She has done this work for 12 years. Her pay works out at about pounds 1 an hour

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The Independent Online
Like other external examiners, Stina Lyon, principal lecturer in sociology at South Bank University in London, enjoys her part-time duties - even though they mean she has to work weekends and is paid a pittance.

She likes the fact that the job gets her out and about, meeting other academics in her field and finding out what they're doing. But she also feels it is her duty to get involved in something that guarantees fair play to students. Less personal systems tend to provide less sensitive judgements, she thinks.

As an external examiner for Portsmouth University's sociology degree, and for a postgraduate course in social science at Cheltenham and Gloucester college of higher education, Stina Lyon has been carrying out the work for 12 years, at seven different institutions. She spent all last week on these tasks.

Her pay for the Portsmouth degree work is pounds 240, which works out at about pounds l an hour; for the postgraduate course she is paid pounds 250.

For the Portsmouth degree she was required to read two years' worth of work carried out by between 8 and 10 students - including a dissertation and 10 to 15 pieces of written work for each. The idea was to get an overall picture of the candidates, particularly the marginal ones, she explains, and to gain an overall view of the course as a whole.

"You become an arbiter between those making judgements internally," she says. "They may disagree. I can provide a fresh perspective on students who have ended up as marginal, or about whom there needs to be a discussion."

The system of external examining can be cosy, she thinks. "But in my long experience as an external examiner, I have not come across individuals who treat it like that"n

Lucy Hodges