Master of Fine Art (MFA) | University of Oxford
Art installation in the Ruskin School of Art
(Image Credit: Ruskin School of Art)

Master of Fine Art (MFA)

About this course

The Ruskin MFA degree is an intensive, interdisciplinary programme in the practice of contemporary art, designed to support studio-based and theoretical components of your artistic practice.

The course will provide an intensive course of one-to-one tutorials and weekly studio seminars, focused upon your own art-making, its key concerns and ideas, and your inter-dependent development with the other artists in the MFA group.

This studio-based learning programme will be supported by a regular seminar series engaged with current debates in contemporary art history and theory. The curriculum of reading and discussion will be tailored to the emergent concerns of the group and their dialogue with wider discourses of contemporary art and visual culture.

This student-centric approach to your own art making, as well as its historical and theoretical context, will be possible because of the uniquely small scale of the Ruskin MFA. Great attention will be paid to individual concerns, whilst generating a collective dynamic of mutual participation in generous and robust discussion. Through this process, you will have a uniquely demanding and supportive opportunity to engage with what it means to work as an artist today, considering how an artist's work and ideas are understood in and across different social, artistic and intellectual contexts.

The course benefits from the extraordinary resources of knowledge across the University, placing special emphasis upon the experimental histories of art and art education, and their potential to transform knowledge, forms and situations. You will be expected to develop your artistic practice within the programme, researching and generating an advanced body of art work, employing the technical resources and facilities of the Ruskin and drawing upon Oxford’s extensive library and museum resources.

Varied teaching situations will be employed to identify and provide for individual students’ needs, and to draw individual artistic concerns into group dialogue to promote robust contextual knowledge and awareness. These include:

  • a studio programme of individual tutorials over all three (or six for part-time students) terms, with an allocated tutor who will oversee your academic development. An additional provision of elective tutorials will also be made, enabling you to benefit from the individual research strengths of other permanent staff as well as regular visiting staff across the school, complemented by input from high-profile visiting lecturers;
  • two programmes of group seminars throughout the first and second terms, one dedicated to the presentation and analysis of studio work (such as group critiques) and one to the reading and analysis of contemporary art history and theory. These will be timetabled to facilitate the attendance of part-time students; and
  • complementary support through access to technical training for new skills and techniques, delivered by the Ruskin’s regular technical staff, as well as occasional skills workshops.

The MFA will have three main modes of assessment:

  • an exhibition or presentation of a fully realised artwork or body of artworks made by you during the MFA programme. This will require you to develop, create and present a coherent, thoughtful exhibition, or other presentation as appropriate, of artwork. Other presentations may include websites, live performances, etc;
  • an extended written text of 4,000 words. This piece of written work will require you to reflect upon your studio practice, drawing together aspects of the technical and formal processes of art making and considering them in relation to art-historical contexts and theoretical debates;
  • a portfolio of documentation of studio work. Throughout the programme, you will be required to make thorough, scholarly documentation of your work, to be submitted at the conclusion of the programme. This supports the assessment of the final exhibition or presentation in demonstrating the provenance of the processes, strategies and ideas manifest there.

Graduate destinations

Many alumni from the Ruskin have pursued careers in the fine arts as practising artists, teachers, curators and gallery professionals in both public and private galleries. Others have gone on to pursue careers in diverse areas such as education, finance, architecture and the film industry.

Related courses

Changes to the course

The University will seek to deliver this course in accordance with the description set out in this course page. However, there may be situations in which it is desirable or necessary for the University to make changes in course provision, either before or after registration. For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.

Entry requirements for entry in 2016-17

Within equal opportunities principles and legislation, applications will be assessed in the light of an applicant’s ability to meet the following entry requirements:

1. Academic ability

Proven and potential academic excellence

Applicants are normally expected to be predicted or have achieved a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours (or equivalent international qualifications), as a minimum, in fine art or a related subject. 

However, entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a good first-class degree or the equivalent.

For applicants with a degree from the USA, the minimum GPA sought is 3.75 out of 4.0.

If you hold non-UK qualifications and wish to check how your qualifications match these requirements, you can contact the National Recognition Information Centre for the United Kingdom (UK NARIC).

No Graduate Record Examination (GRE) or GMAT scores are sought.

Other appropriate indicators will include:

References/letters of recommendation 

Your references will support artistic achievement and creativity, intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation, ability to work individually and in a group. 

Ideally, you should provide at least two academic references. If you have been out of education for a substantial period of time, you may use up to two professional references relevant to the course.

Written work and/or portfolio produced by the student

A digital portfolio of recently completed studio work documented through images or other mode of documentation (maximum 15 images and/or 12 minutes of moving image work) is required. Portfolios should be accessible via a non-Oxford University website (such as Vimeo, Wordpress or equivalent) and the relevant web address provided in your application. 

Portfolios will be assessed for evidence of creative thinking and artistic accomplishment, and clarity in the exposition of ideas.

Statement of purpose/personal statement

All applicants should submit a 1,000-word personal statement written in English.

This will be assessed for:

  • your reasons for applying
  • an understanding of your artistic work within broader contexts of contemporary art practice and discourse
  • evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study
  • commitment to the subject, beyond the requirements of the degree course
  • capacity for sustained and intense work
  • reasoning ability.

Performance at interview(s)

Interviews are normally held as part of the admissions process.  

Although we prefer to conduct interviews in person, overseas candidates or applicants unable to attend are offered the option of skype or telephone interviews. In all cases, there will be a minimum of two interviewers. Additional supporting material (such as a more extensive portfolio) may be requested before the interview.


Details of any publications and/or exhibitions you have held that would be of interest to the assessors should be included in the application. 

2. English language requirement

Applicants whose first language is not English are usually required to provide evidence of proficiency in English at the higher level required by the University.

3. Availability of supervision, teaching, facilities and places

The following factors will govern whether candidates can be offered places:

  • The ability of the Ruskin School of Art to provide the appropriate supervision, research opportunities, teaching and facilities for your chosen area of work. 
  • Minimum and maximum limits to the numbers of students who may be admitted to Oxford's research and taught programmes.

The provision of supervision, where required, is subject to the following points:

  • The allocation of graduate supervision is the responsibility of the Ruskin School of Art and it is not always possible to accommodate the preferences of incoming graduate students to work with a particular member of staff. 
  • Under exceptional circumstances a supervisor may be found outside the Ruskin School of Art.

Intellectual life and community

The Ruskin School of Art is home to a uniquely integrated creative and intellectual culture between graduate and undergraduate programmes, students and staff. Its intimate scale fosters highly productive, informal collaborations across all parts of the school, allowing you to work closely with some of the UK's leading contemporary artists, writers and art historians. Students and researchers at the Ruskin are also able to draw upon the expertise of staff, resources and facilities across the rest of the University of Oxford, including the extraordinary collections in its world-famous museums and libraries.

Studio and technical resources

The Ruskin has dedicated studio space for all students to work together or individually, as well as workshops for specialist training by Ruskin tutors in digital, 2D and 3D media. A new project space at the Ruskin's redeveloped Bullingdon Road site is equipped for the full breadth of contemporary art practices, from performance and digital installations to painting and sculptural work. The project space opens to the street for maximum public engagement with new work by students and staff. There are also communal spaces to foster dialogue and collaboration across all levels of the Ruskin's undergraduate and graduate programmes.

Museums and galleries

Oxford holds some of the world's richest collections in art and artefacts. The Ashmolean, Pitt Rivers Museum and Museum of Natural History are important centres for the research and display of artefacts and artworks within the University of Oxford and the Ruskin has excellent connections with the museums' network of curators, facilities and holdings.

Oxford also hosts important exhibitions of modern and contemporary art. Modern Art Oxford has a national and international reputation for the quality of its exhibitions of contemporary art, and for its accompanying community and education programmes. The Ruskin works closely with Modern Art Oxford in the provision of its undergraduate and postgraduate courses, and Ruskin students and staff have participated in exhibitions and public presentations at Modern Art Oxford.

Libraries and archives

The University of Oxford's libraries, centred on the Bodleian, are the UK’s largest academic collection. The University's integrated library service comprises nearly 40 libraries, many offering borrowing rights. The Bodleian Library is a copyright library and as such it has long collected copies of all works published in the United Kingdom, in addition to an extensive range of foreign publications. Since it is not a lending library, its holdings are immediately available on request.

A main point of reference for most Ruskin graduate students is the Sackler Library, one of the principal research libraries of the university, which has incorporated the collections of the former Ashmolean Library (Western Art), History of Art, Eastern Art, and Classics. Its holdings are in excess of 200,000 volumes, and include monographs, catalogues, periodicals on fine and decorative art, theory, criticism, historiography, as well as the collections of Edgar Wind and Francis Haskell. All books and periodicals are open access.

The School has its own specialised in-house library of more than 6,500 volumes, which has been entirely reconfigured over the past three years. Since summer 2004 we have evolved fully functioning lending and reference collections. Both collections include written material on art history, art theory, art techniques, exhibition catalogues and artists’ monographs. The Ruskin holds around 20 sets of art journals and more than 2,000 art-related pamphlets. The library is fully integrated into the University’s electronic circulation system and a digital archive of the slide collection, comprising 15,000 images, is available on the departmental server. Ruskin library terminals offer full access to the electronic resources of the Oxford University.

The Oxford Centre for Research in the Humanities (TORCH) offers a stimulating range of interdisciplinary activities.


There are over 1,000 full graduate scholarships available for courses starting in 2016-17. Full scholarships will cover your course and college fees and provide a grant for living costs. Information about the full range of funding available can be found in the Fees and funding section.

For over 70% of Oxford scholarships, nothing more than the standard course application is usually required. If you fulfil the eligibility criteria and apply by the relevant January deadline, you will be automatically considered. Use the Fees, funding and scholarship search to find out whether you are eligible for scholarships which require an additional application. If you are, the tool will include links to full details of how to apply.

Divisional funding opportunities

The University is proud to have been awarded a Doctoral Training Partnership, funded by the Arts and Humanities Research Council, for the period 2014-19. Worth £14 million, this award will support at least 200 doctoral students and a number of master’s students in a range of arts and humanities disciplines. It adds to the existing range of postgraduate scholarships in the humanities, including the Ertegun Scholarship Programme, which creates a unique setting that fosters dialogue across academic disciplines, cultures and generations.

Departmental funding opportunities

Additional funding opportunities may also be offered by your department. Department scholarships are included in the funding search tool, with links to further information. More details on funding opportunities may also be available on the department’s website.


Annual fees for entry in 2016-17

Full-time study

Fee status

Tuition fee

College fee

Total annual fees

(including Islands)

Part-time study

Fee status

Tuition fee

College fee

Total annual fees

(including Islands)

The fees shown above are the annual tuition and college fees for this course for entry in the stated academic year; for courses lasting longer than one year, please be aware that fees will usually increase annually. For details, please see our guidance on likely increases to fees and charges.

Tuition and college fees are payable each year for the duration of your fee liability (your fee liability is the length of time for which you are required to pay tuition and college fees).

For more information about tuition fees, college fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details on the impact of the result of the UK referendum on its membership of the European Union.

Additional information

Full-time study

There are no compulsory elements of this course that entail additional costs beyond fees and living costs.  However, as part of your course requirements, you may need to choose a dissertation, a project or a thesis topic. Please note that, depending on your choice of topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.

Part-time study

Please note that this course requires that you attend in Oxford for teaching, and you may incur additional travel and accommodation expenses for this. Further, as part of your course requirements, you may need to choose a dissertation, a project or a thesis topic. Depending on your choice of topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur additional expenses, such as travel expenses, research expenses, and field trips. You will need to meet these additional costs, although you may be able to apply for small grants from your department and/or college to help you cover some of these expenses.

Living costs

In addition to your tuition and college fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2016-17 academic year, the range of likely living costs is between £970 and £1433 for each month spent in Oxford. Full information, including a breakdown of likely living costs in Oxford for items such as food, accommodation and study costs, is available on our Living costs page.

Queries about the MFA can be directed to the Ruskin's Director of Graduate Studies.

The set of materials you should send with an application to this course comprises:

  • a statement of purpose/personal statement, of around 1,000 words in length
  • a CV/résumé
  • three references
  • official transcripts detailing your university-level qualifications and marks to date
  • a document comprising the web address (URL) and, where relevant, the password for an accessible digital portfolio of up to 15 still images and/or 12 minutes of moving images, documenting recently completed studio work of yours. 

Portfolios should be in digital format in the first instance, although you may be asked to bring along originals at the interview. Portfolios should be hosted on a website or service that is publicly accessible via the internet (such as Vimeo, YouTube, Flickr or your own website). The URL and password for the portfolio should be included on a separate page in the 'Written work' document you submit to accompany your application. The department will not accept any portfolios submitted via email. If you cannot provide a web-based portfolio, please send an email to to discuss alternative arrangements.

Ideally, you should provide at least two academic references. If you have been out of education for a substantial period of time, you may use up to two professional references relevant to the course.

Whilst you must register three referees, the department may start the assessment of your application if two of the three references are submitted by the course deadline and your application is otherwise complete. Please note that you may still be required to ensure your third referee supplies a reference for consideration.