HE in FE: Language and literature blends in English degrees

HE in FE

An interesting aspect of colleges writing their own degrees is how a small team of English specialists arrives at a coherent and attractive programme of study.  The process inevitably gives rise to discussions of ‘what constitutes English’; ‘what students want’; and ‘how to combine the elements’.

With reference to the QAA’s Benchmark Statement for English, lecturers are able to devise highly innovative combinations of English language, literature and creative writing, which in a large university would be very difficult to co-ordinate.
As one lecturer described the process:

“The English degree was unusual in conception and development. We sat for a long time thinking about what we as English specialists – what would we like to do as a degree?  We’d like to know how the language works; we’d like to see people using it really well; and we’d like to have a go ourselves.  We were very fortunate because we weren’t tied by what was already there as in a traditional university – all with their own histories. We kept the three strands and worked with them simultaneously. If we looked at something, say metaphor in language, then we’d look at metaphor in literature, and write using metaphors ourselves. ( … ) Although we’ve blended the three strands together, the individual tutors have retained their subject strengths.”

Students’ responses to the combining of the three strands of language, literature and creative writing tend to be very positive:

“I like them all. I probably like the writing part least, which I suppose is ironic since I wanted to be a journalist. I thought I wouldn’t like the language … but I’ve found it’s my favourite part of the course.  It’s good that we are made to do it … I was used to having options [at another university], but I think it’s advantageous that we see a part of it we might not otherwise.”

“I’ve enjoyed each strand. I’ve found writing the most difficult, and sometimes I’ve failed to see the point of literary theory … Overall it’s very good. The very fact of studying language helps with writing – and the literature has been interesting. It’s broadened my outlook.”

The structure of the degree programme can be seen as restrictive in that students are given little or no choice. However, students tend not to complain about this; indeed, the comments above indicate that the students can find that they excel in an area they had not previously studied.