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Duration: 1 calendar year (46 weeks) full time
Applications are now closed for clocks specialism 2022-23. Applications open for all other subjects.
Scholarships and bursaries available from £500 to £10,000 | Read more about funding

The MA Conservation Studies equips you with the high level specialist skills sought by the conservation sector. For students of English, History, Archaeology and varied Humanities disciplines Conservation offers an exciting career.

This rigorous and highly respected programme draws on an extensive sector network, nationally and internationally, including industry bodies such as Icon. The Masters in Conservation Studies is the global industry standard for conservation, and our alumni work in many of the most prestigious museums, archives, libraries and private practices across the world. 

The course focuses on research through practice. You will draw on theoretical, scientific, and analytical study of artefacts and materials, and analyse the context and practice of conservation. MA Conservation Studies students deliver a major final research project.

Elements of interdisciplinary work are involved, but you will choose from one of the specialisms below:

All disciplines are accessible from both humanities and science study backgrounds.

Learning environment

  • High tutor: student ratio
  • Workshop access
  • An interdisciplinary environment
  • Visiting lecturers from public and private institutions
  • Six week work placement

You can expect

  • To develop excellent practical skills in conservation and repair
  • To develop research skills
  • To incorporate scientific analysis into conservation projects
  • To build contacts and gain transferable skills

The content of this programme has been developed in line with the Institute of Conservation's Professional Standards in Conservation and the UK Quality Code for Higher Education.


You will work in dedicated, well-equipped workshops and studios with access from 8.30am to 9pm*, seven days a week, which is exceptional in higher education. Collaboration with other conservation specialisms makes for a uniquely enriched learning environment. Shared facilities include:

The on-site Art and Conservation Library puts thousands of specialist books and journals within your reach and you can access specialist databases in the IT suite.

* Coronavirus update: Workshops may need to close outside teaching hours for thorough cleaning.

Find out more about the facilities

“Being able to study with students specialising in different types of collections helped give me a very holistic view of conservation and how book and paper conservation fits within the whole, as well as how it overlaps with many other disciplines. I also made a great network of friends who have been useful sounding boards over the years.”

Holly Smith, MA Conservation Studies alumna

Entry requirements

Progression from the Graduate Diploma in Conservation Studies to Masters requires successful completion of the graduate programme with a good pass.

Applicants with conservation experience and scientific knowledge equivalent to the Graduate Diploma in Conservation Studies may enter directly on to the Masters programme, in which case an upper 2nd class or above UK Honours degree in an appropriate subject or a non-UK equivalent is required. Alternatively, accreditation of prior experiential learning (APEL) will be considered for those who have been out of formal education for some years and are over 21, who do not meet the general (minimum) entrance requirements, but who can demonstrate practical skills or evidence of practical interests and research and writing abilities commensurate with BA level.

International students will require English language CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) Level B2 or IELTS 6.5 or above.

Contact Hours


On the MA Conservation Studies you will typically have around 19-20 contact hours per week, typically consisting of:

  • 5-6 hours of lectures or demonstrations
  • 1-2 hours of seminars and peer to peer presentations
  • 10 hours of workshop time with a supervisor
  • 1 hour of tutorials to discuss practical projects and more formal tutorials

For semester 2, outside of the work placement, you will continue to have full workshop access and have 10 contact hours per week in the above areas.

For semester 3 you will continue to have full workshop access and have approximately 1 hour tutorial time per week.

Independent learning

When not attending lectures, seminars and workshops or other timetabled sessions, you will be expected to continue learning independently through self-study. Typically, this will involve reading journal articles and books, working on individual and group projects, undertaking research in the library, preparing coursework assignments and presentations and undertaking and writing up your final research project.

Overall workload

Total scheduled teaching and learning: 600 hours
Independent learning: 1200 hours

In semester 1, 41% of your time will be spent in scheduled learning activities or under supervision.
In semester 2, 25% of your time will be spent in supervised activities.
In semester 3, you will be expected to work independently with tutorial support.

International study trips

The College continues to monitor travel advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with regards to any international travel. At this time, all international travel which includes study trips will be subject to agreement by the College. Full details in our coronavirus update.

term dates

Programme structure

Learn more about the programme structure of each semester and the breakdown of study blocks.

Read more

Semester 1 (18 weeks)
Study block 1 (12 weeks)


Extending Practice (50 credits)

Unit MA1B

Conservation Science Analysis (10 credits)

Unit MA1C

Research studies and project design (10 credits)

Semester 2 (14 weeks)
Study block 3 (6 weeks)


Professional Practice (35 credits)


Work placement element

Study block 4 (8 weeks)


Professional Practice (cont.) (35 credits)


Unit MA1RP

Project Development (15 credits)

Semester 3 (14 weeks)
Study block 5 

Unit MA2RP

Project Realisation (60 credits)


Programme content

Areas of study in the first two semesters include further development of practical skills through supervised work on objects with complex treatment requirements, incorporation of scientific analysis into conservation projects to inform treatment decisions and a six week work placement to broaden practical experience, build contacts and gain transferable skills. Research skills are taught in the first semester in preparation for final research project development during the second semester. The third semester is devoted solely to the student’s final research project.

Read more about programme content

Unique features

  • The has a large and diverse collection comprising objects from all disciplines. The collections are used by students to apply their knowledge to real-life problems. 
  • The immersive environment encourages joint learning and interdisciplinary practice.
  • Regular visiting lecturers and part time tutors from public and private institutions.
  • Field trips to conservation studios, historic sites and exhibitions.
  • The programme has a low student to staff ratio.
  • The 46 week programme has workshop access 8.30am – 10pm, seven days a week which is exceptional in a higher educational environment.

Research methods of conservation

This unit introduces a range of research methods and tools appropriate to an advanced level of study in conservation. It is designed to enable the identification of research questions and methods appropriate to the development of an MA research project.

At the start of the year, Academic Research and Writing Skills sessions will introduce students to the Library’s research resources (catalogues, information retrieval, online databases and archives) as well as appropriate academic conventions for citing and referencing (Harvard).

Through a series of lectures, seminars and workshops, a range of scientific, social scientific and humanities based research skills will be explored and visiting lecturers will present on their areas of research. Further lectures and seminars will investigate the role of the conservator in diverse contexts and fields of practice, and contemporary concerns and debates in conservation. This will lead students towards identifying research opportunities within their practice as it develops through MA1A. Possible research questions are then presented and discussed with peers and tutors with a view to: assessing their purpose and viability, identifying source material and primary research methods, possible constraints and ethical issues, methods of analysis, evaluation and presentation. Students are expected to review a range of research skills to provide them with a broad understanding on which to develop the methodology for their final selected research question.

In addition, through individual and group exercises, students will study, critically evaluate and discuss examples of writing to a publication standard in preparation for the written element of their final research project. This will comprise lectures and seminars, theoretical exercises, peer group discussions and independent study leading to a review of research methodologies, development of a final research question, methodology and indicative reading list with an oral presentation of the research question to an audience of peers.

Fees and funding

Course fees are the same for UK and international students

  • £4,260 per term (£17,040 per year)

Lunch, accommodation and other living expenses are additional. Find out more

A £250 course fee and £200 accommodation deposit (if residential) is required to secure your place. Details will be provided to you in your offer. Fees are billed termly in advance. Please see the Terms and Conditions for further information.

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 to £10,000.

Find out more about funding opportunities

Student perspective

“I chose West Dean College of Arts and Conservation to do my MA, to build on my previous experiences and gain a further recognised qualification. I have been able to apply my hand skills and build upon them with live objects from clients such as Russell-Cotes Art Gallery & Museum, and had the opportunity to undertake practical based research on The Mystery Warrior - North Bersted Man in partnership with the Novium Museum. I have also been able to undertake a work placement with the National Museum of the Royal Navy, Portsmouth, working on objects from HMS Victory and HMS Warrior.”

Robert Mitchell, MA Conservation Studies student

West Dean College of Arts and Conservation Alumni Tabea Rude Credit Michael Goldrei


The College’s extensive links with museums, conservators and professional bodies in the heritage sector in the UK, EU and internationally, opens up an impressive range of opportunities for the six week work placements that MA Conservation Studies students typically undertake.

Recent placement host institutions include:
Amsterdam City Archives, The Art Institute of Chicago, Bodleian Library, Brighton Pavilion, British Museum, Fishbourne Roman Palace, Heritage Blacksmith Partnership, Imperial War Museum, Lambeth Palace Library, Leiden University Library, Library of Congress, Maritime Museum Rotterdam, National Museum of American History, Notarial Archives, Malta, Oxford Conservation Consortium, Richard Rogers Conservation, Royal Collection Trust, Royal Museums Greenwich, Smithsonian National Museum of American History, Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A) and Yale University Library.

From the MA, alumni work with public and private collections and include professional conservators in high profile museums and libraries nationally and internationally. Some pursue a career path into collections care, or work as independent conservators, advisors or tutors. Alumni have gone on to work at the British Museum, Royal Collections, National Maritime Museum, Royal Swedish Palaces, Windsor Castle, Gold Museum (Bogota Colombia) and Columbia University Library (Columbia, USA).

Image: Tabea Rude Aluma, Photo Credit Michael Goldrei. Tabea is the Dynamic Objects Conservator at the Wien Museum, (Vienna Clock Museum, Austria) and looks after a collection of around 4,000 clocks.

Read more in our interviews with alumni


Do I get to study several specialisms in Conservation Studies programmes?

Students on the MA Conservation Studies choose one of the following pathways to specialise in when they apply:

I have a degree but no experience in Conservation. Can I still apply for the MA in Conservation Studies?

To be eligible to study on the Masters programme, you need to have a good honours degree PLUS experience in the relevant conservation specialism. Using Metals as an example, we would expect MA applicants to be familiar with Metals and have worked in that specialised area for a few years. You would be expected to demonstrate familiarity and experience with Metals in your application and supporting portfolio. If you don’t have this experience, we would recommend you apply for the Graduate Diploma

What would you expect to see in a Conservation Studies portfolio?

A portfolio should demonstrate your interest and experience in conservation and your chosen specialism. It can comprise sketches, photos, video evidence of you working in a conservation environment with your hands using materials such as Books, Metals, Furniture (relevant to your chosen specialism).

What is involved in the practical test?

You are asked to complete a task using workshop tools so we can see that you have the right level of mental agility and manual dexterity to undertake the practical elements of the course. Assessments take place onsite at the College workshops or remotely when it is not possible to come into the College.

University of Sussex Logo


Commendations from the University of Sussex include:

"This re-validation further builds on the success of the courses, which have been refined over a number of years to produce excellent results."

"The professional networking opportunities provided through external collaborations and the opportunities for students to disseminate their work to an external audience."


Elizabeth Neville MA ACR

Head of School of Conservation

Elizabeth Neville has over thirty years' experience as a book conservator, interspersed with teaching and supervising on the Graduate Diploma in Books and Library Materials and MA Conservation Studies courses at West Dean.

Malcolm Archer FBHI

Subject Leader, Clocks (and Related Objects)

Malcolm's extensive experience in private practice, as well as the heritage sector/museums, lies behind his in-depth understanding of the profession. He brings a comprehensive knowledge of traditional craft skills, theory and contextual history. He also has an interest in new and innovative ways of applying conservation to mechanical objects.

Lorna Calcutt MA ACR

Subject Leader, Ceramics (and Related Materials)

Lorna has been a tutor then Subject Leader at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation for 16 years and prior to that was employed as a conservator in national institutions and in the private sector.

Dr Eric Nordgren AFHEA

Subject Leader, Conservation of Metalwork

Dr Eric Nordgren brings over 20 years' experience as a metals conservator working with museums, universities, heritage agencies and private practice in the UK and around the world. He is active in the Icon Metals and Heritage Science groups, and is an associate member of AIC, ICOM-CC and the Historical Metallurgy Society.

David Dorning (MA ACR FIIC)

Subject Tutor, Conservation Science

David is a book and paper conservation specialist who has tutored more than a generation of book conservators since he began as a tutor in book conservation at West Dean College in 1988. He has taught science for conservators in the UK, USA and Europe, established the analytical laboratory at West Dean College in 2007 and has been the college's science tutor for 25 years.

Tim Hughes

Subject Tutor, Clocks (and Related Objects)

Tim Hughes MBHI, clock maker, trained at West Dean College and works as a clockmaker and scientific instrument restorer, and as external consultant at Bellmans Auctioneers. He has received several awards, including the Trustees' Prize while at West Dean College and a QEST Scholarship. 

Lara Meredith

Subject Tutor, Conservation of Books

Lara Meredith became a Book & Archive Conservator after graduating from Camberwell College of Arts.  Lara has been working as a Freelance Book & Archive Conservator since 1999 including work with The National Trust, The Leather Conservation Centre and private clients.

Katrina Redman

Subject Tutor, Metalwork

Katrina specialises in metals conservation and gained her Postgraduate Diploma in Metals Conservation from West Dean College of Arts and Conservation. She has worked in private practice, as well as at the V&A Museum working on the Gilbert Collection. In 2018, Katrina returned to West Dean College to take up the role of Subject Tutor for Metals.

Jasmina Vučković MA ACR

Subject Tutor, Ceramics (and Related Materials)

Jasmina Vuckovic is Subject Tutor at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation. She has been a visiting lecturer at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation prior to becoming a subject tutor in 2018. Jasmina is a member of ICOM and accredited member of Icon.

Maudie Casserly

Subject Tutor, Conservation of Books

Maudie is a book and paper conservator and bookbinder. Having worked a various institutions and companies over the years, including the Victoria & Albert Museum and The National Archives, Maudie now works for herself, taking on commissions from museums, libraries, collections and private individuals. In additional to practical conservation and binding, Maudie also teaches a range of online classes in bookbinding  to students all over the world.

Ian Watson

Subject Tutor – School of Conservation, Books and Library Materials

Having been working with books for many years Ian first joined West Dean College as a student in 2009, gaining an MA (Distinction) in the Conservation of Books and Library Materials in 2011. Ian is an accredited member of the Institute of Conservation and a member of the IIC. and returned to West Dean College as Subject Tutor in 2021.

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.