The MFA Fine Art Course, founded in 1979, is one of the longest standing and most recognised studio-based Fine Art programmes in the UK and Ireland.
The MFA was established 1979, is based in Belfast and has a long and proven track record of providing a rigorous studio-based programme with access to the expertise of a core staff of nationally and internationally recognised visiting artists. Within the studio and wider environments the diversity of teaching input by staff and visiting artists reflects the range of approaches and contexts embraced.
We recognise contemporary Art practice as being open and pluralistic which encourages dialogue between diverse disciplines. A multi-disciplinary/inter-media approach enables you to work in a flexible manner that offers the maximum opportunity for individual practice. You are asked to engage with systems of enquiry that explore and embrace traditional exhibition formats alongside wider lateral models of production, distribution and dissemination. Critical discourse on practice with an emphasis on analysis and self-reflection contributes to an understanding of contemporary art located within a larger cultural, social and political context.
The MFA supports committed critically engaged and sustainable professional practice.
The MFA Fine Art course in Belfast was established in 1979. Since then, 360 emerging artists, 21 full time staff (including 6 Course Directors) and over 250 visiting artists have exerted their individual and collective influence on the shape and direction of this program of study.
The course continues to produce artists of international reputation as evidenced by the success of graduates in major national and international prizes and competitions including the Turner Prize, Paul Hamlyn Award, Becks Futures, Bloomberg New Contemporaries, the Glenn Dimplex Award and the Nissan Art Award and through representation at international biennials such as the Venice Biennale. Public art, film production, gallery management, community arts, curation and arts administration are wider areas where graduates have been internationally successful. The course has also been immensely influential in the sphere of art education across Europe with a high number of academic, research, teaching and management positions being held by our MFA graduates.
The course retains the core values from its inception in 1979 and so builds upon 30 years of innovating and fostering relevancy, criticality and quality in today’s contemporary art world.
The programme aims to promote individual contemporary fine art practice towards presentation as an exhibition or equivalent public output. It provides a learning environment that supports a wide range of modes of production for art in which you can demonstrate a sound understanding of the practical, intellectual and creative aspects of your practice as an artist. It also aims to facilitate engagement between and among art practitioners in order that you can locate your practice and that of other art practitioners within contemporary culture.
A capacity for self-directed learning is a prerequisite for the programme. Fostering individual creative development is a key concern. Formal tutoring is based upon the expectation of self-motivated personal development and research. Re-evaluation through teaching, criticism and research is a fundamental aspect of the course.
Regular discussion based on studio work and issues around contemporary practice involves the whole course. Peer learning from studio work and informal discussion is also a valuable experience. Assessment is directed at the quality and significance of the output as contemporary art practice.
The programme is also offered in three part time pathways. All of the part-time modes require the student to have their own studio space independent of the institution.
The 2010 Turner Prize was won by MFA graduate Susan Phillipsz (1994). Other nominated graduates include Phil Collins, Cathy Wilkes and Christine Borland. Graduates of the MFA have been substantially represented over the years in other high profile events and prizes, including the Venice Biennale, Becks Futures, The Nissan Art Award, New Contemporaries, The John Moores Prize and the Glenn Dimplex Award. Two graduates have been awarded the highly competitive Paul Hamlyn Award. Film production, art writing, gallery management and curation are allied areas where graduates have also been internationally successful.
The programme is also offered in 3 part time pathways. All of the part-time modes require the student to have their own studio space independent of the institution.
Part-time route 1:4 years part-time model of the 2 year course.
Part-time route 2: 3 years. This model allows a student to study the first year full-time with transfer to the part-time mode for the second year. It is envisaged that this route will be most appropriate to a student for whom the necessary infrastructure is not initially in place to allow them to undertake the course part-time. This may include candidates from abroad who by the second year have become familiar enough with the local setup to have acquired a studio and relevant support structure.
Part-time route 3:2 years. This model is based on candidates convincing the course team that the quality of their work over a number of years is of sufficient standard and that learning outcomes of the modules Practice 1 and 2 have been met to enable them to enter the course with compensation for prior learning.
Advanced standing Advanced standing is possible – where an applicants experience is taken into account in order to be exempt from certain aspects of the programme. This may apply to full or part-time attendance. Please contact us to discuss this if it is something that may be appropriate to you.
Teaching, Learning and Assessment
Teaching, learning and assessment
The content for each course is summarised on the relevant course page, along with an overview of the modules that make up the course.
Each course is approved by the University and meets the expectations of:
the requirements of any professional, regulatory, statutory and accrediting bodies.
Attendance and Independent Study
As part of your course induction, you will be provided with details of the organisation and management of the course, including attendance and assessment requirements - usually in the form of a timetable. For full-time courses, the precise timetable for each semester is not confirmed until close to the start date and may be subject to some change in the early weeks as all courses settle into their planned patterns. For part-time courses which require attendance on particular days and times, an expectation of the days and periods of attendance will be included in the letter of offer. A course handbook is also made available.
Courses comprise modules for which the notional effort involved is indicated by its credit rating. Each credit point represents 10 hours of student effort. Undergraduate courses typically contain 10, 20, or 40 credit modules (more usually 20) and postgraduate courses typically 15 or 30 credit modules.
The normal study load expectation for an undergraduate full-time course of study in the standard academic year is 120 credit points. This amounts to around 36-42 hours of expected teaching and learning per week, inclusive of attendance requirements for lectures, seminars, tutorials, practical work, fieldwork or other scheduled classes, private study, and assessment. Teaching and learning activities will be in-person and/or online depending on the nature of the course. Part-time study load is the same as full-time pro-rata, with each credit point representing 10 hours of student effort.
Postgraduate Master’s courses typically comprise 180 credits, taken in three semesters when studied full-time. A Postgraduate Certificate (PGCert) comprises 60 credits and can usually be completed on a part-time basis in one year. A 120-credit Postgraduate Diploma (PGDip) can usually be completed on a part-time basis in two years.
Class contact times vary by course and type of module. Typically, for a module predominantly delivered through lectures you can expect at least 3 contact hours per week (lectures/seminars/tutorials). Laboratory classes often require a greater intensity of attendance in blocks. Some modules may combine lecture and laboratory. The precise model will depend on the course you apply for and may be subject to change from year to year for quality or enhancement reasons. Prospective students will be consulted about any significant changes.
Assessment methods vary and are defined explicitly in each module. Assessment can be a combination of examination and coursework but may also be only one of these methods. Assessment is designed to assess your achievement of the module’s stated learning outcomes. You can expect to receive timely feedback on all coursework assessments. This feedback may be issued individually and/or issued to the group and you will be encouraged to act on this feedback for your own development.
Coursework can take many forms, for example: essay, report, seminar paper, test, presentation, dissertation, design, artefacts, portfolio, journal, group work. The precise form and combination of assessment will depend on the course you apply for and the module. Details will be made available in advance through induction, the course handbook, the module specification, the assessment timetable and the assessment brief. The details are subject to change from year to year for quality or enhancement reasons. You will be consulted about any significant changes.
Normally, a module will have 4 learning outcomes, and no more than 2 items of assessment. An item of assessment can comprise more than one task. The notional workload and the equivalence across types of assessment is standardised. The module pass mark for undergraduate courses is 40%. The module pass mark for postgraduate courses is 50%.
Calculation of the Final Award
The class of Honours awarded in Bachelor’s degrees is usually determined by calculation of an aggregate mark based on performance across the modules at Levels 5 and 6, (which correspond to the second and third year of full-time attendance).
Level 6 modules contribute 70% of the aggregate mark and Level 5 contributes 30% to the calculation of the class of the award. Classification of integrated Master’s degrees with Honours include a Level 7 component. The calculation in this case is: 50% Level 7, 30% Level 6, 20% Level 5. At least half the Level 5 modules must be studied at the University for Level 5 to be included in the calculation of the class.
All other qualifications have an overall grade determined by results in modules from the final level of study. In Master’s degrees of more than 200 credit points the final 120 points usually determine the overall grading.
Figures correct for academic year 2022-2023.
The University employs over 1,000 suitably qualified and experienced academic staff - 60% have PhDs in their subject field and many have professional body recognition.
Courses are taught by staff who are Professors (19%), Readers, Senior Lecturers (22%) or Lecturers (57%).
We require most academic staff to be qualified to teach in higher education: 82% hold either Postgraduate Certificates in Higher Education Practice or higher. Most academic and learning support staff (85%) are recognised as fellows of the Higher Education Academy (HEA) by Advance HE - the university sector professional body for teaching and learning. Many academic and technical staff hold other professional body designations related to their subject or scholarly practice.
The profiles of many academic staff can be found on the University’s departmental websites and give a detailed insight into the range of staffing and expertise. The precise staffing for a course will depend on the department(s) involved and the availability and management of staff. This is subject to change annually and is confirmed in the timetable issued at the start of the course.
Occasionally, teaching may be supplemented by suitably qualified part-time staff (usually qualified researchers) and specialist guest lecturers. In these cases, all staff are inducted, mostly through our staff development programme ‘First Steps to Teaching’. In some cases, usually for provision in one of our out-centres, Recognised University Teachers are involved, supported by the University in suitable professional development for teaching.
Figures correct for academic year 2022-2023.
Belfast Campus Location
The Belfast campus is situated in the artistic and cultural centre of the city, the Cathedral Quarter.
Here is a guide to the subjects studied on this course.
Courses are continually reviewed to take advantage of new teaching approaches and developments in research, industry and the professions. Please be aware that modules may change for your year of entry. The exact modules available and their order may vary depending on course updates, staff availability, timetabling and student demand. Please contact the course team for the most up to date module list.
This module will provide you with a historical and thematic introduction to current issues at the intersection of critical theory and practice in Visual Arts. It offers knowledge of key theoretical tools designed to encourage you to understand and evaluate established and emerging resources of representation across a range of cultural domains and media necessary to support your artwork and sustain a professional creative practice in an international environment.
Studio Practice 1
This module provides an stimulating environment, which fosters the experimental and exploratory development of a challenging and emergent art practice, as demonstrated through the presentation of artwork and verbal and written submission.
Strategies for Professional Development
This module provides invaluable guidance for the enhancement of your professional skills, leading to the development of their future practice in a range of roles including; as artists, arts administrators and curators. It facilitates the acquisition of a range of key transferable, inter-personal, and practical skills, which are essential within a wide range of careers in the artistic and cultural sector.
It enables you to make a successful transition from post graduate study, to life after college and thus facilitates your progression into the professional arena.
Run by research active staff and supported by a range of experts in the field of contemporary art, this module provides you with a sound working knowledge, necessary for you to begin to situate and advance your own art practices in the professional contemporary art context. The experience gained from dialogue with those professional experts, also provides an expanded view of the professional arts environment, which encourages ambition and motivation within your student cohort.
Studio Practice 2
This module provides an challenging environment, which fosters the experimental, consolidated and deepening development of a sustainable art practice, as demonstrated through the presentation of artwork and verbal and written submission.
Practice & Exhibition - Part 1
This module facilitates you in advancing the sustained development of your art practice, leading to the production of a resolved body of artwork leading towards exhibition. The outcome should demonstrate rigour in its conceptual and contextual framework and critically reflect upon the relevant aspects of contemporary art practice.
Practice & Exhibition Part 1 is the first component of the full time Practice & Exhibition module. It fosters a keen awareness of the key pertinent aspects of professional art practice, enabling the student to make a successful transition into Practice & Exhibition Part 2 which is the final module of the part time programme.
Practice & Exhibition - Part 2
This module facilitates students in advancing the sustained development of their practice, leading to the production of a highly resolved body of artwork for final exhibition. The exhibited artwork demonstrate sophistication and rigour in its conceptual and contextual framework and critically reflect upon the relevant aspects of contemporary art practice.
It fosters a full awareness of the key pertinent aspects of professional art practice, enabling the student to make a successful transition from the educational institution to the professional art arena.
Practice & Exhibition Part 2 building upon Practice & Exhibition Part 1 consistute the part time version of the Practice & Exhibition full time module. As such Practice & Exhibition Part 2 is the final module of the part time programme and demands an equal level of achievement as the culmination of the full time final module.
Applicants must hold a degree with at least 2:1 Honours standard or equivalent or demonstrate their ability to undertake the course through the accreditation of prior experiential learning (APEL).
Applicants must be able to satisfy the panel via portfolio and/or interview that their work is of a required standard that will allow them to deal with the creative, intellectual and material rigours of the course.
English Language Requirements
English language requirements for international applicants The minimum requirement for this course is Academic IELTS 6.0 with no band score less than 5.5. Trinity ISE: Pass at level III also meets this requirement for Tier 4 visa purposes.
Ulster recognises a number of other English language tests and comparable IELTS equivalent scores.
As practising artists, many of our graduates go on to establish their own studios, successfully exhibiting nationally and internationally, gaining public art and gallery commissions, residencies, fellowships, awards and prizes. Others develop careers in other sectors of the arts, such as curatorial practice, arts writer, art critic, community arts, education, academic art research, art facilitation and administration, while others have built reputations in the wider creative fields where innovative artists are highly valued as problem solvers.
Alumni lists and example career profiles are available here:
On the programme you will gain work placement experience at one or more of our external partners, for example Catalyst Arts or Platform Arts. Within this process you will be tasked with developing a professional exhibition of your own work as a group within a partner organisation. This usually is undertaken of several weeks – with an intense period working on-site alongside professional colleagues.
Fees and funding
The price of your overall programme will be determined by the number of credit points that you initiate in the relevant academic year.
For modules commenced in the academic year 2023/24, the following fees apply:
NB: A standard full-time PGCert is equivalent to 60 credit points per year. A standard full-time PGDip is equivalent to 120 credit points per year.
Scholarships, awards and prizes
Judged on their final show Our MFA students are eligible for the following graduate awards:
PLATFORM Studio Residency and Project Exhibition Award FLAX ART Graduate Residency Studio Award DIGITAL ART STUDIOS Residency Award CATALYST Emerging Artist Award Alice Berger-Hammerschlag Award (ACNI/UU ) Beard award (ACNI/UU)
Information on postgraduate fees, loans and awards can be found at:
Students should be aware that as the work is self-directed costs may and are likely to be incurred due to the specific material or research needs of that student’s development.
Field trips may incur additional costs.
It is important to remember that costs associated with accommodation, travel (including car parking charges) and normal living will need to be covered in addition to tuition fees.
Where a course has additional mandatory expenses (in addition to tuition fees) we make every effort to highlight them above. We aim to provide students with the learning materials needed to support their studies. Our libraries are a valuable resource with an extensive collection of books and journals, as well as first-class facilities and IT equipment. Computer suites and free Wi-Fi are also available on each of the campuses.
There are additional fees for graduation ceremonies, examination resits and library fines.
Students choosing a period of paid work placement or study abroad as a part of their course should be aware that there may be additional travel and living costs, as well as tuition fees.
Although reasonable steps are taken to provide the programmes and services described, the University cannot guarantee the provision of any course or facility and the University may make variations to the contents or methods of delivery of courses, discontinue, merge or combine courses and introduce new courses if such action is reasonably considered to be necessary by the University. Such circumstances include (but are not limited to) industrial action, lack of demand, departure of key staff, changes in legislation or government policy including changes, if any, resulting from the UK departing the European Union, withdrawal or reduction of funding or other circumstances beyond the University’s reasonable control.
If the University discontinues any courses, it will use its best endeavours to provide a suitable alternative course. In addition, courses may change during the course of study and in such circumstances the University will normally undertake a consultation process prior to any such changes being introduced and seek to ensure that no student is unreasonably prejudiced as a consequence of any such change.
The University does not accept responsibility (other than through the negligence of the University, its staff or agents), for the consequences of any modification or cancellation of any course, or part of a course, offered by the University but will take into consideration the effects on individual students and seek to minimise the impact of such effects where reasonably practicable.
The University cannot accept any liability for disruption to its provision of educational or other services caused by circumstances beyond its control, but the University will take all reasonable steps to minimise the resultant disruption to such services.
My time on the MFA programme (1995-97) was of huge significance to my development as an artist and an educator. The two year full time duration of the programme fostered a spirit of experimentation in an environment that was both critical and supportive. My work benefited from being able to address some fundamental questions to what I felt constituted a meaningful art practice. It allowed us to take chances.
The programme also nurtured some important relationships and support networks that have remained with me. Many of those in my year have gone on to work as practicing artists, curators, art writers and educators. I have been very fortunate to work within Art education for the last fifteen years, as an artist, lecturer and Head of Department. This would not have happened without my qualification from the University of Ulster at Belfast, the high reputation the programme is held in, and the quality of education and opportunities I received there.
Other example alumni career profiles are available here