Art and Design - PhD

Course Overview

The essential course information

How to apply
  • Full Time (3 years)
  • Part Time (4 years)
  • Online Learning (4 years)
School of Art
City Centre: Parkside Building, Margaret Street or Vittoria Street depending on subject of study

Previously part of:

Birmingham Institute of Art and Design

Art and design research students

The School of Art is a world-class 4* research environment whose ethos – research generated by curiosity – provides an intellectually rigorous, experimental, professional and extremely rich studio/practice-led research engagement with:

  • contemporary art and philosophy
  • visual, acoustic and curatorial art practices
  • speculative art/design topologies
  • photographic practices after photography
  • art history, arts policy, design and education
  • documentation and archive
  • contemporary Chinese visual arts
  • feminist transgressions and queer strategies inhabiting erotic praxis, sexualities, poetics and the logics of sense

The School of Art has over 40 PhD students, a dedicated gold-standard peer review research journal, Zetesis: The International Journal for Fine Art, Philosophy & the Wild Sciences, a professional gallery - ARTicle Gallery, and world leading press - ARTicle Press.

Our research environment includes state-of-the-art metal workshops, print-making facilities and large studios all housed in the beautiful purpose-built 19th century Victorian building on Margaret Street.

Our researchers are linked to the Centre for Fine Art Research (CFAR) which partners with national and international Research Fellows, Artists-in-Residence, Visiting Professors, research networks all focusing on the ‘making of sense’ in the fullest use of the term: art.

Key areas of research include:

  • Making art in the public sphere
  • Radical matter in philosophy and art 
  • Contemporary Chinese visual arts
  • Photography expanded
  • Speculative topologies of ART-design practices
  • Art history, education and design practices
  • Erotic praxis and the queering of sense
  • art dissemination and impact
  • Architecture, sustainability and urban design
  • Innovations in materials and processes in fine art and jewellery
  • Landscape interpretation and perception and its relation to wellbeing
  • Fashion design in international and cross-cultural contexts including psychology of fashion
  • Typography
Why study for a PhD Research degree at the School of Art?

We offer a world-class research environment which will enable both practice-led and/or entirely text based PhD research to be developed to the highest level. The history of Art and Design subjects within the Faculty of Arts, Design and Media will provide not only a traditional route to an academic career, but it also offers a strong stepping stone to industry, commercial and non-commercial galleries, museums, and other arts institutions throughout the UK/EU and abroad. 

We are part of a £14.6m  Doctoral Training consortium, the M3C-AHRC which enables cross-disciplinary doctoral research linked to Birmingham, Leicester and Nottingham.

The facilities here are excellent, the research staff dedicated and the atmosphere second to none. Come join us.

How to Apply

To apply, please complete the most appropriate online application form from the list below.

Applications for research degree study are assessed according to your academic track record, the quality and viability of your research proposal, and the fit with our supervisory expertise and research priorities.

Potential applicants are therefore invited to review our current research interests and the activities of research centres, and are strongly advised to contact a potential supervisor to discuss their proposal before making a formal application.

If you are unsure whether we have the expertise to supervise your research, please email your enquiry to the Faculty Research Officer

All applicants are normally expected to have a good first degree in a relevant subject and those applying to study directly for PhD will also normally have a relevant Master's qualification.

Applications need to contain the following:

  • An outline proposal, including a preliminary title for the project, identifying the main area of research, commenting critically on the literature and indicating possible research methods. (See below for further details.)
  • Supporting visual material. Where appropriate you may supply additional visual material (up to one to two pages scanned and captioned images; never send original work).
  • Two letters of support from academic referees. These should be from individuals who are in a position to assess your potential to undertake higher degree research and offer a provisional view of the promise of your outline proposal.
  • Evidence of proficiency in the English language in the case of overseas (non-EU) students: in IELTS a minimum overall score of 6.5, with not less than 6.0 in any individual band; TOEFL at least 575.

Please note: students wishing to be considered for an AHRC award or any of our other studentships should refer to the specific eligibility criteria, application process and deadlines detailed separately in the studentships section of this website.

Outline proposal

This is a key document in assessing your application. In preparing this statement you should consider the following:

Your reasons and purposes for undertaking this project

  • Key areas/issues of the project, and why you wish to pursue this research
  • How the proposed work relates to what you have studied already
  • How the doctoral research relates to your eventual career aims

Your research project

  • A working title
  • The research problems or questions you intend to address
  • The research context in which those problems or questions are located
  • The particular contribution to knowledge and understanding in this area that you hope to make, explaining why the work is important
  • The methods and critical approaches that you plan to use
  • Any ethical issues relating to the research project
  • How the project will develop or how you will structure the work over the period of the award

Preparation and previous experience

  • A brief indication of any previous experience or preparation that is relevant to your proposed research project (e.g. aspects of your Master's study, additional degrees, qualifications, training or relevant skills)
  • For practice-led subjects, you should include details of relevant professional experience
Selection criteria

All applications will be assessed against the following criteria:

Quality and preparedness of the applicant - taking into account prior academic performance, and, if relevant, professional experience, and the extent to which the applicant's academic studies and/or professional experience prepare the applicant for the proposed project or programme.

The proposed project or programme of study - taking into account the intrinsic quality, coherence and feasibility of the project or programme, the merits of the applicant's intellectual and/or professional goals, and, in the case of doctoral applicants, the potential contribution to knowledge.

The alignment with our strengths and priorities - taking into account: a) how well the applicant's research goals fit with our research interests and priorities; and b) the specific support available to the applicant, in terms of supervision and teaching, subject-specific training opportunities, and library and other appropriate resources.

Following this assessment candidates may be invited for a formal interview. This will normally involve the Faculty Research Degrees Co-ordinator and/or the Associate Dean (Research) and at least one other member of staff with appropriate supervisory expertise.

Fees and Finance

Fees for students from the UK or EU countries?
Start Mode Duration Award Fees
Feb 2015 FT 3 years PhD £3,996
May 2015 FT 3 years PhD £3,996
Feb 2015 PT 4 years PhD £1,998
May 2015 PT 4 years PhD £1,998
Sep 2015 FT 3 years PhD £4,125
Sep 2015 PT 4 years PhD £2,065
Sep 2015 OL 4 years PhD £2,580
Feb 2015 OL 4 years PhD £2,500
May 2015 OL 4 years PhD £2,500
Fees for students from non-EU countries (International)?
Start Mode Duration Award Fees
Feb 2015 FT 3 years PhD £10,500
May 2015 FT 3 years PhD £10,500
Sep 2015 FT 3 years PhD £11,500

The University reserves the right to increase fees broadly in line with increases in inflation, or to reflect changes in government funding policies or changes agreed by Parliament.

Please note: International students are only able to study in part-time mode under specific circumstances.

New scholarships for 2015/16

Postgraduate Scholarships We’re aiming to make a postgraduate qualification affordable to everyone and can offer awards of up to £10,000 to selected students.

Find out more about scholarship opportunities for 2015/16

International Students

International Students at BCU

Birmingham City University is a vibrant and multicultural university in the heart of a modern and diverse city. We welcome many international students every year – there are currently students from more than 80 countries among our student community.

The University is conveniently placed, with Birmingham International Airport nearby and first-rate transport connections to London and the rest of the UK. Our reputation for excellence is soaring globally, thanks to the superb links we forge with industry, our international alliances, and our focus on practical, vocational learning.

Our international pages contain a wealth of information for international students who are considering applying to study here, including:

Postgraduate Open Event

Our next Postgraduate Open Day is on Wednesday 22 April 2015 (2-7pm). Registration is now open – you can sign up at the foot of this page.

PG Open Evening

Our postgraduate open event offers you the chance to:

  • Meet with lecturers and other prospective students to discuss study options
  • Meet and chat with our current students
  • Obtain advice on fees and funding opportunities.

93 per cent of our graduates find work or further study within six months (DLHE). Explore your potential at our open evening.

Who is it for?

Whether you are coming to the end of your undergraduate studies, or have been in your job for a while and want to progress in your career or change direction, a postgraduate qualification gives you the opportunity to stand out from the crowd in a competitive market.

Our graduates are already shaping the world in a variety of high-profile roles – and you could be next. Read some of our inspiring case studies.

For more information, visit our Open Days page or call our Course Enquiries Team on +44 (0)121 331 5595.

Postgraduate Open Day - 22 April 2015

University Approach to Employability

Birmingham City University is committed to preparing students for successful employability and professional careers. We have an innovative approach to employability that will help you obtain an interesting and well-paid graduate job.

Read our Employability Statement to find out more.

Course Structure

The Doctor of Philosophy or PhD is recognised worldwide and is often an essential requirement for those wishing to follow an academic or research career in industry or commerce. PhD research can be carried out in all subject areas, including art and design. The key principle of a PhD is that it is a programme of research resulting in a contribution to knowledge. A PhD typically requires three or more years of full-time study.

What is involved?

Studying for a research degree is a very significant commitment and research students need to be well qualified, highly motivated and capable of working independently. Each student’s research degree programme is personalised to match their interests to the research priorities, staff expertise and research facilities available. A typical full-time PhD programme may have the following broad phases:

Year one: undertaking research training requirements, participating in research seminars, reviewing the relevant literature, refining the initial research proposal for approval (registration), identifying sources and developing a methodology, pilot studies, preliminary data gathering or fieldwork.

Year two: undertaking substantial primary research appropriate to the study (e.g. fieldwork, interviews, experimental or practice-based studies, etc.), further refine the research topic and argument and begin drafting thesis structure and chapters.

Year three: may involve completing remaining research but with an increasing emphasis on preparing and revising material for submission and examination.

Mode of study

Research Degrees can be undertaken in full-time or part-time mode. Part-time study is particularly suitable for candidates who are in employment who wish to enhance their knowledge and skills by undertaking further research in an area that interests them.

Full-time study

Full-time research students will normally spend at least 37 hours per week engaged on their research. Students enrolled for PhD by full-time study would normally be expected to complete their research and submit their thesis for examination within 36-42 months.

Part-time study

Part-time study for a research degree is suitable for those who wish to undertake a research degree over a longer time period, often while in employment or in other cases where full-time study is impracticable.  Students enrolled for PhD by part-time study would normally be expected to complete their research and submit their thesis for examination within 48-72 months.

A research degree can be undertaken where the candidate resides at some distance from the university, including outside the UK, but wishes to study under the supervision of a member of our staff. However, this is only permitted under carefully controlled circumstances and where the university can ensure that robust procedures are in place for remote supervision.

Note: The indicated completion times for PhDs are for guidance only. There is no minimum registration period that must elapse before the thesis can be submitted for examination. The rate of progress made with the research is primarily controlled by the amount of time the candidate can commit.


Every research student, whether full-time or part-time, will be guided by a supervisory team comprising a Director of Studies and at least one second supervisor. In some cases it can also be helpful to appoint an additional supervisor and possibly one or more external advisors. At least one member of the supervisory team will have had previous experience of successful supervision to PhD and the team will be qualified and experienced in the domain of the research.

The student is expected to meet with the supervisory team on a regular basis to review progress and to obtain guidance and direction. The supervisory team will provide guidance, support and direction throughout the research degree from the shaping of the initial proposal to the viva examination. Students should remember, however, that the study remains their own responsibility and relies on the strength of their thinking and ability. The supervisory team is required to make periodic reports on progress to the faculty, university and, where relevant, funding bodies.

A day in the life of a PhD student

If you're considering doing a PhD there's probably a lot of questions going through your mind: how am I going to pay for it? Should I quit my job? Will I cope with the workload? But most importantly, what is it really like? Karen Patel, a full time PhD student, shares her experiences of juggling life, a part time job and her studies. Read more in Karen's blog.

Our Facilities

The School of Art’s inspiring Victorian design features original stained glass windows, mosaic floors, and hand-carved bannisters, alongside contemporary architecture, glass lifts and the latest specialist student workspaces.

Located next to the city centre’s Birmingham Museum and Art Gallery, the School is just a five-minute walk from the new Library of Birmingham and Ikon Gallery.


Prospective students from the UK
  • Take a look at our Frequently Asked Questions for answers to a range of questions about our courses and studying here.
  • If you need further help, you can contact the Course Enquiries Team online by using the Course Enquiry Form.
  • Alternatively, call us on +44 (0)121 331 5595.
Prospective students from outside the UK


For an overview of our postgraduate courses and a range of other information please download our Postgraduate Prospectus (10Mb).

Further Information

If you are considering studying for a research degree you may wish to consult the following: