Foundation Certificate in English Literature

Course details

Do you love reading a wide range of books, and discussing your reading with others? Would you like to study literature in more depth and develop solid skills in critical analysis?

If so, you might enjoy the challenge of our Foundation Certificate in English Literature. Covering a range of writing from Shakespeare to the twentieth century, the course teaches skills in the analysis of literature, including the ability to read closely and to recognise and apply approaches in contemporary literary theory.

Taught part-time over two years, it is equivalent to the first year of a full-time undergraduate English degree.

As well as taking part in the tutorials, seminars, and day schools at Oxford University's Department for Continuing Education, you will have free access to English Faculty lectures and the excellent resources of the Bodleian Library.

After completing the course, you will be able to apply for second-year entry to an English Literature degree. More than 50 of our students have moved on to full-time study at Oxford colleges since 1995, while others have gained places at universities such as Warwick, Exeter, UCL, Oxford Brookes, Cardiff, St Andrews, Leeds and Birmingham.

(Please note that successfully completing the course does not give you automatic right of entry to any institution.)

NEW study option for 2020 entry! We are delighted to introduce a new study option for this course so that you can choose your preferred mode of study to fit around your work, home or family life.

Online open evening

Join us on Thursday 25 June at 7pm BST for an online open evening - a great opportunity to meet course directors and to have your questions answered. To register, please email


Coronavirus update

Prospective applicants can be assured that alternative teaching arrangements are being actively reviewed, should these be necessary during part or all of the next academic year due to the Coronavirus pandemic. The University is looking at all aspects of the admissions process to see where helpful adjustments can be made – for example, programmes that hold interviews can now do so via video conferencing. More details will be available in due course.

Who is this course for?

You must be able to show a keen interest in literature and strong motivation to study it at degree level. You must demonstrate an effective command of written English and some proficiency in discussing your reading.

This is an intensive and intellectually challenging course, which demands a high level of commitment. You will need to devote at least 12 hours a week to private study. However, if you have little or no recent experience of study or exams, please don’t let this put you off. Although relevant qualifications will normally be favourably regarded, particularly if recent, formal qualifications are not essential and other considerations may be more important.

If you have not had experience of formal study of English literature, we recommend taking a short course in Critical Reading before applying for the Foundation Certificate. Critical Reading is available as a weekly class in Oxford, and as an online course (please note: the course content for these two courses differs - check each course page for full details).

How you will study

There are two study options for the Foundation Certificate in English Literature:

Option 1:

Each week during term you will take part in a two-hour evening class, held on Tuesday evenings, 7.00-9.00 pm at Rewley House. There are ten of these classes per term.

Option 2 (*NEW*):

This option will be mainly online. A variety of online resources, including recorded presentations, will be provided, and you will engage in collaborative group work exercises with other students on the course. On 4 Saturdays of each term you will take part in live teaching sessions from 1.00-4.00 pm (UK time). These will be delivered remotely, using Microsoft Teams.

Note: This option replaces the previously advertised one of Saturday classes in Rewley House.

Questions? Join us Thursday 25 June at 7pm BST for our online open evening.  To register, please email

The course in detail

Course content

The course covers a range of English literature from the Early Modern period to the early twentieth century. Among the authors you study will be Shakespeare, Marlowe, Donne, Dickens, Tennyson, the Brontës, Hardy, Forster, Joyce 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.

Year 1

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 Fiction and Poetry

This section will deal first with works by four Victorian novelists: Dickens, Charlotte Brontë, Emily Brontë and Hardy. The second part 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.

Year 2

Shakespeare Summer School

Often a favourite part of the course for many students, the one-week summer school gives a flavour of life as a full-time student at Oxford. It focuses centrally on two comedies, two tragedies and two history plays, combining 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.

Section 4: Approaches to Language and Literature II

In this section we shall spend five weeks on critical theory, considering the ways in which Formalist, Structuralist, Post-Structuralist and political theories raise questions about and challenge concepts such as the production of meaning, reading, literature, and literary value.

During the next five weeks of term students are introduced to the concepts and methodologies of the history and varieties of the English language.

Section 5: Modernist Literature

In the fifth section we explore the rise of Modernism in Britain and Ireland, looking at writing by Modernists, including Eliot, Woolf, Joyce and Yeats.

Section 6: Early Modern drama

The sixth section explores Early Modern drama, through the contemporaries of Shakespeare. In this term a special day school will be devoted to preparation for the second-year examinations.


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.

Course structure

The course structure is the same for both study options.

Year one

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

Our Shakespeare Summer School runs for a week in September before the start of Year 2.

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)

You will also attend six weekend day schools, one per term. Some of the day schools will be part of the Public Programme, while others 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.

Examinations, totalling six hours, will be held at the end of each year of the course.


Assessment will be based both on coursework (usually two 2,000-word essays submitted each term) and on written examinations, usually held in June of each year. The exceptions are the Approaches to Language and Literature I and II sections, both of which are examined by a portfolio of written work.

In each year, the coursework assignments (not including the first assignment submitted in Year 1 but including the assignment submitted after the summer school) account for 5% each, the examinations for 25% each and the portfolio for 20%. At the end of the course the marks awarded for Year 1 account for 40% of the final mark and the marks awarded for the Year 2 account for 60%.

The Shakespeare Summer School, between Years 1 and 2, also has a coursework requirement. One essay, written immediately after the Summer School, will count towards the final total of 11 assessed essays.

Examinations: you will have to write four papers, two on each of the topics below, each of three hours’ duration:

a - Early Modern Literature

b - Victorian and Modern Literature

Your two portfolios of written work will demonstrate practice, use and knowledge of comparative criticism. The first will be up to 3,000 words in length and the second up to 5,000 words.

IT requirements

To study at this level you are expected to have some IT skills, access to a computer and the internet. Your course requires you to engage with the Virtual Learning Environment for course materials and uses the Department’s online assignment submission system. Students need to have regular access to a computer and the internet, and some level of experience and skill including the use of Microsoft Word or similar word-processing package, email and internet browser such as Firefox or Google Chrome.

The computer you use should meet our recommended minimum computer specification.

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 19th- and 20th-century literature.

Dr Tara Stubbs is Associate Professor in English Literature and Creative Writing at the Department. 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 20th century.

Dr Ben Grant is Departmental Lecturer in English Literature at the Department. His research interests include colonial and postcolonial literature, literary brevity, and life writing. He is the author of Postcolonialism, Psychoanalysis, and Burton: Power Play of Empire (2009) and The Aphorism and Other Short Forms (2016). He is currently working on the contemporary British-Jewish writer Jenny Diski.

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

As well as being experts in their subjects, teaching staff understand the pressures on students who are combining part-time study with other commitments. Much of the academic support you receive will come from the Course Directors, whom you can contact at any time during office hours 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 please contact +44 (0)1865 280892.

Contact information

If you would like an informal discussion on academic matters before applying, please do get in touch. You can contact:

Dr Tara Stubbs: +44 (0)1865 280995

Dr Sandie Byrne:

Applications and admissions: +44 (0)1865 270369

For general guidance and advice, credit transfer, special needs provision and sources of funding: +44 (0)1865 280355

For information about Study Skills courses: +44 (0)1865 280892

How to apply

We are now closed to applications for 2020 entry.

We will open to applications for 2021 entry from September 2020.

Please use the apply button on this page to download the application form, which includes a reference form. On the application form, you will be asked to indicate which study option you would prefer to enrol on.

You should complete the reference form and send it to your referee, asking him/her to provide a reference by direct email to us. Please note that the reference is compulsory and we cannot consider your application without it. 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.

Please complete the rest of the application form and send it to the address below with the following additional materials:

  • A written statement of 300–400 words stating why you wish to undertake the course
  • An outline of your literary interests, explaining your choices
  • Your CV

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

  • Proof of your English language ability if you are a non-native English-speaking applicant (see below for further information).

Please send your application with the additional materials to the:

Course Administrator

Department for Continuing Education, Oxford University Ewert House

Ewert Place

Banbury Road


Oxford OX2 7DD

Applications will be considered on a rolling admissions basis until 16 July 2020 if places remain. Early application is encouraged.

Applicants who submit a complete application by the January deadline will be guaranteed an invitation to interview. Interviews are likely to be in mid-February, and mid/late June. Late applications will be considered subject to the availability of places. The final decision on admission to the course rests with the Department.

Award and credit transfer

A Foundation Certificate will be awarded on completion of the course. Outstanding performance will qualify for a Distinction. You will be invited to receive your Foundation Certificate at the annual Awards Ceremony of the Department for Continuing Education, held at Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre.

The syllabus and teaching of the course are aimed at first-year undergraduate level (FHEQ Level 4). A Foundation Certificate in English Literature (120 CATS points) will be awarded to students on completion of the two years of the course. If you require information about transfer of credit, please contact the Course Administrator on +44 (0)1865 270369 or


The fee for 2020-21 will be £2,825 (Home / EU students) or £4,840 (non-EU students). An option to pay the fee in instalments is available. The fee includes all tuition as well as participation in the day schools (including meals) and, on a non-residential basis, the summer school. Lunches and the end-of-term dinner on Friday evening during the summer school are also included in the fee; accommodation can be provided at an additional cost. There may be a small increase in the fee for the second year of the course.

Following an announcement by the Universities Minister on 28 May 2019, EU students commencing their studies in 2020/21 academic year will be charged fees at the home rate for the duration of their course, whether a deal for leaving the EU is in place or not. 

Information on financial support can be found on our website here.


The Department for Continuing Education offers day and weekend courses, weekly classesonline short courses and summer schools in English literature, creative writing and film studies. In the Undergraduate programme, we offer the Foundation Certificate in English Literature, the Certificate of Higher Education, and the Diploma in Creative Writing. At Postgraduate level we offer an MSt in Creative Writing and MSt in Literature and Arts, along with the DPhil in Literature and Arts.

If you are planning on embarking on a new career as a result of your studies, or hope to progress in your current field, you can access help and advice through the University Careers Service.

Non-EU students

This course is not suitable for non-EU students who do not already live in the UK before the course begins. For information, refer to

English language requirements

Check information on the specific English language requirements for this course.

Applicants are required to have the Higher level scores.