Guidance on External Adviser Comments


This page provides guidance on the role of external advisers in the development of new programmes. Part A of the form to propose a new programme requires the programme proposer to nominate an external adviser. The adviser’s comments are then submitted with Part B, along with the other additional programme documentation.


Programme Development/Approval and the Role of the External Adviser

The involvement of external advisers in the development and approval of new programmes is defined by the Quality Assurance Agency as a core practice in the expectations for standards in the UK Quality Code for Higher Education:  

‘The provider uses external expertise, assessment and classification processes that are reliable, fair and transparent. In practice, this means that feedback from external stakeholders is used to inform course design and development’ (from the UK Quality Code for Higher Education - Advice and Guidance, Course Design and Development).

The University’s programme development and approval process therefore requires that during the development and approval of new programmes appropriate advice is sought from individuals with relevant expertise who are external to the University (see below). These individuals are called ‘external advisers’.

Utilising external expertise in programme design is also another way in which the University ensures its curriculum remains relevant, up-to-date, challenging, and equips students with the skills they need. 

As part of completing the external adviser’s form, the external adviser is asked to confirm that they have reviewed the new programme proposal form (Parts A and B), programme specification, market research report, assessment matrix, curriculum map, skills audit, and any new module proposals. The external adviser may also withhold comments until further information they have requested is provided, unless this information is commercially sensitive.

Selection of External Advisers

Responsibility for the nomination of an external adviser rests with the programme proposer. The external adviser should be an experienced professional in a relevant discipline, who would normally be a senior member of academic staff at another Higher Education Institution. However, for programmes with vocational orientation or close links with industry the external adviser may be someone with relevant professional expertise.

To ensure that people who perform this role are independent from the design of the programme, no one should be approached who has within the last two years either been an employee of the University or an external examiner for the University. 

An external adviser should normally be qualified to at least the level of the programme about which they are being asked to comment. Where an exception to this rule is made, a clear case must be put forward Part A of the proposal form to explain this.

What an External Adviser Should Comment Upon

The external adviser should comment upon three key areas:

  1. The curriculum, delivery, and assessment of the programme. This includes commenting on the extent to which the curriculum and programme aims provide sufficient educational challenge to students; are coherent and introduce skills and knowledge in an appropriate order; require students to develop relevant knowledge, understanding, and skills; and are effectively delivered, i.e. the proposed curriculum ensures an appropriate balance between the modes of delivery and of assessment.  
  2. The potential market for the programme (informed by the market report).
  3. Benchmarks and comparators that relate to the programme, including the programme's alignment with national benchmarks (such as the most recent Subject Benchmark statements) and any PSRB requirements; the extent to which the curriculum is representative of current thinking and practices in the subject matter; and the programme's comparability with similar programmes at other Higher Education institutions.

The external adviser should also provide more general comments on the proposed programme, and may take the opportunity to comment on wider issues, such as the University, College, or School or Institute’s strategy or the programme approval process, although there is no requirement for an external adviser to do this.

Responses to Comments Provided by External Advisers

Where external advisers have made suggestions for the enhancement of a programme, or asked questions about a programme, a formal response should be made by the programme proposer in the space provided on the external adviser comments form.

The completed external adviser comments form should then be submitted alongside Parts A and B of the new programme proposal form for College and University approval.


Frequently Asked Questions 

Can an external examiner act as an external adviser?

A current external examiner cannot serve as an external adviser (and vice versa) as they would not be able to offer a truly independent view of the programme. Similarly, an external adviser should not be approached if they have been an external examiner at UoB in the last two years. 

Can an external adviser be used for more than one programme?

Generally, it is better to use a different external adviser for each programme, to ensure that they can offer a purely objective view and that they have the expertise that best matches the programme. Nonetheless, Schools are not prohibited from using the same external adviser more than once, particularly if there has been a large gap since they last served as an adviser, or they currently/very recently served as an adviser - what is to be avoided is a School/Department repeatedly returning to the same external adviser over a period of several years. 

Does an external adviser need to be paid?

The University does not provide a fee structure for external advisers. In many cases external advisers will carry out duties for no fee as part of collegial collaboration between universities. Should you wish to make a payment to an external adviser, however, it is generally recommended that this should be in line with the payments made to external examiners.


All the forms required in the creation of a new programme are available on the form bank



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