External examiners comments

on courses in the Department of International Relations

The students achieved excellent standards on this programme, and I read some terrific work.

Comments from BSc IR External Examiners on the 2015-2016 session

External examiner A

As external examiner, I was satisfied that all the marking, moderation and assessment was carried out with great care, professionalism and fairness. Students were given many opportunities to engage with substantive material and demonstrate their knowledge and understanding through both formative and summative types of assessment. The programme offers a range of different conceptual approaches, from modules covering quite traditional IR to critical and interdisciplinary options.

The students achieved excellent standards on this programme, and I read some terrific work, especially from final year students. It was good to see students engaging in depth with the material, and the best work showed students developing their own critical and independent approaches to the work covered. I thought some of the written feedback to students was extremely helpful in letting them know what they did well and how they could improve.

The methods of assessment on the programme are mainly exams, and some of the work I saw on the final year papers was very impressive. I know the School is currently developing its strategy on the diversity of assessment so that students have different ways to demonstrate their knowledge and understanding. There will always be students that prefer exams and those that prefer course work: the goal is to have a range of these options available. I was especially impressed with the innovative forms of assessment developed in final year, and some of the work that came out of these modules was terrific.

The standard of student work was very good indeed. The assessment I looked at demonstrated that students were very engaged with the substantive material and showed both breadth and depth in their knowledge and understanding. I was impressed with the UG Dissertations that enabled students to pursue their own independent interests.

External examiner B

I attended the Examination Committee meeting and I was satisfied that students were treated fairly and equitably. I was also happy with the discussions within the Committee overall. The abilities of the students are truly impressive and the academic maturity they demonstrate in exam scripts and dissertations suggests that students are making the most of what this excellent Department and the School has to offer them.

I am most impressed by the quality of the teaching, having seen the standards achieved by the students whose work I assessed. Indeed, by my reckoning, teaching is the strength of the IR department. The quality of the exam papers too were a marker of the this, by which I mean the high level of expectations set through good teaching. These were fair, but well crafted and challenging papers! Standing out above all else was the quality of the dissertations. Of the firsts I marked – and there were many! – I would have been happy to read those as MA dissertations and to give similar marks at the postgraduate level. At the exam board, I gave special congratulations to the person who spearheaded changes in dissertation supervision in the IR department at the LSE, Peter Wilson. He has provided lectures on dissertation writing and created peer-to-peer sessions, which from what I see, have helped to generate fantastic research outcomes this year. Indeed, I urged that feedback on the dissertations be circulated to students and for staff to think about outlets for undergraduate publishing and research with staff, as there is a cohort who would clearly thrive given such opportunities. The standard of student performance across the courses I examined is easily comparable to those across the most highly regarded higher education institutions of the UK.

External examiner C

It is a pleasure again to be part of the external examining process. I wanted to thank Mark Hoffman for his excellent steering and management. I also need to thank Adnan Khan again for his superb handling of the entire process. His attention to detail was great: clear communications and neatly managing any difficulties makes everyone’s life easier. He is a real asset to making the process go well.

In terms of the quality of candidates, it was a real pleasure to read a lot of the scripts. I know this is the case every year, but it is particularly pleasing to see the best first-class students able to dissect questions in a persuasive fashion and clearly organise their thoughts. In respect to the quality of the marking, it remained of a high standard overall. This included the marking range and distribution which remained generally fair and appropriate. Qualitative justifications were good on the whole. Where there were disputes between markers that were brought to my attention, I was happy to resolve and reconcile.

Comments from MSc IR External Examiners on the 2015-2016 session

External examiner A

This has been my final year as external examiner for the IR Department at the LSE. As in previous years I have been impressed by the diligent approach faculty have taken to assessment. I have been asked to arbitrate in a small number of cases where internal examiners differed over grades. In each instance I felt these differences were decided fairly and in accordance with the assessment criteria. Faculty are also to be commended for their efforts to consider carefully cases where students' studies have been interrupted or otherwise impacted by mitigating circumstances of various sort. Each exam board I attended paid close attention to these, particularly when an overall degree classification was at stake. In every instance I felt the regulations were applied fairly. This year has also seen the implementation of a new system of moderation in place of the previous double marking approach. In the courses I oversaw, this occurred without any impact on the quality of assessment. I am also satisfied that, moving forward, the new assessment regime offers clear and appropriate guidance for considering borderline or disputed marks, thus guaranteeing that present and future LSE students can expect continuity in the assessment standards to which they are subject.

External examiner B

Both the MSc in International Relations and the MSc in International Relations Theory are very well-run courses, with a premium put on student learning and well-being.

External examiner C

The range and nature of the questions seemed wholly appropriate: judging by the standard of performance, the quality of teaching is high - the number of merits and distinctions reflect this.  While the number of merits seems high, they reflect an appropriate standard of assessment.

Comments from MSc International Political Economy (IPE) External Examiners on the 2015-2016 session

External examiner A

The standard of student work was generally high, especially on the dissertation module, where methodological sophistication was evident, in relation to MA level work in other parts of the UK. This was also suggestive of good supervision practices.

The programme as a whole covers a range of the key areas in International Political Economy. The programme is particularly good in providing students with the foundational and core conceptual elements of the field. It also usefully covers a number of important policy areas: trade, money/ finance FDI, environment and national macroeconomic and social policies.

The general theme of international economic diplomacy is strong throughout the programme and this is something LSE is known for and has a particular strength in.
It is possible that there are less opportunities to develop work in a more critical vein that imagines and discusses the potential for alternative futures in the international political economy, or alternative forms of global governance, but that is based only on a general impression following examination of the IPE MAs for under twelve months, and is by no means a definitive verdict.

The methods of assessment are fairly standard, although the use of exams is quite unusual at MA level, as many other places have moved over to entire continuous assessment and submitted coursework. I saw little evidence of experimental, or bold innovative assessment methods, but there were a variety of quite standard assessment methods used. Generally I thought grading was fair and consistent, and was a function of robust assessment methods and processes. A reasonable number of students achieved distinctions – six across the 2016 cohort, while the majority of students attained merit gradings, and there were very few fails. Overall the student performance was commendable.

External examiner B

The samples of assessed work demonstrate that IR454 and IR468 provide students with a well-structured, rigorous and challenging programme of study. It is clear that the courses allow for a comprehensive understanding to be gained of issues and debates around IPE and the politics of trade respectively.

Moreover, from the dissertations reviewed, it is clear that through the MSc/IPE programme as a whole students are developing the skills needed to originally apply and assess existing knowledge across the field of IPE. A number of the dissertations produced were of an exceptionally high standard, suggesting that students have been effectively supported through the programme to reach their full academic potential.

External examiner C

Programme:
Strengths: MSc IPE takes advantage of a wide range of staff expertise in the IR department but also on other units of the LSE. The diversity of modules and their themes make the programme topical and interesting.

Strength:
The combination of quantitative and qualitative skills taught to students via different modules. This is clearly reflected in final dissertations, many of them demonstrate confidence with case-driven research and quantitative methods.

Teaching:
Strength: the IPE curriculum is very well organised with a clear remain in terms of modules and combination of field and disciplinary expertise.

Weaknesses:
Some of the modules are taught by visiting staff, and it shows. In one case, the reading list and lectures were passed through different generations of replacements teachers, making the final structure less coherent. I believe though that this is being addressed by the Department and teaching staff.

Assessment:
Weaknesses. Exam-only assessment for modules. I see the efficiency argument rebind this, but I wonder if it accommodates the diversity of student skills and talents?

Strength:
Dissertations reflect many research areas, and students are clearly encouraged to develop their critical skills.

Student performance

Weakness:
I found that in an exam-mode the answers of the students are very formalised. They are quite homogeneous following a pre-set formal of key authors and usually, an example or a case study. While this enables the monitoring of average performances, it is too restrictive to accommodate the diverse group of students special interests.

Strengths:
May of the dissertation are of high quality, with one in particular being of publishable standard. I believe this shows very good practice of supervisions by staff, and facilities provided by the LSE (databases, resources, library).

Comments from MSc International Political Theory External Examiners on the 2015-2016 session

External examiner A

Both the MSc in International Relations and the MSc in International Relations Theory are very well-run courses, with a premium put on student learning and well-being.

External examiner B

This has been my final year as external examiner for the IR Department at the LSE. As in previous years I have been impressed by the diligent approach faculty have taken to assessment. I have been asked to arbitrate in a small number of cases where internal examiners differed over grades. In each instance I felt these differences were decided fairly and in accordance with the assessment criteria. Faculty are also to be commended for their efforts to consider carefully cases where students' studies have been interrupted or otherwise impacted by mitigating circumstances of various sort. Each exam board I attended paid close attention to these, particularly when an overall degree classification was at stake. In every instance I felt the regulations were applied fairly. This year has also seen the implementation of a new system of moderation in place of the previous double marking approach. In the courses I oversaw, this occurred without any impact on the quality of assessment. I am also satisfied that, moving forward, the new assessment regime offers clear and appropriate guidance for considering borderline or disputed marks, thus guaranteeing that present and future LSE students can expect continuity in the assessment standards to which they are subject.


External examiner C

The range and nature of the questions seemed wholly appropriate: judging by the standard of performance, the quality of teaching is high - the number of merits and distinctions reflect this.  While the number of merits seems high, they reflect an appropriate standard of assessment.