Gaining diverse perspectives and skills through literary studie
THE term “wordsmith” often comes to mind when referring to someone who is pursuing a degree in English Language and Literature — one who is on his way to becoming an expert in the use of words in the language, spouting passages from Shakespeare’s plays, for example.
This is because the programme generally requires the analysis of the workings of the English language in all forms and contexts as well literary texts from different periods throughout history.
English Literature as a major in a Bachelor of Arts programme has been offered here since 1959 when University of Malaya (UM) was established at Lembah Pantai in Kuala Lumpur.
Professor Sharmani Patricia Gabriel, head of the Department of English at UM’s Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, said the history of the programme can be traced back to 1949 when UM was first formed in Singapore, and even further back to the establishment of Raffles College in the opening decades of the 20th century.
“If you consider carefully UM’s development over its long history, you will notice that though remaining distinctive in the country in terms of the range of courses it continues to offer — from the medieval era to the 21st century, from the UK to other Englishspeaking regions of the world — the contents of its BA programme have always been in a state of flux,” she added.
“This is necessary for the study of English Literature to remain relevant to our understanding of who we think we are as Malaysians and how we see ourselves as Malaysians in relation to the wider world. This insight on our part means that in addition to teaching British Literature, we also teach Literature in English from Malaysia, Singapore, Africa, India, the Caribbean, Australia and the US. Our curricular offerings have also expanded to reflect both contemporary approaches to the study of Literature and the breadth of staff expertise and interest.”
In terms of student intake, the department annually accepts 20 to 25 students for its BA English programme although it receives applications in the hundreds. “Our undergraduate student size is deliberately kept small so as maintain a favourable student-to-staff ratio and to reflect the shift in emphasis from undergraduate to postgraduate training and education.”
At Universiti Kebangsaan Malaysia (UKM), Literature in English is offered at the undergraduate level through the BA English Language Studies programme as well as the Bachelor of Education (Teaching English as a Second Language/TESL) programme.
Dr Shahizah Ismail Hamdan, coordinator of the Postcolonial Literature in English Programme at UKM’s Faculty of Social Sciences and Humanities, said: “We also have several Literature courses — also known as — open to all undergraduates as part of UKM’s liberal education efforts. The average intake for BA English Language Studies is 60 students and 30 for B.Ed TESL.”
UKM used to offer a BA Literature in English Studies programme, which ran from 2005 to 2014, with an average intake of 25. “Due to changing university policy — which is to increase postgraduate intake — several programmes deemed less marketable were put on hold. To date, that is the status of the BA Literature in English programme. At the Master’s of Arts and Doctor of Philosophy level, UKM offers the Postcolonial Literature in English degrees.
Both UKM and UM were placed in the 51-100 band in the 2017 QS University World Rankings by Subject for English Language and Literature, making them the top two universities in the country for the subject. UKM was in the 101-150 band last year.
“The rise in ranking for English language and Literature can be attributed to the method in which QS University World Rankings by Subject is done —