The MFA is one of the longest standing and most recognised studio-based programmes in the UK and Ireland.
Study Fine Art (MFA) at Ulster University in the United Kingdom.
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.
More comphrehensive, up to date and accessible information on the MFA Fine Art programme can be found at:
Sign up for course updates
Sign up to receive regular updates, news and information on courses, events and developments at Ulster University.
We’ll not share your information and you can unsubscribe at any time.
About this course
In this section
The MFA Fine Art course in Belfast was established in 1979. Since then, 320 emerging artists, 21 full-time staff (including six Course Directors) and over 200 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 MFA programme is offered in full time mode over 2 academic years. There is an exit qualification of Postgraduate Diploma after one academic year, with a further one academic year for MFA completion.
Attendance: Full-time independent studio practice. Classes Monday – Friday 9.30 am - 5.00 pm.
Formal teaching input is delivered through tutorials, weekly studio critiques and student or staff-led seminars and lectures. Independant study and self-directed learning are fundamental aspects of the course.
Assessment:Through exhibition of studio practice and supporting written and oral presentation.
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.
More info on part time routes here:
- September 2016
We recognise a range of qualifications for admission to our courses. In addition to the specific entry conditions for this course you must also meet the University’s General Entrance Requirements.
In this section
Applicants must hold a degree with at least 2:2 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 at interview that their work is of a 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.
Teaching and learning assessment
The teaching, learning and assessment is developed and delivered through several modes:
The course is orientated around prolonged periods of ongoing studio-based development. It is expected that you will be highly self-motivated and capable of undertaking self-directed research and of building a sustainable studio practice.
A period of sustained studio practice is used:
- To enable you to develop different conceptual models of practice
- To enable you to test a variety of different modes of production and resolution
- To enable you to extend the parameters of your own research and make use of appropriate methodologies and techniques
- To enable youto evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of your practice
Regular individual tutorials provide you with the opportunity to discuss in depth conceptual and practical concerns around your work. They provide an opportunity for a considered discussion of ongoing work and an analysis of feedback and responses to work to date.
Lectures are used to deliver key information and material related to research methodologies and professional practice. Lectures are delivered by staff and invited experts/visiting lecturers from relevant professional fields. Students are expected to use the lectures as a starting point for more intensive and focussed study appropriate to their own practice.
Seminars are used to develop your knowledge of, and ability to employ the theoretical tools required for critical analysis in cultural practice. This method of teaching is designed to build confidence in oral communication, and to encourage learning through group discussion and debate.
Student presentations are used to encourage you to undertake independent critical appraisal of your studio practice and its cultural context in order to make use of material presented in lectures and seminars. You are expected to make effective use of research material and to organise and deliver an oral presentation using audio/visual or image/text components.
Studio critiques are used to provide you with an opportunity to evaluate critically the work of your fellow students and to receive critical responses to your own work. Studio critiques are led by a number of core staff whose role is to encourage the active participation of all students and to contribute to the critical discussion.
These differ from studio critiques in that the generation of the dialogue is led by the subject student.
Feedback is a very valuable element in the course delivery and takes many forms as formative and summative feedback. It is important that you realise that feedback is a two-way activity and that education and art making are part of a continual process of evaluation, feedback and adjustment. This may be between tutor/student, student/tutor, student/student or art-work/artist. Its value is not underestimated and it occurs through out most forms of delivery but especially in the critiques and tutorials and assessment process.
Exhibition opportunities inside and outside the University are employed throughout the course to extend your understanding of your own practice and professional context.
Field trips include visits to galleries and art events. Field Trips provide important knowledge of art through direct experience and insight into the professional realm.
Demonstrations deliver relevant skills and processes. Technical workshops also include Health and Safety in relation to the operation of machinery and equipment.
Formal assessment of the studio based modules takes place at key points within the course and included assessment of the artwork produced (80%) along with written and oral summaries (20%).
Assessment of the critical, theoretical How The Arts Think module takes place through a presentation which may be a creative outcome. Assessment of the Cultural Practice in Context module takes place through a professional presentation and submission of a portfolio and funding application.
Careers & opportunities
In this section
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:
Work placement / study abroad
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 organization. This usually is undertaken of several weeks – with an intense period working on-site alongside professional colleagues.
The MFA programme is taught by a team of arts practitioners, who are widely exhibited and published.
Mary McIntyre’s photographs often present spaces and places that have been forgotten and overlooked. The atmosphere of each location resonates from the image. Interested in the photograph’s object quality, McIntyre uses installation as a means of activating the spaces that her photographs inhabit and in doing so makes the viewer aware of the act of ‘looking’.
Dan Shipsides has a wide ranging multidisciplinary art practice dealing with experiential and participatory narratives of place and is perhaps best known for his projects which merge and combine the worlds of art and outdoor pursuits – presenting artworks to those audiences and particular contexts.
Other contributors to the MFA programme are:
Dr. Suzanna Chan, Willie Doherty (http://www.kerlingallery.com/artists/willie-doherty/selected-exhibitions), Dougal McKenzie (https://courbetstent.wordpress.com)
Fees and funding
In this section
Fees (total cost)
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)
Additional mandatory costs
No mandatory additional costs. However 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.
Tuition fees and costs associated with accommodation, travel and normal living are a part of university life.
Where a course has additional mandatory expenses we make every effort to highlight them in the online prospectus. These may include residential visits, field trips, materials (e.g. art, design, engineering) inoculations, security checks, computer equipment, uniforms, professional memberships etc.
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 wifi is also available on each of the campuses.
There will be some additional costs to being a student which cannot be itemised and these will be different for each student. You may choose to purchase your own textbooks and course materials or prefer your own computer and software. Printing and binding may also be required. There are additional fees for graduation ceremonies, examination resits and library fines. Additional costs vary from course to course.
Students choosing a period of paid work placement or study abroad as part of their course should be aware that there may be additional travel and living costs as well as tuition fees.
Please contact the course team for more information.
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