Requirement to hold an Oral Examination
All candidates for doctoral degrees and for the degree of MPhil are required to attend an oral examination after the first submission of the thesis. In the case of MA/MSc/LLM/MMedSci/MS degrees, an oral examination shall be held where one or both examiners considers this to be necessary to the examination process, at the discretion of the examiners.
There is no requirement for the examiners of a resubmitted thesis to hold a second oral examination, however, a second oral examination should be held where one or both of the examiners considers this to be necessary to the examination process and a second oral would be usual if the examiners are considering the award of a lower degree or failing the candidate.
Arrangements for the Oral Examination
The internal examiner is responsible for organising the oral examination. Where no internal examiner is appointed, the examination advisor is responsible for organising the oral examination. The Doctoral College cannot undertake to assist with these arrangements. The date chosen should be as convenient as possible to all parties, including the student (see Part I, paragraph 7.3). The supervisor(s) should also be consulted and the oral should normally be held on a date on which the supervisor(s) is available in order to provide support to the student immediately before/after the viva.
At least two weeks before the date of the oral examination, the internal examiner or examination advisor should inform the external examiner, the candidate and the supervisor(s) in writing of the date and place of the oral examination. The internal examiner or examination advisor should also act as ‘host’ for the oral examination.
A viva can take place by video conference if all parties to the examination agree. For further information see viva by video conference - guidance for staff and examiners. Any video conferences held should be conducted on a secure platform as recommended and supported by the University’s Audio Visual Services department. ‘Domestic’ Skype is not considered to be a sufficiently stable platform for the conduct of vivas.
Conduct of the Oral Examination
It is recommended that in all cases where an oral examination will be held departments should consider the appointment of an examination advisor, who will chair and maintain a summary record of the oral examination and be available to advise the examiners on university procedures and the recommendations available to them. Further guidance on the role and responsibilities of the examination advisor are set out in Appendix C .
It is the responsibility of the examiners in their joint report to provide a summary of the issues covered and the candidate's performance in the oral examination. The purpose of the oral examination is to enable the examiners to clarify any ambiguities in the thesis, to satisfy themselves that the thesis is the candidate’s own work, that the candidate is familiar with the relation of his/her work to the field of study and also that his/her knowledge and appreciation of adjoining fields in the subject are up to the standard expected for the award of the appropriate degree.
The examination advisor and/or the examiners should attempt to make the candidate feel at ease and to ensure that the strengths as well as the weaknesses of the thesis are covered in the oral examination. Examiners may request advice on University procedures from the examination advisor and information from a candidate’s supervisor, and, if they wish, ask the supervisor to be present at the oral examination. A supervisor can only be present at an examination at the request of the examiners and should play no part in the oral examination.
Feedback to the Candidate and Supervisor(s)
Where both examiners have agreed upon a recommendation, they are normally expected (but not required) to make it known to the candidate during or at the end of the oral examination if one is held. The examination advisor (if one is appointed) should be present when such feedback is given to the candidate. Where no oral is held (for example following a Masters by Research examination or a resubmission) the internal examiner is expected to make the outcome known informally to the candidate (and supervisor(s)). In all cases, the examiners must make it clear that this is their recommendation and that the final decision rests with the Chair of the Faculty Education Committee and the Senate and that the candidate should expect to receive official notification of the approval of the decision in due course from the Doctoral College, with the exception of minor/major corrections. In the case of minor/major corrections, the examiners should inform the candidate of the corrections required and the deadline for completion. The candidate should proceed to correct the thesis from the date of receipt of the corrections. The examiners might also wish to provide other feedback on the thesis at this stage, particularly if revisions or corrections are required. Please note, however, that although the examiners may provide the candidate with informal feedback and comments on any revisions required at the oral examination (and the internal examiner may undertake to do this when an oral is not conducted), the examiners should still submit a written note of guidance for revision with their reports, as this forms part of the formal record of examination (see Section 8).
It is the responsibility of the internal examiner to make the examiners’ decision known and provide feedback to the supervisor(s) on any corrections required after the examination. Where two external examiners are appointed, the examination advisor should inform the supervisor(s) of the outcome of the examination and the external examiners should therefore ensure they let the examination advisor know their decision.
If the internal examiner anticipates any difficulty in making contact with a candidate where no viva has been held s/he should contact the Doctoral College.