DPhil in Fine Art | University of Oxford
Fine art
An installation artwork
(Image Credit: Ruskin School of Art)

DPhil in Fine Art

About this course

The DPhil in Fine Art is designed to support research in contemporary art making (through the practice-led DPhil) and contemporary art history and theory (through the DPhil by written thesis only).

The Ruskin School of Art provides an exceptional research environment that enables artists, art historians and art theorists to work closely together in a world-leading, research-intensive university. Its intimate size and its dedication to contemporary art practice and theory within a stimulating and dynamic cross-disciplinary structure allows it to sustain close relations with other academic departments and faculties, distinguishing it from other, larger art schools, and allowing for a wide range of interdisciplinary and collaborative work at DPhil level.

The Ruskin DPhil programme includes two strands: the contemporary art history and theory DPhil (by written thesis only) and the practice-led DPhil (which also includes a substantial written component).  

In the case of the contemporary art history and theory DPhil, the Ruskin can offer supervision across a wide range of research projects. These may include aspects of exhibition curating and organisation, as well as the historiography of twentieth-century art and the theorisation of contemporary artistic practices. In the case of the practice-led DPhil, art work will be undertaken as the central component of the registered research programme, and will be presented in relation to written work that engages with the relevant theoretical, historical, technical, or critical context. The department can offer supervision in most areas of contemporary art practice including moving-image, painting, performance, sculpture, installation and writing. The two strands of the DPhil programme are brought into a productive dialogue, both in a structured way at the weekly research seminar and informally in the studios. 

For an indication of the range of practical, historical and theoretical topics that are addressed in the Ruskin School of Art, please see the Ruskin website.


The allocation of graduate supervision for this course 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.

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.

Changes to this course and your supervision

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. In certain circumstances, for example due to visa difficulties or because the health needs of students cannot be met, it may be necessary to make adjustments to course requirements for international study.

Where possible your academic supervisor will not change for the duration of your course. However, it may be necessary to assign a new academic supervisor during the course of study or before registration for reasons which might include sabbatical leave, parental leave or change in employment.

For further information, please see our page on changes to courses.

Other courses you may wish to consider

If you're thinking about applying for this course, you may also wish to consider the courses listed below. These courses may have been suggested due to their similarity with this course, or because they are offered by the same department or faculty.

Courses suggested by the school

History of Art DPhil
History of Art and Visual Culture MSt
Fine Art MFA
Film Aesthetics MSt

All graduate courses offered by the Ruskin School of Art

Fine Art DPhil
Fine Art DPhil

Entry requirements for entry in 2020-21

Proven and potential academic excellence

Degree-level qualifications

As a minimum, applicants should hold or be predicted to achieve the equivalent of the following UK qualifications:

  • a first-class or strong upper second-class undergraduate degree with honours in fine art, art history or a related subject, depending on the DPhil stream applied to.

However, entrance is very competitive and most successful applicants have a master's degree in fine art, art history or a related subject.

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

If your degree is not from the UK or another country mentioned above, visit our International Qualifications page for guidance on the qualifications and grades that would usually be considered to meet the University’s minimum entry requirements.

GRE General Test scores

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

Other qualifications, evidence of excellence and relevant experience

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

English language requirement

This course requires proficiency in English at the University's higher level. If your first language is not English, you may need to provide evidence that you meet this requirement.

Detailed requirements - higher level

The minimum scores required to meet the University's higher level are:

IELTS Academic7.5Minimum 7.0 per component

Minimum component scores:

  • Listening: 22
  • Reading: 24
  • Speaking: 25
  • Writing: 24
Cambridge Certificate of Advanced English (CAE) or C1 Advanced191Minimum 185 per component
Cambridge Certificate of Proficiency in English (CPE) or C2 Proficiency191Minimum 185 per component

Your test must have been taken no more than two years before the start date of your course. For more information about the English language test requirement, visit the Application Guide

Supporting documents 

You will be required to supply supporting documents with your application, including references and an official transcript. See 'How to apply' for instructions on the documents you will need and how these will be assessed.

Performance at interview

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 (either a further sample of writing or a more extensive portfolio) may be requested before the interview.

During the interview process, you will be asked to deliver a short presentation on your work that introduces the research project proposed for your doctorate.


Any offer of a place is dependent on the University’s ability to provide the appropriate supervision for your chosen area of work. Please refer to the ‘About’ section of this page for more information about the provision of supervision for this course.

How your application is assessed

Your application will be assessed purely on academic merit and potential, according to the published entry requirements for the course. Students are selected for admission without regard to gender, marital or civil partnership status, disability, race, nationality, ethnic origin, religion or belief, sexual orientation, age or social background. Whether you have secured funding will not be taken into consideration when your application is assessed.

Admissions panels and assessors

All recommendations to admit a student involve the judgement of at least two members of the academic staff with relevant experience and expertise, and must also be approved by the Director of Graduate Studies or Admissions Committee (or equivalent within the department).

Admissions panels or committees will always include at least one member of academic staff who has undertaken appropriate training.

After an offer is made

If you receive an offer of a place at Oxford, you will be required to meet the following requirements: 

Financial Declaration

If you are offered a place, you will be required to complete a Financial Declaration in order to meet your financial condition of admission.

Disclosure of criminal convictions

In accordance with the University’s obligations towards students and staff, we will ask you to declare any relevant, unspent criminal convictions before you can take up a place at Oxford.


Intellectual life and community

The Ruskin School of Art is home to a closely-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 throughout 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 re-developed 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 of art and artefacts. The Pitt Rivers Museum, the Museum of Natural History and the Ashmolean Museum 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 academic courses, and Ruskin students and staff have participated in exhibitions and public presentations at the gallery.

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 Ruskin 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 the Ruskin has 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 University of Oxford.

Ruskin Research Seminars

This programme invites some of Europe’s leading scholars, artists and thinkers to speak at the Ruskin, discussing their latest work. Recent participants have included Sean Cubitt, Hayley Newman, Hito Steyerl and Marina Vishmidt. Students can also access the Oxford Centre for Research in the Humanities (TORCH), which offers a stimulating range of interdisciplinary activities.


There are over 1,100 full or partial graduate scholarships available across the University. You will be automatically considered for over two thirds of Oxford scholarships, if you fulfil the eligibility criteria and submit your graduate application by the relevant January deadline, with most scholarships awarded on the basis of academic merit and/or potential. To help identify those scholarships where you will be required to submit an additional application, use the Fees, funding and scholarships search and visit individual college websites using the links provided on our college pages.


Annual fees for entry in 2020-21

Full-time study

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home/EU (including Islands)£7,970

Part-time study

Fee status

Annual Course fees

Home/EU (including Islands)£3,985

Course 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 course fees). 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.

Course fees cover your teaching as well as other academic services and facilities provided to support your studies. Unless specified in the additional information section below, course fees do not cover your accommodation, residential costs or other living costs. They also don’t cover any additional costs and charges that are outlined in the additional information below.

Following the period of fee liability, you may also be required to pay a University continuation charge and a college continuation charge. The University and college continuation charges are shown on the Continuation charges page.

For more information about course fees and fee liability, please see the Fees section of this website. EU applicants should refer to our dedicated webpage for details of the implications of the UK’s plans to leave the European Union.

Additional information

Full-time study

Students on the theory-based course are unlikely to incur any additional costs over and above the routine costs associated with postgraduate study in Humanities subjects. Those on the practice-based DPhil may incur additional costs in the making of their work (costs being variable, depending on the nature of their practice), and in the staging of their exhibited work for examination. Students may apply to the Ruskin Graduate Studies Committee for grants of up to a combined maximum of £500 in the first three years, together with a further grant of £500 to support the costs of installing work for examination up to the end of the 4th year.

Part-time study

Students on the theory-based course are unlikely to incur any additional costs. Those on the practice-based DPhil may incur additional costs in the making of their work (costs being variable, depending on the nature of their practice), and in the staging of their exhibited work for examination. Part-time students may apply to the Ruskin Graduate Studies Committee for grants of up to a combined maximum of £500 in the first six years, together with a further grant of £500 to support the costs of installing work for examination up to the end of their course.

Please note that you are required to attend in Oxford for a minimum of 30 days each year, and you may incur additional travel and accommodation expenses for this. Also, depending on your choice of research topic and the research required to complete it, you may incur further 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 course fees, you will need to ensure that you have adequate funds to support your living costs for the duration of your course.

For the 2020-21 academic year, the range of likely living costs for full-time study is between c. £1,135 and £1,650 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. When planning your finances for any future years of study in Oxford beyond 2020-21, you should allow for an estimated increase in living expenses of 3% each year.

If you are studying part-time your living costs may vary depending on your personal circumstances but you must still ensure that you will have sufficient funding to meet these costs for the duration of your course.

How to apply

Queries about the DPhil programme can be directed to the Ruskin's Graduate Administrator. It is not necessary to contact a potential supervisor before you apply.

The set of documents you should send with your application to this course comprises the following:

Official transcript(s)

Your transcripts should give detailed information of the individual grades received in your university-level qualifications to date. You should only upload official documents issued by your institution and any transcript not in English should be accompanied by a certified translation.

More information about the transcript requirement is available in the Application Guide.


A CV/résumé is compulsory for all applications. Most applicants choose to submit a document of one to two pages highlighting their academic achievements and any relevant professional experience.

Research proposal:
1,000 words

All applicants (practice-led and written thesis only) should submit a research proposal, comprising a detailed outline of their proposed research written in English. The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.

Your research proposal will be assessed for:

  • your reasons for applying
  • the coherence of the proposal
  • the originality of the project
  • evidence of motivation for and understanding of the proposed area of study
  • the ability to present a reasoned case in English
  • the feasibility of successfully completing the project in the time available for the course (a maximum of four years)
  • commitment to the subject, beyond the requirements of the degree course
  • preliminary knowledge of research techniques
  • capacity for sustained and intense work
  • reasoning ability
  • ability to absorb new ideas, often presented abstractly, at a rapid pace.

It will be normal for your ideas subsequently to change in some ways as you investigate the evidence and develop your project. You should nevertheless make the best effort you can to demonstrate the extent of your research question, sources and method at this moment.

Your research proposal should focus on your research rather than on personal achievements, interests and aspirations.

Written work:
One piece of written work of 4,000 to 6,000 words (written thesis-only DPhil) or 2,000 to 3,000 words (practice-led DPhil)

For both the practice-led and written thesis-only strands of the DPhil, a sample of recent written work is required. This should be preferably but not necessarily related to the proposed topic or area of research, such as an undergraduate or master’s dissertation (or part of it) or a substantial essay.

For practice-led DPhil students, your written work should also contain a page with details of how to access your portfolio (see 'Portfolio' below).

Extracts from longer pieces are welcome as written work but should be prefaced by a note that puts the writing in context and identifies the part(s) on which assessors should focus.

All written work should be in English. The word count does not need to include any bibliography or brief footnotes.

This will be assessed for clarity in the exposition of ideas; comprehensive understanding of the subject area; and evidence of critical thinking. The writing sample is expected to be a piece of academic writing rather than creative writing or reflections on your artistic practice.

Up to 15 images and/or 12 minutes of moving image or sound work (practice-led DPhil only)

For the practice-led DPhil, a digital portfolio of recently completed studio work documented through images or other mode of documentation is required in addition to your written work.

Your portfolio should be provided in digital format with your application, 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, eg via Vimeo, YouTube, Flickr or your own website.

The URL (and password, if necessary) for the portfolio should be included in your application on a separate page at the start of your submitted written work.

The department will not accept portfolios submitted via email. If you cannot provide a web-based portfolio, please send an email to graduate@rsa.ox.ac.uk to discuss alternative arrangements.

Your portfolio will be assessed for evidence of creative thinking and artistic accomplishment, clarity in the exposition of ideas, and a comprehensive understanding of the subject area.

References/letters of recommendation:
Three overall, of which at least two must generally be academic

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.

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.

Your references will support intellectual ability, academic achievement, motivation, ability to work individually and in a group, and in the case of applicants to the practice-led DPhil, artistic achievement and creativity.

Start or continue an application

Step 1: Carefully read the entry requirements on this course page to make sure you meet all the criteria.

Step 2: Check above what documents are required and prepare to apply by reading our Application Guide.

Step 3: Apply as soon as possible. Consult the Application Guide for more information about deadlines.

Application GuideApply - Full time Apply - Part time

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