Guidance for arranging and holding viva voce examinations during University shutdown

During the University shutdown viva exams should still be held wherever possible. Video conferencing software such as Skype, Zoom or Microsoft teams should be used and internal examiners are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the software before making arrangements. The following guidance, which incorporates standard guidance for viva examinations, should be consulted to ensure that viva examinations held remotely run as smoothly as possible and in accordance with the regulations and policies of the University.

Procedures for arranging a viva examination by video conference

  • All requests to hold a viva examination by Skype are still subject to the approval of the Dean of the Doctoral College. This measure is to ensure that agreement confirmations have been received and that the internal examiner is aware of the procedures and responsibilities for holding a viva examination by video conference. Approvals are given priority and are receiving a rapid turnaround.
  • The candidate must agree to hold the viva by skype and must acknowledge that they understand in holding the viva by video conference the use of a remote meeting format will not be considered reasonable grounds for an appeal. Examiners must agree to hold the viva by skype and must acknowledge that they are aware of the procedures for holding the viva by skype and their responsibilities as examiners. All agreement statements should be sent in a single email to the Doctoral College along with the form for holding a viva examination by video conference.
  • In the event that the viva examination is recorded, all parties must agree that they accept this condition and that they understand the video will be retained for appeals purposes until such time that the candidate is awarded or three months after the date of a withdrawal from studies.
  • Any time differences must be taken into account to ensure that the candidate is not at a disadvantage during the examination because of it being held at an inappropriate time (starting times outside 8am-8pm local time to candidate should always be avoided).
  • The arrangements for video-conferencing must be made by the internal examiner.

Responsibilities of internal examiner

Internal examiners should be aware of the following responsibilities:

  • Making all arrangements for the viva exam, including any subsequent re-viva if the student is referred for resubmission, and communicating these arrangements to the research student and the external examiner(s).
  • Ensuring that they are familiar with senate regulations specifically relating to available award descriptions and viva outcomes.
  • Undertaking an assessment of the thesis in advance of the viva exam and completing an independent pre-viva report which must be submitted to the Doctoral College Office at least one day before the viva takes place.
  • Conducting the viva exam with the external examiner(s) and agreeing a joint decision with them.
  • Advising the research student of the decision made by the examining team.
  • Providing the research student with a verbal report (minor amendments) or written report (major amendments or referral for resubmission) on the amendments required by the examining team.
  • Preparing a joint post-viva report with the external examiner(s) and submitting this to the Doctoral College Office together with a copy of the written report on amendments required by the examining team. The report form will be sent to you by the Doctoral College Office.
  • Assessing the amendments made by the research student and then confirming whether these have been completed satisfactorily (where minor or major amendments were specified).
  • Assessing the resubmitted thesis and, if needed, conducting a further viva exam if the examining team has decided that the research student should be referred for resubmission.
  • The internal examiner is responsible for ensuring that all parties involved in the examination are informed, sufficiently well in advance, of the details of the video-conferencing examination arrangements.
  • Ensure that all video conference procedures for viva examinations are followed.
  • Where a recording of the viva examination is made, to retain the recording securely until the student is awarded or three months after the date of a withdrawal from studies.

Responsibilities of external examiner

External Examiners should be aware of the following responsibilities:

  • Undertaking an assessment of the thesis in advance of the viva exam and completing an independent pre-viva report which must be submitted to the Doctoral College Office at least one day before the viva takes place.
  • Conducting the viva exam with the internal examiner and agreeing a joint decision with them.
  • Agreeing with the internal examiner the amendments that the student will be asked to make.
  • Preparing a joint post-viva report with the internal examiner.
  • Assessing the resubmitted thesis and, if needed, conducting a further viva exam if the examining team has decided that the research student should be referred for resubmission.

Responsibilities of examination chair

Examination Chairs should be aware of the following responsibilities:

  • Providing the examining team with administrative and/or procedural advice as needed.
  • Submitting a Chair's report detailing the conduct of the viva which should take place in a professional, fair and transparent manner.
  • Ensuring that the examining team’s joint decision on completion of the viva exam is consistent with the approved award descriptions and viva outcomes as per Senate Regulations 9.239-251.
  • Ensure that the video conference procedures for viva examinations are followed.

Procedures before the examination

  • The examiners and Chair should meet virtually before the viva to ensure they are clear on the
  • structure of the examination and to discuss the approach of questioning. The format of video conference does not lend itself to natural discussion and so it is important to establish which examiner will lead on which questions.
  • et a contingency plan in the event of a technical failure which should be agreed beforehand.
  • Ensure the candidate and examiners and Chair have identified an appropriate space and equipment for an uninterrupted video conference.
  • All parties must be visible during the examination, and the candidate should normally be alone during the examination.
  • All remote viva examinations must be conducted using visual as well as audio interaction. It is not possible for a viva examination to be conducted with audio only or by phone.
  • It is advised that all the equipment and conferencing software is tested in advance and it is essential that at least one party in either location is knowledgeable about the software and equipment and capable of troubleshooting any potential problems.
  • Allow sufficient time at the beginning of the examination to confirm their audio and video quality and to understand that they can call for a break when they need one.

Further tips on holding the viva examination by video conference can be found within the UKCGE Guide on Conducting Vivas Online site.

Procedures for the examination

During the examination

  • The content and conduct of the video conference examination should be the same as a normal viva examination.
  • The candidate’s identity must be verified at the start of the oral examination by a staff member of the candidate’s department (usually the internal examiner).
  • If communication is broken during the examination and a connection cannot be reestablished, examination must be terminated and rescheduled.
  • If communication is broken during the examination and a connection cannot be reestablished, the examiners must decide how much of the viva examination was completed at the point the connection was lost and what, therefore, should be covered in the re-scheduled viva examination.
  • If communication is broken towards the end of an examination, and examiners can jointly agree that further examination would not change their decision, the viva may be concluded and the candidate notified of the examiners’ joint recommendation. This should be detailed in the Examiner’s report and account should be made of any content that was potentially missed after the break in communication.

After examination

  • Examiners should be prepared to offer further counsel once the examination has ended. It is important to keep in mind that the candidate will require support in the event of an undesirable outcome, and therefore sufficient support should be offered by the examination team and supervisors. It is sensible for candidates to have someone available locally to support them after the viva.
  • Examiners should ensure the candidate has left the discussion whilst they discuss the examination outcomes and reach their joint decision. It is advised that the candidate should be informed of the approximate duration that this discussion will take and when to be on hand to discuss the examiners’ decision.
  • Candidates should be informed of the outcome of their viva examination as soon as possible and the procedures for outcomes and corrections should be explained to the candidate.
  • Outcomes are the same as normal viva examinations and the examiners are required to file a joint report. In the case of minor corrections, the candidate should be informed of these corrections directly by the internal examiner.
  • The use of a video conference examination is not sufficient grounds for an appeal. 

Further links and guidance