New kid on the block to leaders in the field: The School of English & Languages celebrates Number 1 National Student Survey results

I am absolutely delighted to see how well both English Literature and Spanish at the University of Surrey have performed in the 2016 National Student Survey.

Both English Literature and Spanish have been awarded 100% for overall satisfaction in the most recent survey of final year undergraduate students, achieving number one rankings in their respective subject tables.

These are quite remarkable achievements.

Diane Watt, Professor of English Literature.

Diane Watt, Professor of English Literature.

English Literature was launched as a degree programme at the University of Surrey in 2008. In eight years, it has moved from being the new kid on the block to becoming a leader in the field. Rising steadily up the league tables English Literature has gone from being an unknown quantity to the top twenty in a highly competitive field – not to mention our top 10 Creative Writing offering. Spanish, as a more established programme at Surrey continues to build on the longstanding reputation of Modern Languages, currently ranked 6th in the Guardian League Table.

So why are these our programmes so successful? There are a number of reasons. First of all, the School of English and Languages here at the University of Surrey is constantly striving to improve its curricula.

After the first cohort of English Literature and English and Creative Writing students at the University graduated five years ago, we took stock of the structure of the degree and of the modules we were offering. We listened to feedback from our students, and also from our external examiners, and we made a number of significant changes. Our Languages programmes, including Spanish, then went through a similar process.

Both of these degrees are quite distinct from their competitors. Our Language programmes focus on applied languages, and almost all of the modules are taught in the target language. Employability is central to these undergraduate degrees, and we are rightly proud of the Professional Training and Placement Year. It is compulsory for our Language students to work or to study abroad for a year, but all of the students on our English programmes also have the opportunity to study abroad or to find placements with a wide variety of our professional training partners in the UK or overseas. This year is fully integrated into the programmes; we visit the students while they are away and continue to support them academically and personally throughout their time in industry.

Most important, however, when it comes to student satisfaction, is the level of commitment of our academic and support staff. Our students know that we want to help them learn, and also that if they need to talk to us, we will be here for them, and if they have concerns we will act on them, and that really is vital. We provide a level of academic and pastoral support that gives our students the assurance that we really care about them, their learning and their personal development.

We have also worked hard to ensure that our students have appropriate resources available, and we are proud of our state-of-the-art Language labs, and of the library facilities, both of which have received significant investment in recent years.

In 2011, I came to the University of Surrey take on the role of Head of the newly founded School of English and Languages, which had been created out of two smaller departments: English and Languages & Translation Studies. The 2016 NSS results show just how far we’ve come in the last 5 years, with our programmes in both halves of the School thriving. We’ve learnt from each other and helped each other, and in the process, it is clear, we’ve helped our students not only to learn but also to have the best of all possible experiences.

Professor Diane Watt