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Foundation Certificate in English Literature 2017-18, University of Oxford, UK

Publish Date: Apr 03, 2017

Deadline: May 11, 2017

Do you enjoy reading a wide range of books, and discussing your reading with others?

If so, you might enjoy the challenge of the Foundation Certificate in English Literature.

This course offers an exciting possibility to study English literature at degree level. Leading to the Oxford University award of a Foundation Certificate in English Literature it is equivalent to the first year of a full-time undergraduate English degree.

  • Two-year course, equivalent to the first year of a full-time undergraduate degree
  • Tutorials, seminars, and dedicated day schools at Oxford University's Department for Continuing Education
  • Free access to English Faculty lectures and the Bodleian Library
  • Students come from a wide variety of backgrounds, and are offered support and guidance throughout the course.

On completion of the Foundation Certificate, many students go on to complete their English Literature degrees, some in Oxford, others elsewhere, applying for entry in year two of a degree course. Applicants should note that successful completion of the course does not confer automatic right of entry to any institution: acceptance by an Oxford College is at the discretion of the College Admissions Tutor.

A significant proportion of students from the course have achieved considerable success: over fifty students have moved on to full-time study at Oxford colleges since 1995, while others have gained places at other universities, such as Warwick, Exeter, UCL, Oxford Brookes, Cardiff, Glasgow and Birmingham.

The video below offers an introduction to the course by Course Director Sandie Byrne and two current students.

Open Evenings: 21 April 2017

All those who have an interest in studying English literature are invited to come to our Open Evening at Rewley House, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford, OX1 2JA on Friday 21 April 2017 from 6pm-8pm. The Open Evening will offer a chance to see the department, meet the Course Directors and discuss the course. If you would like to join us, please RSVP to Kristine MacMichael at

Course aims

  • To familiarise students with a range of English literary works from Shakespeare to the present
  • Relate these works to their relevant contexts – literary, historical, social and intellectual
  • Inculcate general skills in the analysis of literature, including an ability to read closely and to recognise and apply approaches in contemporary literary theory
  • Develop the analytical and communication skills needed to present literary critical arguments orally and in writing.

Course content and structure

The course covers a range of English literature from the Early Modern to the Twentieth Century. Among the authors studied will be Shakespeare, Jonson, Donne, Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, Hardy, Forster, Yeats and Woolf. Close analysis of works by these and other authors, reinforced by general discussion of modern critical theory and practice, will provide the basis for an enhanced appreciation of the pleasures and problems associated with the serious reading of literature.

  • Approaches to Language and Literature
  • Victorian and Modernist Literature
  • Early Modern Literature

The course structure can be represented as follows:

Year one

  • Michaelmas Term (Autumn) Section 1: Approaches to Language and Literature I
  • Hilary Term (Winter) Section 2: Victorian Fiction & Poetry
  • Trinity Term (Spring) Section 3: Early Modern Poetry

Year two

  • Michaelmas Term (Autumn) Section 4: Approaches to Language and Literature II
  • Hilary Term (Winter) Section 5: Modernist Literature
  • Trinity Term (Spring) Section 6: Early Modern Drama (excluding Shakespeare)

September Shakespeare Summer School runs for one week Monday 11 - Friday 15 September 2017.

Classes will meet once a week, on Tuesday evenings from 7:00pm-9:00pm, starting with a pre-course meeting on 26 September 2017. There will be ten classes per term, each of two hours duration.

In addition there will be a summer school of five days duration between Year One and Year Two, as well as a series of six day schools, one a term. Some of these day schools will be part of the Public Programme, while a number will be designed specifically for Foundation Certificate students. Each day school will be linked to the syllabus, usually by its subject matter, though the third will focus on preparation for examinations. There will be two one-hour tutorial sessions for each student in each term; there will normally be a maximum of two students in each tutorial group.

Examinations, totalling six hours, will be held at the end of year one; the same arrangements will apply at the end of year two.

Who is it for?

Successful candidates are mature individuals who can show, both in their application and at interview, strong motivation and a prior interest in literature. They will have to demonstrate an effective command of written English and some proficiency in discussing their reading.

This course is intensive and intellectually challenging, and demands a high level of commitment from its students. Applicants should note that they are likely to need to devote at least 12 hours a week to private study. However, if you have little or no recent experience of study or examinations you should not be deterred from applying for a place. Relevant qualifications, particularly if recent, will normally be favourably regarded; but formal qualifications are not essential and other considerations may be more important.

We could recommend the short course, Critical Reading, for anyone who has not had experience of formal study of English literature before applying to the Foundation Certificate in English Literature. You can find this course in our Short Courses section!

Comments from previous students

"This course has been beautifully structured to match the mature student who aspires to a better education but lacks direction and confidence. The teaching has been sensitive and stimulating, as well as a great deal of fun. Students are encouraged and given practical, comprehensive instruction. I found this course to be a fantastic opportunity to re-awaken skills I had long forgotten I might have possessed, and it has not only changed my approach to literature but also the way I think about many other things."

"Being on the Foundation Certificate has totally re-drawn the boundary of my ambitions, and promoted and fostered a genuine sense of confidence and ability. It has taught me a great deal about myself, and quite genuinely changed the direction of my life for the better."

Course details

Section 1: Introduction to the course and to the study of literature

The introductory sessions will raise fundamental questions about why and how we should study literature and then concentrate on detailed analysis of poetry and fiction. The emphasis will be on techniques of close reading, but we also hope to impart a sense of literary history and an understanding of the links between literature and its wider contexts.

Section 2: Victorian literature

This section will deal first with works by three Victorian novelists: Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, Emily Brontë and Hardy. The second part of the section will offer a survey of the main forms and themes of Victorian poetry. Discussion will concentrate on Tennyson, Browning, Arnold, Christina Rossetti and Hopkins. Both fiction and poetry will be related to their social and intellectual contexts.

Section 3: Early Modern poetry

The third section will be largely devoted to the study of Early Modern poetry and to the contemporary critical debate about its form and purpose. We shall examine a selection of poems by writers such as Edmund Spenser, Sir Philip Sidney, John Donne and George Herbert. In this term a special day school will be devoted to preparation for the first-year examinations.

Shakespeare Summer School

Focusing centrally on two comedies, two tragedies and two history plays, the one-week summer school will combine close textual analysis with an exploration of the wider context of Shakespeare’s work. The central texts are likely to be: A Midsummer Night’s Dream, The Winter’s Tale, Hamlet, King Lear, Richard III, Henry IV Part I.


As well as the lectures arranged specifically for the Foundation Certificate, you will be entitled, for no extra payment, to attend the wide range of lectures organised by the University’s Faculty of English.

Calendar for 2017-2018

All evening meetings are on Tuesday evenings from 7.00pm - 9.00pm in Rewley House, 1 Wellington Square, Oxford.

  • Pre-course meeting on 26 September 2017.

Michaelmas Term 2017

  • Pre-course Welcome Induction Session: Tuesday 26 September 2017
  • Tuesday 3 October 2017 to Tuesday 12 December 2017, with the exception of Tuesday 7 November 2017.

Hilary Term 2018

  • Tuesday 9 January 2018 to Tuesday 20 March 2018, with the exception of Tuesday 13 February 2018.

Trinity Term 2018

  • Tuesday 10 April 2018 to Tuesday 19 June 2018, with the exception of Tuesday 15 May 2018.

Day Schools

Three Day Schools per year

  • Saturday 28 October 2017
  • Saturday 17 March 2018
  • Saturday 5 May 2018

Shakespeare Summer School

  • Monday 11 - Friday 15 September 2018.
  • Year One Examinations to be held in late June 2018.
  • Examination dates will be confirmed nearer to the time.


Assessment will be based both on coursework (2,000 word essays submitted during the period of study) and on written examinations, held at the end of each of the two years. The exception is the Approaches to Language and Literature I and Approaches to Language and Literature II sections of the course, both of which are examined by a portfolio of written work.

There is an attendance requirement of at least 80% of the total number of class hours; attendance is expected at all six day schools and the Shakespeare summer school.

In each year, the coursework assignments (not including the first assignment submitted in year one but including the assignment submitted after the summer school) shall account for 5% each, the examinations for 25% each and the portfolio for 20%. At the end of the course the marks awarded for the first year will account for 40% of the final mark and the marks awarded for the second year will account for 60%.

The Shakespeare Summer School, between years one and two, also has a coursework requirement. One essay, written immediately after the Summer School, will count towards the final total of 11 assessed essays.

Examinations: every candidate will be required to satisfy the examiners in the following:

Four written papers, two on each of the topics below, each of three hours' duration;
a - Early Modern Literature
b - Victorian and Modern Literature;

Two portfolios of written work demonstrating practice, use and knowledge of comparative criticism, the first to be of not more than 3,000 words and the second to be of not more than 5,000 words.

There is an attendance requirement of at least 80% of the total number of class hours; attendance is expected at all six day schools and the Shakespeare summer school.

IT requirements

This course uses the Department’s online assignment submission system. In order to prepare and submit your course assignments you will need access to the Internet and a computer meeting our recommended minimum computer specification. Students of this course may use the student computing facilities provided in Departmental buildings.

Teaching staff

The Course Directors are Dr Sandie Byrne and Dr Tara Stubbs.

Dr Sandie Byrne was formerly Fellow and Tutor in English at Balliol College, Oxford, and Professor of English at the University of Lincoln. She is the author of a number of books and articles on nineteenth-and twentieth-century literature.

Dr Tara Stubbs is a University Lecturer in English Literature and Creative Writing at OUDCE. She has published widely on Irish and American modernism, and is the author of American Literature and Irish Culture, 1910-1955 (MUP, 2013). Her new project discusses the Irish sonnet in the Twentieth Century.

Most other tutors on the course are drawn from the English Faculty at Oxford University.

Academic support

Much of the academic support will come from the Course Directors, who may be contacted at any time during office hours by students wishing to discuss matters relating to the course. In addition, the Department runs a programme of Study Skills workshops designed to enable you to develop and improve the skills needed for effective study. These workshops are free to students enrolled on the Foundation course. For full details of the programme please contact 01865 280892.

How to apply

Together with the application form, you must submit a reference and additional materials:

  • Written statement of 300 to 400 words stating why you wish to undertake the course, and
  • Outline of your literary interests.
  • CV

You should be prepared to discuss these two submissions during your interview.

If possible, your referee should be a person who can comment on your academic ability and background, but where this is not possible, you should name a referee who can vouch for your motivation, commitment and potential. A reference from a family member is not acceptable.

Application deadlines

Please read carefully the instructions on the reference form. When you have received your reference, return the sealed envelope with your application form, your written statement, a CV, and an outline of your literary interests by Thursday 11 May 2017.

For more information please click "Further Official Information" below.

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