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Art and Design - PhD

A PhD in Art and Design will help you create opportunities to develop research skills that support professional practice, research and/or academic careers within the fields of art, design and the creative industries.  You will study in a world-class research environment which enables both practice-led and/or entirely text based PhD research to be developed to the highest level.

Studying with us in 2021/22

It is possible that the 2021/22 academic year may be affected by the ongoing disruption caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.  Information about the arrangements the University has put in place for the 2021/22 academic year in response to Covid-19 and the emerging variants can be found here.

Should the impact of Covid-19 continue in subsequent years of your course, any additional and/or alternative arrangements put in place by the University in response will be in accordance with the latest government public health advice, pandemic-related/health and safety legislation, and the terms and conditions of the student contract.

  • Level Postgraduate Research
  • Study mode Full Time/Part Time/Distance Learning
  • Location City Centre
  • School Birmingham School of Art
  • Faculty Faculty of Arts, Design and Media


A PhD in Art and Design will help you create opportunities to develop research skills that support professional practice, research and/or academic careers within the fields of art, design and the creative industries.  You will study in a world-class research environment which enables both practice-led and/or entirely text based PhD research to be developed to the highest level.

This course is open to International students.

What's covered in this course?

A PhD enables you to follow a programme of self-directed, independent study, supported by experienced supervisors who are themselves experts in their area.  You will also be supported by the wider research community in Art and Design and you will have regular opportunities to attend research seminars, conferences and symposia.

Our PhD gives you the opportunity to spend time researching and developing a deep understanding of a unique area of interest whilst contributing world-leading insight to the academic specialisms in Art and Design at Birmingham City University.

Why Choose Us?

  • When you join us you will become a member of the thriving research culture in Art and Design at Birmingham City University across the Schools of Architecture and Design, Art, Fashion and Textiles, Jewellery and Visual Communication.
  • You will study in a world-class research environment which enables both practice-led and/or entirely text based PhD research to be developed to the highest level. We support a range of thesis submissions, including a combination of written and practice elements as well as a traditional written thesis.
  • Whether based in the contemporary Parkside building, or our historic School of Art and School of Jewellery buildings, our research students have access to dedicated workspace that acts as the hub of our PhD research activity. 
  • You will be guided in your PhD research by a team of supervisors who you will meet on a regular basis to review your progress and plan your next steps.
  • You will be encouraged to organise your research as a programme of professional and academic development tailored to your individual interests and career aspirations. For example, you can strengthen your PhD research and personal/professional development by participating in wider international research communities and conferences, and by helping to teach degree modules to undergraduate students.
  • On successful completion of your PhD research degree you will have either contributed new knowledge or extended existing theory and understanding of an area of interest and significance within the fields of art, design and the creative industries.

Research interests

Research in Art and Design takes place within and across five schools (Art, Architecture and Design, Fashion and Textiles, Jewellery, and Visual Communication), as well as through faculty-wide clusters.

Real-world relevance is key to our work, and this is reflected both in the types of research that we undertake and the external funding that is generated by our researchers. Our researchers are frequently invited to organise and curate major global events and to speak to international audiences (including policy-makers and funding bodies) as well as disseminating their work through publications, exhibitions and performances. We recruit Postgraduate Researchers to study for PhDs aligned with our research clusters:

Art Activisms

The increasingly political dimension of contemporary art has given rise to a number of important questions about the role it plays in society today. We focus on the political dimensions of cultural production and, specifically, the extent to which art as a form of activism reflects upon, intersects with and, invariably, seeks to define debates within civil society, political movements, and social practices. In short, researchers in the Art Activisms cluster at Birmingham School of Art aim to challenge and extend the potential of contemporary art to change the world.
Supervisors: Anthony Downey, Susan May, Lisa Metherell, Nuria Querol, Theo Reeves-Evison, Linda Stupart, Sian Vaughan, Gavin Wade, Stuart Whipps.

Centre for Chinese Visual Arts (CCVA)

As a leading research cluster in the UK, the Centre for Chinese Visual Arts (CCVA) aims to foster new understandings and perspectives of Chinese contemporary arts, design, media and visual culture through curating exhibitions, interdisciplinary practices and academic research. With extensive regional to international partnerships, CCVA brings together artists, designers, curators and researchers who are working with, or are interested in the contemporary contexts of China, Hong Kong and Taiwan in order to share expertise, understanding, critiques and ideas of innovation. Using its unique position in the UK, CCVA continues its transcultural dialogues by questioning the existing histories of Chinese contemporary arts, design media and visual culture, while fostering new ways of thinking and modes of knowledge in relation to today’s global-Chinese situation.
Supervisors: Joshua Jiang, Nuria Querol, Jieling Xiao.

Centre for Printing History and Culture (CPHC)

The Centre for Printing History and Culture is a joint initiative between Birmingham City University and the University of Birmingham. It encourages research into all aspects and periods of printing history and culture, as well as providing education and training into the art and practice of printing. The Centre aims to provide a means of exchanging information, skills and expertise in printing history and culture; to engage in ground-breaking interdisciplinary research; forge partnerships in order to encourage the investigation and understanding of printing history and culture; and promote the transfer and exchange of knowledge of the subject amongst individuals and within communities and institutions.
Supervisors: Caroline Archer, Susan May.

Craft Cultures

Craft Cultures provides a forum to explore the multidisciplinary characteristics of craft and its praxis. A core objective is to encourage research and understanding into all aspects of craftsmanship, from the creation of the object through the design, technology and material to the role of the object and how it engages and communicates with maker, wearer and audience. Craftsmanship is explored through two main themes: Craftsmanship as the creative endeavour - in the context of: heritage, contemporary practice, traditional and digital innovations, and the sciences; and Craftsmanship and its impact on - individuals, relationships, shared experiences and the wider society. 
Supervisors: Stephen Bottomley, Ann-Marie Carey, Sarah O’Hana.

Dress in Context

Dress in Context is concerned with dress in all its manifestations, and its relationship to the individual and society. Dress is not restricted to clothing and fashion in the conventional sense, but encompasses all forms of personal adornment and self-presentation. We welcomes doctoral projects that examine dress from a range of perspectives, including fashion theory and design, technology, psychology, sociology, literature, history, and art. The cluster includes researchers from a variety of backgrounds, and places emphasis on working collaboratively with academics from other institutions as well as building bridges to those from outside the academy.
Supervisors: Anne Boultwood, Dilusha Rajapakse, Hye-Won Lim.

Material Encounters

Through the Material Encounters cluster our researchers extend and interrogate the boundaries of materiality within the context of contemporary art. The broad range of individual research concerns include interests in the collaborative idiom through co-creation, performance and participation and ethico-aesthetics. Notions of the body both as physical object, a vehicle for encounter, as embodied subject in the environing natural world of objects tie the diverse practice of researchers together. The cluster provides a critical intellectual space for the exploration of embodiment, subjectivity and aesthetic practices as they are encountered through material and theoretical investigations.
Supervisors: Catherine Baker, Lisa Metherell, Jacqueline Taylor, Esther Windsor.

Urban Cultures

Urban Cultures promotes and supports research projects on the changing pattern of art, crafts, architecture, and the urban environment in the context of both regional and global culture. We believe that design has a role to play in addressing these issues at a global and local scale. We aim to break new ground through an interdisciplinary and collaborative approach to research and design responding to climate change and sustainability alongside the focus on social and cultural values of space. Utilising innovative and emergent thinking, new design methods and advanced technology, engineering and fabrication, we critique, challenge and disrupt traditional thinking and develop radical alternatives to current conditions.
Supervisors: Jemma Browne, Sandra CostaMatthew JonesMaria Martinez Sanchez, Rachel Sara, Jieling Xiao.

Performance Research Hub

Performance Research is an interdisciplinary cluster working across the faculty of Art Design and Media with concentrations at Royal Birmingham Conservatoire and in Art and Design. It produces world-leading work in three strands - performing arts, music performance research and trans/multimedia arts.
Art & Design Supervisors: Jonathan Day, Maria Martinez-Sanchez, Ravi Deepres.

For further information on the Art and Design PhD programme at Birmingham City University, please contact the appropriate Research Degrees Coordinator:

  • Dr Sian Vaughan (Art Activisms, CCVA, CPHC, Material Encounters, as well a broader Visual Communications projects)
  • Sian Hindle (Craft Cultures, Dress in Context as well a broader Fashion & Textiles projects)
  • Dr Jieling Xiao (Urban Cultures)

Fees & How to Apply

  • International students

Award: PhD

Starting: Feb 2022

  • Mode
  • Duration
  • Fees
  • Full Time
  • 3-4 years
  • £4,500 per year
  • Part Time
  • 4-7 years
  • £2,250 per year
  • Distance Learning
  • 4-7 years
  • £2,815 per year

Award: PhD

Starting: Feb 2022

  • Mode
  • Duration
  • Fees
  • Full Time
  • 3-4 years
  • £13,200 per year
  • Part Time
  • 4-7 years
  • £6,600 per year
  • Distance Learning
  • 4-7 years
  • £8,250 per year

If you’re unable to use our online application form for any reason, please email University reserves the right to increase fees in line with inflation based on the Retail Prices Index or to reflect changes in Government funding policies or changes agreed by Parliament up to a maximum of five per cent.

Entry requirements

To apply for our Art and Design PhD research degree you should have, or expect to be awarded, a Masters degree in a relevant subject area from a British or overseas university.

Exceptional candidates without a Masters degree, but holding a first class Bachelors degree in a relevant subject area, may be considered.

We also welcome enquiries from potential PhD researchers without formal academic qualifications but with appropriate levels of professional experience.

If you intend to take a practice-led research approach to your PhD study, then you will expected to show your portfolio as part of the application process, normally at the formal interview stage.

Please send us an initial PhD enquiry containing your brief PhD research proposal (max. 500 words), and/or any questions or queries you may have.

We will review your initial enquiry to ensure your research proposal compliments one of our PhD research interests and if so we will ask you to make a full application. 

English Language Requirements for International Students

Valid Academic IELTS certificate with overall score of 7.0 with no band below 6.5 or equivalent.

Research proposal guidance

Your research proposal in the full application should address the following areas:

The Working Title of Proposal
Context of the Research

Explain why this research is needed. Outline previous work in the field (if any exists).

Work experience

Mention any work that is relevant to your subject, highlighting the skills and experience gained.

Research Question(s)

What are your aims and objectives?


Explain what methods you will use to conduct your research and why? Explain the reasons for your choice of methodology and why it is appropriate. Try and think of potential problems that you may encounter.

Resources Required

Are there specific facilities that you will need to conduct your research (e.g. materials, hardware or software)? If so are these already in place? How do you propose to fund your research?

Potential application and impact of your research

What do you imagine the wider benefits of this research will be? Who will be interested in your work?


What are the key texts, sources and interlocutors that you are engaging with now, and plan to engage with during your research.

You may wish to upload supporting documentation, for example if you proposing research that will be practice-led or practice-based, then we will need to see evidence of your creative and professional practice.

Additional costs

As each PhD is an individual research project, it is impossible to specify what additional costs may be incurred. Whilst we are able to offer limited financial support towards the direct costs of research (e.g. the purchase of books or digital reproductions of primary sources; attendance at conferences and workshops, etc.) you may need to supplement this. Any potential costs should be identified in your application.

Course in Depth

The PhD Journey

Our PhD in Art and Design gives you the opportunity to spend time researching and developing a deep understanding of a unique area of interest whilst contributing world-leading insight to the academic specialisms in Art and Design at Birmingham City University.

You will present your research developments regularly to supervisors and have opportunities to present to the research community at various events across the Faculty.

Full-time students are expected to complete within three to four years, whilst part-time students may take four to seven years.  In your first year (two years for part-time students) you will spend time reviewing the field and refining your individual PhD research proposal and projected plan. You will be supported in this by your supervisory team and through attendance at the PGCert in Research Practice, which runs for the first semester of your studies.  At the end of your first year (second year for part-time students) you will complete a Progression Assessment Panel.  Your second year (years three and four for PT students) is likely to be spent undertaking in-depth research in your chosen area, with the third year (years five and six for part-time students) focused more on writing, preparing and finalising the format of your PhD thesis for examination. Your thesis will present your findings in a suitable format for your research topic (whether that be through artwork, artefact, exhibition, performance, or as an entirely written thesis). 

On successful completion of your PhD research degree your findings will have either contributed new knowledge or extended existing theory and understanding of an area of interest and significance within the fields of art, design and the creative industries.

You will have proven yourself as a scholar, be an expert in your field and be eligible to use the title ‘Doctor’.

Supervisors and Support

As a PhD research student you will be guided through your programme of study by a team of supervisors.

Your supervisory team will include a Director of Studies whose role it is to ensure that you are meeting targets and following the correct processes and systems for conducting PhD research.

You will also be supported by a second supervisor (and sometimes a third) who will provide guidance based on their specialist knowledge of your specific PhD research interest.

You will meet with your supervisors on a regular basis to review your progress, receive advice and plan the next stages of your PhD research.

Modes of study

Our PhD programmes are offered full-time and part-time. We do also occasionally consider proposals for part-time distance learning. These modes of study ensure that we can create a PhD research plan around your lifestyle needs, even if you are in full-time employment.

Full-time PhD Research: three to four years

As a full-time PhD research student you will undertake much of your research on campus using the facilities at Birmingham School of Art, Birmingham School of Jewellery and/or the Parkside building as appropriate to your research project.

You will be expected to complete your research and submit your work for examination within 36-43 months.

Part-time PhD Research: four to seven years

You can chose part-time PhD research if you opt to study whilst in employment or if full-time study is impractical.

You will be encouraged to use the campus facilities when you can and may often work from home.

You will be expected to complete your research and submit your work for examination within 48-72 months.

Distance Learning PhD Research: four to seven years

Distance learning is possible, under carefully controlled circumstances, if you normally live outside of the UK but wish to conduct PhD research with Birmingham City University.

You will still be required to have some level of face-to-face engagement with us each academic year, often by conducting research on campus in Birmingham (UK).

Face to face research will be arranged for a period of time during the summer months, or at a mutually agreed time.

You will be expected to complete your research and submit your work for examination within 48-72 months.


The value of a PhD to employability

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 the fields of art, design and the creative industries.

Our Art and Design PhD research degree will help you create opportunities to develop research skills that support your professional practice. We recognise that in our fields academic work is often combined with professional creative practice in portfolio careers.

After the PhD

Our PhD graduates often continue their research through post-doctoral fellowships and academic posts. Our graduates have also gone on to successful professional careers in a diverse range of fields and role including as artists, designers, architects, consultants, curators, writers and managers.


PhD researchers funded under the Midlands4Cities Doctoral Training Partnership have the opportunity to undertake industry placements as part of their research. For more information visit the Midlands4Cities website.

For those students not funded by Midlands4Cities, the PhD still allows you the opportunity to work with other institutions and companies as part of your research. You can discuss your options with your potential supervisors, if you feel a placement would benefit your research.


OpportUNIty Student Ambassador

OpportUNIty: Student Jobs on Campus ensures that our students are given a first opportunity to fill many part-time temporary positions within the University. This allows you to work while you study with us, fitting the job around your course commitments. By taking part in the scheme, you will gain valuable experiences and employability skills, enhancing your prospects in the job market.

It will also allow you to become more involved in University life by delivering, leading and supporting many aspects of the learning experience, from administration to research and mentoring roles.

International Students

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

Further Information

Application Process

Before you apply for our Art and Design PhD, please send us an initial PhD enquiry containing a brief overview of your PhD research proposal. This gives us an opportunity to discuss and focus your PhD research before you make your final online application.

 Send Initial PhD Enquiry

Facilities and Staff

Our Facilities

Birmingham School of Art

The Birmingham School of Art has 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. Your research environment in the School of Art will include 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, Birmingham City Centre. 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.

Birmingham School of Jewellery

Our internationally renowned School of Jewellery is the largest in Europe, with unrivalled facilities and expertise. Located in the heart of Birmingham’s famous Jewellery Quarter, the School was founded in 1890. The Vittoria Street building’s historical facade conceals a contemporary environment including workshops, a specialist library, an atrium gallery and exhibition space.


The Parkside Building in the City Centre Campus is home to the Schools of Architecture,

Fashion, Textiles and 3D Design, and Visual Communication. Our art and design students work from a core of workshops in the centre of the five-floor building, with studio space around them. There is also ‘collision space’ where students and staff from different courses will see each other to pass the time of day, and exchange thoughts and ideas. The Parkside Gallery is a leading art and design exhibition space within the Parkside Building, with an emphasis on, but not confined to, design-led practice.

Our staff

Dr Sian Vaughan

Reader in Research Practice

Dr Sian Vaughan is Reader in Research Practice with expertise in doctoral education and creative research methods. She has previously worked in museums, galleries and archives as well as teaching in further and higher education.

Broadly her research interests concern the pedagogies that underpin research in art and design, and the modalities of interpretation and mediation of public engagement with contemporary art. Her art research focuses on artistic practices with archives, history, and institutions with a particular focus on creative research methods as knowledge generation. Her educational research is focused on the practices and pedagogies of doctoral education and particularly in how these are responding to creative practice in research. She enjoys working collaboratively and across disciplines.

More about Sian