External Examiners remain a critical part of quality assurance in education (Weale, 2016), a role they have enjoyed since the early nineteenth century as a means for universities to test the integrity of their standards (Silver and Williams, 1996). As for the adoption of the term ‘Quality assurance’, institutions have benefited from an in-depth and widened approach to quality (Slack, 2010). For example, EEs’ roles have now extended into the assessment of the conduciveness of study to the students’ environment along with reviews that provide feedback on how to improve our institution’s processes. In other words, how can we make the process of learning, teaching and students’ assessment better, towards the benefit of the ultimate customers, our students. The EE’s approach to quality in this sense is directed towards having an impact on the input aspect of education (see figure 1.1 below) and not only the traditional attention is given to the transformation process. It’s also about promoting continuous improvement in education (Sohel-Uz-Zaman, 2016) as hinted earlier, where the ‘critical friend’ approach has fostered more of a collaborative relationship, allowing for recommendations and improvements to be made with fewer difficulties.
EEs have not been immune to criticism though, with concerns in the past about the in transition, from the arbitrator to ‘critical friend’ (HEFCE, 2009). There have also been accusations of a lack of consistency in EE appointments (HEQC, 1994) and accusations that they focus more on the input and transformation process of standards and not on the output facet, which could be debatable. However, despite the odds, the external examiner has remained, for us, the vanguard for ensuring that the institution remains steadfast in upholding all quality standards and guidelines, in and around the classroom. And so, we will continue to welcome and work closely with our ‘critical friend’ over that of an arbitrator.