Foundation Certificate in English Literature

Course details

Would you like to study literature in more depth and develop solid skills in critical analysis?

Taught part-time over two years, the Foundation Certificate in English Literature is equivalent to the first year of a full-time undergraduate English degree. It is modelled on the first year of Oxford University’s BA programme in English Language and Literature, and is taught mainly by members of the University’s English Faculty. The course can be studied face-to-face or mostly online.

The course covers a range of writing from Shakespeare to the twentieth century. It teaches skills in the analysis of literature, including the ability to read closely and to recognise and apply approaches in contemporary literary theory.

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 University since 1995, while others have gained places at universities such as Warwick, Exeter, UCL, Birkbeck, Oxford Brookes, Cardiff, St Andrews, York, Leeds and Birmingham. (Successfully completing the course does not give you automatic right of entry to any institution.)

Online open event: Thursday 13 January 2022

Join us on Thursday 13 January 2022, from 6-8pm (UK time) for an online open event. Meet the Course Directors, discover more about the different study options and have your questions answered. Find out more and register.

Coronavirus update

The safety of our students and staff is our top priority, and we are following Government guidance and University regulations, which are subject to change. Both study options of this course include some elements of face-to-face teaching – and although these are expected to take place in person in the coming year, we are prepared to move this teaching online (either fully or partly) should circumstances dictate. For example, should social distancing be necessary, we may opt to conduct teaching fully online, or to have some participants accessing teaching from home whilst others join us in the classroom. Offer-holders will be kept informed of all developments.

Quick links

How you will study

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

Option 1:

Option 1 is taught mainly face-to-face. Each week during term you will take part in a two-hour evening class, usually held on Tuesday evenings, 7.00-9.00 pm at Rewley House. There are ten of these classes per term.

Option 2:

This option is taught 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, usually from 1.00-4.00 pm (UK time). These will be delivered remotely, using Microsoft Teams.

All students (both options) also attend a one-week, non-residential Shakespeare Summer School, usually held in September between Year 1 and Year 2. There are also six weekend day schools over the two years, usually one per term, which will be recorded for those on option 2 who are unable to attend in person. (See below for more information on these.)

Each term you will have two one-hour tutorials, face-to-face or online. There are usually no more than two students in each tutorial group.

In the 15-minute video below, Dr Sandie Byrne and two Foundation Certificate students give an overview of the face-to-face option of the course. (The course-structure information is equally applicable to the online option.)

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 12-15 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).

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, Mansfield, Joyce and Woolf. Close analysis of works by these and other authors, reinforced by general discussion of modern critical theory and practice, and canonicity,  will provide the basis for an enhanced appreciation of the pleasures and problems associated with the serious reading of literature.

Year 1

Section 1: Approaches to Language and Literature I

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

Section 2: Victorian Fiction and Poetry

In this section of the course, students will have the opportunity to study works by a diverse range of authors from the British canon such as the Brontës, Thomas Hardy, and Gerard Manley Hopkins, BAME authors including Olaudah Equiano, Mary Prince and Mary Seacole, and voices of colonialism. 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

A favourite part of the course for many students, this 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 contexts 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 literary modernists, including Mansfield, 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. Many of these are now available online, and students have access to these too.


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, usually 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.

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:

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 nineteenth- and twentieth-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), and The Modern Irish Sonnet: Revision and Rebellion (Palgrave Macmillan, 2020).

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 writing a book 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. Some of these workshops are free to students enrolled on the Foundation course. For full details please contact +44 (0)1865 280892 or email

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:

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

Please click on the ‘Apply’ button which will automatically notify us that you want a link to the online application form. We will email you that link together with a code to waive the application fee, and guidance on completing and submitting your application.

You will need to upload the following documents as part of your application:

  • A written statement of 300–400 words stating why you wish to undertake the course
  • An outline of your literary interests, detailing books you would be willing to discuss in some depth during the interview and explaining your choices
  • Your CV (You should be prepared to discuss these submissions during your interview.)
  • proof of English language ability if a non-native English speaker. Further information on English language requirements can be found here. Please note that candidates are required to have the higher-level score.
  • contact details for one referee

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

Admissions decisions will be based on an assessment of knowledge, relevant experience, academic ability, potential and suitability for a course of study. We welcome applicants without traditional qualifications, including those with relevant career or life skills.

Selection criteria

Even if a course has no specific academic entry requirements then: (a) assessment of an applicant’s academic ability and suitability for the course of study will still take place and (b) since applications for many courses often significantly exceed places available, each application will be judged against the gathered field of applicants for each course each year.

The University is committed to promoting diversity, equality, inclusion, and widening access, including during the admissions process. We fully endorse the Equality Policy and our admissions procedures are kept under regular review to ensure compliance with this policy.

Short-listed applicants will be invited for interview.

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 or


The fee for 2022-23 will be £3,050 (Home, Islands, and Republic of Ireland students) or £5,230 (Overseas students). An option to pay the fee in instalments may be available. Please be aware that fees will usually increase annually.

Information for applicants from the EU, EEA and Switzerland

On 11 May 2021 the UK Council for International Student Affairs published new regulations and guidance to be used in assessing the fee status of students commencing courses in August 2021 and later. We will be using this guidance to carry out fee status assessments for students commencing courses in 2021/22 and later, including students from the EU, EEA and Switzerland. 

If you are an EU national and do not live in the UK then you are likely to be charged Overseas fees. Students with settled and pre-settled status in the UK and some other categories of students who work in the UK can qualify for Home fee status as long as they meet the residence criteria.

Students from outside the UK/Republic of Ireland

If you are from outside the UK/Republic of Ireland, you will be classed either as an ‘Overseas’ or 'Islands' student.

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

English language requirements

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

Applicants are required to have the Higher level scores.


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.