Guidelines for the Conduct of Viva Voce Examinations by Electronic Means
The University believes that Viva Voce examinations (oral examinations) are an essential part of the examination process of candidates for research degrees. To this end, the Regulations of the University require such an examination to be held, and there is guidance available which is intended to lay the foundations for the viva voce examination itself. Extracts from the Regulations and associated guidance are shown together in the Appendix to this document.
As will be clear from the extracts in the Appendix, the University expects that viva voce examinations will be held on a face-to-face basis, with all concerned present in the same room, at the same time.
Notwithstanding this expectation, the University recognises that it may be necessary - under very exceptional conditions - for arrangements to be made for examinations to take place through electronic media. (The University will not give approval to the use of telephone links alone for the purposes of examinations.) Accordingly, the Research Degrees Board is empowered to give approval to requests that electronic media may be used, in exceptional circumstances, as defined below:
- where conditions have arisen under which it would not be possible otherwise to proceed with the viva voce (eg. where a student cannot return to the UK because of visa or other restrictions) or
- where agreed arrangements for a face to face viva voce have had to be terminated because of unexpected circumstances (eg. severe weather; illness of one of the participants). Note: where such circumstances arise, the University would expect that, normally, the viva voce should be postponed, rather than be held through electronic means, but it is accepted that - occasionally - it will be necessary for electronic means to be used instead (eg. where the student would suffer disproportionately as a result of postponement).
Cases in which electronic means might be needed for viva voce examinations should be forwarded to the Research Degrees Board by the Chair of the Examining Board concerned (or, in his/her absence, by the Secretary & Convenor of the Board). The Research Degrees Board will consider each case placed before it on its individual merits, although it will also expect to see the following:
- written confirmation from the intended participants (including the candidate) that they have no objection to the examination being held, at an agreed time; through electronic means,
- a written statement from the candidate that he/she has waived any right to appeal against the outcome of the examination on the grounds of the use of the electronic medium or consequences arising from the use of such medium;
- that sufficient time has been allotted for the viva voce itself, and that necessary technical back-up will be available;
- that additional time (of approximately 10 minutes duration) has been made available before the start of the formal examination to enable the participants to familiarise themselves with the scope and limitations of the medium in use;
- that either the candidate or the members of the Examining Board will 'attend' the examination via one of the videonetwork studios maintained by the University.
Where such arrangements are given approval, it is suggested that, where practicable and provided that the candidate is in agreement, the supervisor should be invited by the Chair of the Examining Board to be present in the same location as the candidate during the viva voce.
The Research Degrees Board will report to the Senate on each case in which it has given approval to the use of electronic media for research degree examinations.
Research Degrees : The Oral Examination
The University's Regulations for the Submission and Examination of Theses and Regulations for the Degree of Doctor of Philosophy (applicable to collaborative provision) make the following provisions in respect of all research degrees*:
- The Examining Board is required to conduct an oral examination of candidates for research degrees in all cases except where an examination of a re-submitted thesis is being conducted (under which circumstances this requirement may be waived at the discretion of the Examining Board).
- The oral examination will normally be conducted at the University although at the discretion of the Vice-Chancellor the oral examination may be conducted in another place.
- In the case of a candidate normally resident outside of the United Kingdom, the oral examination may be deferred until the return of the candidate to this country, provided that:
- each candidate shall give not less than two months' notice to the University of the dates between which he/she will be available for oral examination in this country;
- the oral examination may not be deferred for a period exceeding twelve months from the date of submission of the thesis;
- any additional expense caused by the conduct of the deferred oral examination shall be borne by the candidate.
The Oral Examination
- The oral examination will normally be conducted at the University, in accordance with the Regulations for the award of the degree. At the discretion of the Vice-Chancellor, however, the oral examination may be conducted at another place.
- In the case of a candidate resident at the time of submission elsewhere than in the UK, the oral examination may be deferred until the candidate returns to the UK, in line with the requirements for the deferral of examination stipulated in the Regulations.
- Examining Boards, in recommending a candidate for the degree, shall certify that the thesis submitted by the candidate substantially covers the scheme of research approved by the University.
- The following must be present at the oral examination:
- the Chair
- the External Examiner
- the Internal Examiner 1
- The members of the Board shall be appointed in accordance with the University's Regulations and the Standing Orders for the Degree. The candidate's supervisor shall not be appointed internal examiner, although he/she may be invited to attend the oral examination should the candidate agree. If in attendance, a supervisor shall only speak at the examination if invited to do so by the Chair of the Examining Board. The Chair of the Board shall be responsible to the Vice-Chancellor for the conduct of the examination.
- The purpose of the oral examination is three-fold:
- to enable the examiners to assure themselves that the thesis is the candidate's own work;
- to give the candidate the opportunity to defend the thesis and to clarify any obscurities in it;
- to enable the examiners to assess the candidate's general knowledge in his or her particular field of learning.
- In exceptional cases, the University's Research Degrees Board may - given sufficient notice - consider giving permission for oral examinations to be conducted by electronic means. A separate set of guidelines is published for this purpose and examiners who have been asked to conduct an oral examination by such means are asked to familiarise themselves with its contents. Copies of the document Guidelines for the Conduct of Viva Voce Examinations by Electronic Means are available upon request from the Registry.
- At the oral examination, care should be taken to ensure that candidates are encouraged to feel at ease so that they can display their knowledge and abilities to best effect, and the strengths as well as the weaknesses of the thesis should be acknowledged and explored. At an early stage in the proceedings, candidates should be given an opportunity to explain precisely what their thesis is intended to achieve and what they believe to be its significance as a contribution to knowledge. If there appears to be a major discrepancy between the candidate's aims and the content of the actual thesis, the reasons for this should be explored. Likewise candidates should be asked to explain their choice of title when there appears to be an imperfect correspondence with the contents of the thesis. Candidates should also be given the opportunity to explain any apparent failure to use important materials, whether primary or secondary, or neglect of relevant approaches or methodologies.
- It is important that, where a thesis reveals significant deficiencies which might lead to a report which is not unequivocally favourable, a representative sample of these should be drawn to the candidate's attention and time for explanation and defence allowed for within the examination.
- It is possible for examiners to disagree to a greater or lesser extent in their evaluation of the work. It is, therefore, desirable that the examiners confer before the oral examination so that, should significant divergences of opinion be identified, a strategy may be devised which would resolve these differences by agreed means (which might include the careful structuring of the oral examination). Although it is desirable that the examiners strive to resolve their differences, should it prove impossible for them to do so, the Chair of the Board should report this fact to the Registry, and no recommendation for any, or no, award should be made. In these circumstances recourse to an additional, Arbitrating External Examiner may be had, as detailed in Note 6.7, below.
- The oral examination is an integral part of the examination process for a research degree, with the specific purposes set out above, and examiners are asked to exert great care to avoid giving the impression at any time during the oral examination that the oral examination is, in any sense, a mere formality.
* In the case of certain Research Master's degree candidatures (i.e. those which began before the Regulations were amended at the commencement of Session 2000-2001 so as to require all candidates to undergo oral examination) it may be the case that there is no requirement for an oral examination to be held. Where there is any doubt, the Examining Board is advised to clarify the position with the Registry.
1 Where members of staff are submitting for a degree, the Examining Board shall consist of two External Examiners, in addition to the Chair. (Paragraph 7 of the Regulations for the Submission and Examination of Research Theses applies here, as do paragraphs 26 and 33 of Standing Order 20).