Honours course allocation
The allocation of places on our core and option honours courses is somewhat complex, and may perhaps be opaque to you. We hope that the following explanation provides more transparency about this process and reassurance about its equity.
The Department of English Literature has the single largest number of undergraduate students in the College of Humanities and Social Sciences (CHSS). We annually need to find places for 400 honours students, taking either two or four core or option courses with us, out of a range of around 85 choices: this equates to 1200 course places, to be divided as equally as possible for each year group. This is by far the most flexible range of choice in the College.
The Department is also committed to retaining small group teaching: you can be sure that there will not be more than 15 students in our honours seminars. As we are also required to reserve three spaces in each seminar for Visiting Students (in 3rd year) and for Taught Masters students (in 4th year), this means that, in practice, there are 12 places for our home students. However, from experience we are aware that some courses are more popular than others and where possible we offer a popular course twice in a semester to accommodate student demand.
In order to maintain these kinds of flexibility, the Department relies upon some reciprocal flexibility on the part of its students: for this reason, we operate a system of preferences.
Each year the Head of Department and the Director of Undergraduate Studies have to plan which courses will be available in which semester, in order to a) accommodate student needs and b) balance staff workloads (taking into account the fact that some members of staff will be working on research projects rather than teaching for some or all of the semester).
Our administrative staff then produce the Honours Application forms which you fill in. We ask you to indicate FOUR choices in each of the core/option courses which are appropriate to your degree programme. These are ranked 1,2,3,4, with the assumption being that 1 = first choice and 4 = fourth.
On receipt of the forms, our administrative staff enter the raw data into our honours database. This allows staff to see where student demand is highest (and, of course, lowest). At this point, actual demand may well be at odds with what we had anticipated and we adapt our provision accordingly, where possible.
However, the raw data in itself does not allow us to see how the general spread of preferences relates to an individual student’s specific choices. To ensure that as many as possible of you gain entry into your first or second preference in any given course/semester over the year, our administrative staff check each individual application.
By so doing, we are able to ensure that there is general equity across the cohort; that is, while not everyone will always get all of their first or second choices, we can guarantee that no-one will be assigned to all their fourth choices.
Arguably, a time-saving alternative would be for us to operate a first-come, first-served policy, but this would actually disadvantage more students more often than our current policy, and would not allow us to respond flexibly to fluctuations in student demand. Other systems might allow us to please some students all of the time, but only at the cost of displeasing as many to the same extent. Our current approach allows us to please all students some of the time, which we feel is a fairer outcome.
While both administrative and academic staff spend a great deal of time trying to sort out what’s best for everybody, in addition we allow for further flexibility by offering a ‘Swap Shop’.
Once the allocations have been made, students are informed of the outcomes. At this point, any student who has been allocated a course they would prefer not to take, can sign up in the hope that a space may become free in their preferred option.
The Swap shop is NOT operated on a first-come, first-served basis. The desired ‘swap’ can only be accommodated if another student wishes to move out of the course you would like to move into.
Final opportunity for change
From experience we are aware that, despite all the work that goes into the process described above, for various reasons there can be some last minute changes at the beginning of the Academic Year.
If you are still keen to obtain a place on a preferred course, you should register your interest with the departmental administrators.
This must be done during Freshers’ Week and will be operated on a first-come, first-served basis. The administrators will maintain a waiting list and contact applicants should a place become available.
For any further queries please contact Dr Simon Malpas, Director of Undergraduate Studies for English Literature.