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Procedure and guidance for independent chairs


1. In some circumstances it may be appropriate for a viva to be chaired by an independent member of academic staff. Further information about this role of ‘Independent Chair’ is provided in the following procedure and guidance.

2. An Independent Chair may be appointed in the following circumstances:

a. The viva is following a resubmission of a thesis.

b. The proposed internal examiner has limited experience in PhD examining.

c. There are circumstances affecting the student that make it desirable to have an independent chair present at the viva.

d. At the specific request of the student.


3. The Birkbeck Graduate Research School (BGRS) will maintain a list of potential Independent Chairs including all Professors and Readers at the College. The BGRS will also invite schools to propose candidates to volunteer to enter the pool of Independent Chairs provided they meet the requirements specified below.


4. Supervisors will inform student whether they think it is preferable/ a requirement that an independent chair is to be appointed, ahead of proposing PhD examiners.

5. If the student and/or supervisor decide to request an Independent Chair, then the supervisor will indicate this on the Examiner Nomination Form. The BGRS will then appoint a Chair from the pool once the viva date and time is agreed.

6. The BGRS will appoint an Independent Chair from the pool once the date and time of the viva has been set.

7. If the Research Student Sub-Committee (RSSC) decides that an Independent Chair should be appointed based on the Nomination Form (e.g. because the proposed internal lacks experience) or for any other reason, they will communicate this to the BGRS who will notify the student and supervisor. BGRS will appoint a suitable Chair from the pool once the viva date and time is agreed.


8. Independent Chairs must:

  • be from a different faculty than the student and supervisor
  • be experienced in examining PhDs
  • be experienced in PhD supervision (to completion)
  • be aware of the Birkbeck and University of London PGR regulations
  • have experience in chairing meetings.

9. Chairs will not be expected to chair more than three vivas per academic year.


10. The role of an Independent Chair is to oversee the oral examination to ensure it is conducted fairly and in accordance with the University Regulations.

11. The Independent Chair is not required to have any knowledge of the thesis or the discipline area and will not provide any academic assessment of the candidate during the viva.

12. The Independent Chair will sit in on the post-viva deliberations of the examiners (which the student and supervisor do not attend) and can advise on possible outcomes within the relevant regulations (e.g. how long can be allowed for completion of amendments) but will not give any judgement on the worthiness (or otherwise) of the candidate for the award being examined.

13. The chair can stop the examination if they consider that the examination is not focused on whether the candidate has satisfied the criteria for the degree.

14. To provide assurance that online vivas are conducted in accordance with research degree regulations and in line with guidance for online research degree vivas. If needed the Chair is authorised to halt or postpone the viva if technical problems cannot be resolved and are preventing the viva from being conducted correctly.

15. The chair will submit a report after the viva outlining whether the examination was conducted fairly and in accordance with College regulations.

16. To provide an independent view in response to any queries or appeals following the viva


17. Once the BGRS has confirmed an Independent Chair the supervisor must keep the Chair informed about agreed format, date and time of the viva.

18. The BGRS will send a copy of the submitted thesis to the Independent Chair, along with all the examination paperwork that is usually sent to the examiners, and a copy of this Guidance for Independent Chairs for Research Degree Vivas.

19. The Independent Chair does not need to read the thesis, as they are not required to examine it.


20. Immediately after the viva, the Chair is asked to submit a brief report to the BGRS, confirming whether the viva was conducted fairly and according to College regulations, and covering any noteworthy events that may have taken place (e.g. significant internet connection problems in the case of an online viva).