English Literature and Creative Writing degrees are increasingly out of touch with today's students. Here's why.
 

What’s your favourite book? Harry Potter? Perhaps something a little bit different like Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy, or even something more long and sprawling such as the Lord of the Rings series. Think you could write a 3000-word essay on its intricacies, or offer up a new discussion on a critical theory?

English Literature and Creative Writing lecturers seem to disagree.

Though this isn’t the case for all universities (particularly newer establishments), many unis that offer English Literature and Creative Writing as courses hugely discredit or ignore several things, and it needs to stop.

Firstly, English Literature. Many unis brag of a degree that is “completely tailored” to a student’s interests or specialisms, stating that they will have free reign to explore areas of their interest. However, this isn’t the case. The university I attend, for example, insists that all English Majors must take a Pre-1800 module throughout all three years of their undergraduate degree. Not only does this counter what they advertise, but also threatens a student’s overall degree grade if that student does not feel engaged by the course material. Not everyone wants to study a load of dead white men from the Renaissance period.

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Further, forcing students to take certain modules is not done in the interest in the student. In many cases, it is done to simply compete with more prestigious universities, such as Oxbridge, or the Russell Group universities, and is an example of preferring institutional rivalries and rankings over student satisfaction.  A lot of the time, modules revolve around the literary canon, and only that. In reality, many students don’t like or particularly care for the canon. Especially when the majority of English Literature students are female… yet we’re stuck studying male discourses, or female discourses only in relation to men.

As well as this, many of the modern modules offered aren’t actually… modern in their way of thinking. Whilst critical theories such as feminism, Marxism, Postcolonialism and Queer theory are upheld as pillars in the literary world, the modules themselves don’t reflect this. They still feature the same circle of writers under different module titles, and a lot of the time restrict the voices of women, POC, and the LGBTQ+ community. Tutors need to be more open with engaging with a wider variety of writers, because at the end of the day, the UK isn’t just full of one type of person, and it’s insulting to marginalise the discourse of every other community.

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Creative Writing as a degree is fairly new, it’s safe to say, and, like English Literature, has a fair share of issues to iron out. Admittedly not as troubled as English Literature in the majority of universities, many Creative Writing courses again restrict a student’s ability to show off their flair. For example, some universities only offer three or four modules, such as novel writing, poetry or screenwriting. In a time of technological advancement, it would be nice to see modules such as writing for games readily available, or perhaps a module specialising in graphic novels. I accept that this is a challenge for some universities, yes – but when courses are charged at £9,250 a year, there’s a certain expectation that we should be offered a variety of courses, and at a decent quality too.

Additionally, there’s a certain snobbery when it comes to marking coursework and portfolios. Of course, there’s going to be a little subjectivity if a tutor is marking prose when they’re a poet themselves. However. They should not mark a student down because of this. All too often, a lack of appreciation for a certain form or genre of writing leads to an ignorance of a student’s talent, and I feel this needs rectifying. A revision of the marking system would be good – Creative Writing is not your average textbook subject, and so should not be treated as one. Even if it’s as simple as a cross-reference marking system where a portfolio is marked by two or three tutors rather than just one. It may be more time consuming (and I do appreciate that tutors need their share of time at home), but when a student’s grades are at stake, this comprehensive marking system is worth it.

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Don’t get me wrong, English Literature and Creative Writing as courses are still wonderful. They enable students to connect and explore a variety of texts, contexts and voices. The tutors are helpful, always up to advise a wayward student on issues, and already do more than their fair share of time on campus. They’re angels and don’t get the recognition they deserve. The only problem is, there voices in the literature that are trying to be heard, and they’re still being drowned out by 200-year-old authors that perhaps aren’t quite as relevant anymore.

 

 

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