Arranging a Final Viva Voce Examination
Information for Supervisors who are arranging the examinations for their Researchers including detailed guidance on the format of the viva and how to use PhD Manager.
It is the responsibility of the supervisors, generally the Chair of the supervisory team, to arrange the examination panel for their researchers. Ideally, the examination panel should be agreed before the researcher submits.
When considering who to approach, please make sure each nominee meets the appropriate criterion.
In addition to the required criteria for appointment, External Examiners must be in a position to evidence their right to work in the UK if they are attending on campus. In order to receive payment, they should provide a copy of their passport (ID page and cover page) and/or Biometric Residence Permit (BRP) card (copy of both front and back), or they have confirmed they have the right to work in the UK. In both cases they will have to bring their passport (and BRP where applicable) to the viva, whether remote or in person.
When the panel have agreed informally to accept their roles, the Nomination of Examiners section on PhD Manager should be completed, including any case for appointment as required. The workflow will then go to the Research Director and then the Head of the Doctoral College for approval. A comprehensive guide is available on the 'Guides' section of PhD Manager.
The Viva Date and Venue
Once the thesis has been submitted and panel has been approved, supervisors should liaise with all members to arrange a date, location and schedule (suggested timings are available below) for the viva. The viva should take place between 28 days and three months from the date of submission.
Once a date/time/format has been agreed this information should be emailed to the Doctoral College on firstname.lastname@example.org. Please see below for the format options, some of which will require further information to be provided when sending this email.
The Doctoral College will input this information into PhD Manager and all parties will be automatically notified.
Format options for vivas
From September 2021, with the full return to campus following the end of Covid19 restrictions, in-person vivas will resume. The following options will be available:
- In-person vivas where all parties attend on campus
- Hybrid vivas where one party may attend remotely (usually the External Examiner)
- Remote vivas (usually fully remote due to the researcher being unable to travel)
Once the supervisor has communicated to the Doctoral College the time and date for the viva, the Doctoral College will make arrangements and communicate the venue, date and timings through PhD Manager.
The timing of the viva should be determined by the External’s travel plans to facilitate them being able to travel over and back on the same day.
The two usual schedules are as follows, but these can be tailored as required:
- Lunch– 12.30pm
- Preliminary meeting – 1.30pm
- Viva Start (researcher attends) – 2pm
- Preliminary Meeting – 10am
- Viva Start (researcher attends) – 10.30am
- Lunch – 12.30pm
Supervisors should also inform the Doctoral College at this point of any special requirements for the viva, for example, equipment needed, change in campus, or any reasonable adjustments for the researcher.
The Doctoral College will arrange lunch for the examination panel plus the supervisor in attendance at the viva. Other supervisors may attend but costs will need to be charged to their School/Department.
A hybrid viva may be requested where one party (usually the External Examiner) is unable to attend in person. In such circumstances, the following process should be followed:
- Nominate a co-ordinator (by agreement) who will be responsible for setting up and testing a connection and sending all details to the panel and researcher. We would suggest that the co-ordinator would be an internal member of staff who is attending the viva (e.g. the supervisor or the Chair of the examination panel), although the UoA administrative staff may be able to provide support.
- Submit a request for a hybrid viva to email@example.com for approval
- If the request is approved, the Doctoral College will book a suitable room* and the viva date and time will be communicated via PhD Manager. The co-ordinator should then arrange for the remote links to be tested prior to the viva.
- The viva schedule should follow that of the in-person viva but should not include provision for a viva lunch, where no External Examiner is being hosted on campus.
*The Doctoral College will attempt to book a video-conferencing suite. If successful, the co-ordinator will only need to set up the links etc. If a video-conferencing suite is not available the co-ordinator will also need to arrange for the appropriate equipment to be in the room, as well as setting up the links etc.
Remote vivas, where all parties attend remotely, will be considered in situations where the researcher is unable to travel to campus and such requests should be made well in advance of the proposed date. If the PhD researcher requires a remote viva, supervisors should liaise with the panel to discuss this option. In cases where the panel has not yet been appointed, nominations for panel members should be made following agreement that they are content to hold the viva remotely.
The following steps should be taken:
- The supervisors should seek agreement from panel members on which platform to use. The University recommends the use of Skype for Business and Blackboard Collaborate Ultra. Under no circumstances should a viva by telephone be arranged.
- The supervisors should nominate a co-ordinator (by agreement) who will be responsible for setting up and testing a connection and sending all details to the panel and researcher. We would suggest that the co-ordinator would be an internal member of staff who is attending the viva (e.g. the supervisor or the Chair of the examination panel), although the UoA administrative staff may be able to provide support.
- The supervisors should then email a formal request to hold the viva remotely to the Doctoral College at firstname.lastname@example.org. This should include:
- Confirmation that all parties have been consulted and are content to proceed remotely. (The supervisor should also provide emails of confirmation of consent with the request)
- The name of the nominated co-ordinator
- The proposed platform to be used
- Confirmation of the date, time and schedule for the viva
- Confirmation that alternative contact details for the panel have been collected and will be provided to the Chair. (These details can be used in the event of technical difficulties during the exam)
- This case will be forwarded to the relevant Head of the Doctoral College for a decision which will be communicated to the supervisor and co-ordinator.
- If the request is approved, the viva date and time will be communicated via PhD Manager and the co-ordinator should then communicate details of testing and links to join the meeting.
The remote viva structure should closely follow that of an in-person viva though there will be no provision for a viva lunch.
Supervisors may find our suggested viva schedule helpful when setting this.
Additional responsibilities for the Chair of Remote and Hybrid Vivas
Those chairing remote or hybrid viva panels should consider how remote links may impact the four phases of the oral examination (namely pre-meeting, oral examination, panel discussion and notification of outcome), ensuring that neither the PhD candidate nor supervisor is not involved in the pre-viva meeting and the examiner discussion phases. They should also ensure they have been provided with alternative contact methods, preferably mobile phone numbers, for those attending remotely to be used in the event of technical difficulties during the exam.
The Chair will be required to report specifically on any issues associated with the remote nature of an oral examination as part of their Recommendations Report and will seek verbal agreement from the PhD candidate with confirmation of the examiners that the remote nature did not impact on their performance at viva. A statement to this effect should be included within the report as part of the ‘Comments of the Chair on the Conduct of the Viva’. Any technical issues must also be reported.
The Doctoral College will provide chairs with further guidance for conducting remote vivas and the viva co-ordinator will ensure that any remote links have been appropriately tested prior to the viva.
External Examiner Expenses
The fee for an External Examiner is £200 (£150 for MPhil) which is taxable and paid through Salaries and Wages. Ulster will also pay their travel expenses, though there is a maximum of £300 for return flights. If an External Examiner’s flight will cost more, approval must be given by the Doctoral College prior to booking and Faculty/Unit will need to cover this excess. Where necessary, External Examiners should endeavour to arrange return flights on the same day, but if this is not possible, we can, exceptionally, arrange accommodation for one night.
In addition, if you wish to appoint an External from outside the UK/Ireland, who will require a visa, you may do so. There are two options for this:
- The External could attend the viva remotely
- The External could attend in-person with the Faculty/Unit covering the cost of the visa (approx. £95)
Examiners must arrange their own travel and claim expenses back through the Claim Form which they will be sent upon appointment.