upon arrival in the UK, as they need to see an immigration officer to receive a passport stamp. 

Examiners' fees and expenses

Expenses and fees incurred by examiners solely as a result of carrying out the examination should be claimed through Research Services, not the academic department, in line with the guidelines issued to examiners with the thesis.  

Internal examiners wishing to claim for expenses incurred as part of the examination process should use the University's Expenses Claim Form for Staff.