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MFA (Master of Fine Art)
Duration: 2 academic years (36 weeks pa) full time course
Applications open

Scholarships and bursaries are available from £500. Find out more about funding opportunities

The MFA (Master of Fine Art) at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation is an advanced two-year full-time masters of fine art designed to further advance students' capacities in practical, theoretical and professional domains, with an emphasis on specialist studio practice. The programme is designed to allow students to establish and refine the core concerns and ambitions of their work, as well as subjecting that work to critical scrutiny and self-reflection. Interdisciplinary practices are encouraged and supported, as well as those focused on a single discipline such as Drawing, Painting, Printmaking, Sculpture, Drawing, Tapestry and Textiles.

The two-year structure provides students with sustained periods of studio-based activity, with dissertation requirements coming early in the second year of study. Studio Work units run consistently throughout the MFA programme. Year One introduces Creative Research Strategies, an 18-week unit for students to engage with the on-site Edward James Archive to develop new work and supporting research. The Art Research and Criticality unit extends the lecture series with support in research skills to lead to the Dissertation in Year Two. Professional Practice units support preparations for the Summer Shows and include workshops dedicated to Artist Statements, documentation, profile building and curator-led critiques.

MFA students can expect

  • Support in consolidating studio practice to a level appropriate for accomplished practitioners
  • Access to facilities, workshops and expertise for the fabrication of artworks relating to the individual student's ambitions. The combination of large individual studios and outdoor facilities make it possible to realise ambitious work
  • Opportunities to employ innovative approaches to studio practice through which conceptual ideas are tested and informed by use of selected media
  • To gain a comprehensive understanding of techniques applicable to their own research and scholarship
  • To develop originality in the application of knowledge, together with a practical understanding of how established techniques of research and enquiry are used to create and interpret knowledge in the Visual Arts
  • To consolidate a systematic understanding and critical awareness of current debates in contemporary art practice
  • To further develop aptitude for professional practice, independent research or employment, including opportunities for public exhibition
  • To possess independence, self-reliance, as well as promotional enterprise skills, motivated toward professional practice or employment

Learning environment

  • Large individual studio spaces with access from 8.30am-10pm seven days a week
  • An excellent staff-to-student ratio with regular tutorial support
  • A specialised programme of lectures, seminars and workshops
  • Input from regular visiting lecturers and artists
  • Expert support for a dedicated team of workshop technicians
  • Professional development provision for gallery visits and other external events
  • Contact with a regular series of professional Artists-in-Residence based in the studios throughout the academic year
  • An immersive environment with rich connections to art history, particularly Surrealism, through the legacy of college founder Edward James


All full-time Fine Arts students are provided with a large individual workspace in the Edward James Studios. In addition to specialist spaces dedicated to Painting and Drawing, Sculpture and Tapestry and Textile-based work, the studios include a Seminar Room, a materials and tool store, a small photographic darkroom, bookable exhibition and research spaces, plus an IT suite with digital editing software. A self-contained Print Room offers specialist facilities for etching, aquatint, monoprinting, woodblock and linocut. Students can work on a large-scale in the Sculpture Courtyard, which is also suitable for work in stone carving, and can access the specialist Arts and Conservation Library.

Access to Short Courses
To develop particular skills and techniques students can access over 800 short courses. If places are available at weekends during term, students are encouraged to attend free of charge, (there may be a charge for specific material or model fees) or can book in advance at a reduced rate. 

House, Grounds, Collection and Archive
The House and Estate offers ambitious exhibition opportunities and unique research material, and students can submit site-specific proposals throughout the year. The Edward James Collection, is an outstanding resource, giving students access to significant works of art and historic objects; including paintings, drawings and prints by artists most notably, Salvador DalÍ, Rene Magritte, Leonora Carrington, Pavel Tchelitchew, and Leonor Fini.

West Dean Tapestry Studio
One of the world's leading producers of hand-woven tapestry; students have close contact with the expertise of Master Weavers and designers, and access to the studio's Dye Rooms, a specialist facility for the dyeing of yarn. Find out more about the professional Tapestry Studio.

Interdisciplinary study
Students are encouraged to collaborate with other College departments, particularly the full-time programmes in the School of Conservation, making the most of the wide range of specialist knowledge, materials and equipment that is available.


Contact Hours


You are taught through a combination of lectures, seminars, practical workshops, individual and group tutorials, critique sessions, oral and written presentations, and external visits.

On the Master of Fine Art (MFA) you will have around 11-12 contact hours per week, typically consisting of:

  • 2 hours of lectures
  • 1 hour of seminars
  • 2 hours of one-to-one/group tutorials
  • 1-2 hours of critique sessions
  • 4 hours of practical workshops
  • 1 hour of external visits (on average)

Independent learning

When not attending lectures, seminars, workshops or other timetabled sessions you will be expected to continue learning independently through self-directed study. Typically, this will involve:

  • working in the studio
  • developing supporting material and research portfolios
  • undertaking research in the library
  • reading journal articles and books
  • working on specific unit assignments
  • preparing presentations and self-assessments.

Overall workload

33% of your time is spent in scheduled teaching and learning activity
Scheduled teaching and learning: 785 hours
Independent learning: 1615 hours

Programme structure

Year 1 / Semester 1 (18 weeks)
Study block 1 Formative review Study block 2

Unit VA MFA 1A

Creative Research Strategies

15 credits

Unit VA MFA 1B

Application of Philosophical Aesthetics

15 credits

Unit VA MFA 1C

Studio work

35 credits

Year 1 / Semester 2 (18 weeks)
Study block 3 Formative review Study block 4

Unit VA MFA 3A

Art Research and Criticality

20 credits

Unit VA MFA 3C

Studio work 2 (interim exhibition)

40 credits

Year 2 / Semester 1 (18 weeks)
Study block 1 Formative review Study block 2

Unit VA MFA 5A


20 credits

Unit VA MFA 5C

Studio work 3

40 credits

Year 2 / Semester 2 (18 weeks)
Study block 3 Formative review Study block 4

Unit VA MFA 7A

Professional Practice

15 credits

Unit VA MFA 7C

Studio work 4 (summer show)

45 credits


Entry Requirements

The following qualifications will be considered for entry on to the MFA:

  • An Honours Degree or equivalent qualification in Fine Art or a related discipline
  • Relevant work experience in an arts-related field which demonstrates your ability to study at postgraduate level
  • Portfolio: including evidence of current practical work, sketchbooks, documentation, and evidence of critical writing
  • An appropriate level of engagement with current debates in contemporary arts and making is required
  • English language: CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) Level 2 or IELTS 6.5 or above.

Fees and funding

Course fees are the same for UK and international students

  • £3,600 per term (£10,800 per year)

Includes study trip costs of £400 which typically includes tailored visits to collections/exhibitions of specific interest to the programme of study. Lunch, accommodation and other living expenses are additional. Find out more

Postgraduate loans

If you are a UK student and plan to take a postgraduate Master's course you may be able to get a postgraduate loan of up to £10,906 to help with course fees and living costs. See

Student Scholarships and Bursaries

Scholarships and bursaries are available from £500. 

Find out more about funding

"One of the best aspects of the course so far has been the opportunity to work with professionals in mediums such as stone carving and ceramics that I had not considered before."

Agata Bogacka, Master of Fine Arts student

Exhibition opportunities

Each year students stage a series of public exhibitions, including pop-up exhibitions, an annual fundraising exhibition and the celebrated Summer Shows that are held at the College and one other location, recently London and Margate, Kent. Through these students develop skills in the requirements of exhibition management, such as production, installation and marketing. View the 2019 Summer Show Gallery

As well as being encouraged to exhibit externally, both locally and nationally, during their studies, students have the unique opportunity to propose installations within West Dean House and West Dean Gardens. Project proposals are encouraged to reflect the rich heritage of West Dean and the legacy of College founder Edward James. See the 2018 installations


Commendations from the University of Sussex include:

"The high quality student experience and strength of student representation within the College."

"The changes to units so they draw on and make use of specific collections within the archive."

"The linking of theory and practice, and delivery of theory by studio technicians."

Student perspective

"After studying for a BA in Fine Art, I wanted to further my education and gain more manual skills. West Dean College seemed a perfect choice because of its interdisciplinary teaching and access to workshops and short courses.

My art practice is based on materiality and the variety of teaching available and importance put on making has been amazing. I have introduced ceramics, textiles and printmaking into my art practice, all because of the access that I have had to real experts in these fields.

Thanks to the support of the Edward James Foundation, I have been able to fully immerse myself in my art and creativity. I know that having an MFA qualification is going to be life changing." Nicola Ferrie, MFA

Artist in Residence Programme

The Artist-in-Residence programme sees a series of professional artists living and working onsite, amongst Fine Art students. They enrich the creative learning environment by offering tutorial sessions with students as well as public presentations on the work produced during the residency and their wider practice.

Find out more


Fine Art alumni are based all over the world and regularly exhibit their work in a variety of venues including the APS Mdina Cathedral Contemporary Art Biennale, Malta; Woolwich Contemporary Print Fair, London; Malamegi Lab, Italy; and Art Rooms, London.

In 2018 MFA alumna, Lotti V Closs, completed a month-long residency at the Edinburgh Sculpture Workshop with support from her recently awarded a-n Artist Bursary for 2018, a prize supporting self-directed professional development projects.

MA graduate Laura Luna Castillo, working in collaboration with another West Dean alumnus, Conservation of Clocks graduate Jonathan Turner-Bishop, completed a Kamiyama Artists' Residency in Japan with an exhibition during October 2018. Their piece, Yorii-za theatre, was the culmination of several months working on site in the town of Kamiyama.

Read more alumni profiles

School of Arts blog

Fine Art Visit to De La Warr Pavilion

By Dr David Stent, Fine Art Subject Leader Recently, full-time Fine Art students – studying on the Graduate Diploma and the Master of Fine Arts programmes – made a group visit to the De La Warr Pavilion in Bexhill-upon-Sea, joined by members of staff and a few Friends of West Dean College of Arts and Conservation. They were given a personal tour of the current Renee So... Find out more

Banner Culture at the British Textile Biennial 2019

A banner made during a workshop at West Dean College is currently on exhibition as part of the British Textile Biennial 2019. Banner Culture presents a retrospective history of protest in the UK, from traditional processional banners from heritage collections to contemporary DIY messages from local campaign groups. The exhibition is open in the iconic Brierfield Mill, Lancashire, from 3rd... Find out more

Visual Arts MA Show 2019

The MA Show 2019 showcases artworks by graduating students from the Visual Arts MA programme at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation. The free exhibition, held in the College's Edward James Studios, will display painting, sculpture and textiles from Emma Hurst, Dennis Joroen and Emma Straw.

Preview: Thursday 12 September, 5-7pm Open: Friday 13 September - Sunday 15 September... Find out more

Visual Arts Exhibit in Margate

The Visual Arts programmes were recently showcased with an exhibition on Margate seafront, hosted by a brand new space, Artgame, a short walk from Turner Contemporary. This was the latest iteration of the 'external' show staged by West Dean Visual Arts - including work from graduating students from the Graduate Diploma and MFA programmes - which have in previous years taken place in various... Find out more

Finalist for Prestigious Australian Tapestry Award

by Emma Straw, student

Every two years the Australian Tapestry Workshop announces an open call, The Kate Derum and Irene Davies Award for Emerging Tapestry Artists. When the award was announced earlier this year I had just completed the Creative Research Strategies module on the MA Visual Arts programme here at West Dean College; the research module gave me access to the extensive... Find out more

Read more School of Arts department news, events, and student and staff work on the School of Arts blog.


David Stent

Visual Arts Subject Leader, Dr. David R J Stent is an artist, writer, curator and musician. His diverse practice draws on various media including drawing, photography, digital and print publishing, film and video, sonic and sculptural installation.

Philip Sanderson

Philip Sanderson studied both at Middlesex University and the Royal College of Art before joining the Professional Tapestry Studio at West Dean College in 1993. Philip has designed tapestries for numerous clients, notably for the New Parliamentary Buildings in Westminster.

Sarah Hughes

Sarah Hughes is a Subject Tutor on the full-time Fine Art programmes and Curatorial Assistant in the College's Collections Department. She is a practicing artist, performer, and composer with a long standing interest in alternative modes of living, creative agency, and acts of resistance.

How to apply

If you are interested in applying for this course or would like further information please contact admissions either by enquiring online or calling the number below. To make your application you will need to download and fill out our application form.