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Art and design foundation diplomas (Art Foundation)

The art and design foundation diploma is an introductory, bridging course that helps students make the transition from secondary education (such as A Levels and Highers) to specialist art and design education.

The art and design foundation diploma is a one-year course. Historically, it is the traditional route for English and Welsh students seeking to study art at undergraduate level. However, it’s not only relevant for A level candidates. BTEC students also benefit from the broad-based curriculum which allows students to sample a range of specialisms before choosing their specialised degree course.

Specialisms such as drawing, painting, fashion, textiles, installation art, printmaking, graphic illustration, 3D design and fine art will be covered by the course. The curriculum is designed to help students prepare a portfolio and make informed decisions about the area in which they might wish to specialise on degree or other higher level courses.

Courses are offered at BTEC level 3 and level 4 and are awarded by ABC, Edexcel, Pearson and UAL. Universities offering art and design degrees do not express a preference regarding where you have studied the course, nor which awarding body assessed and validated it – all art foundation diplomas are considered equal.

The course is more than just a stepping stone into higher education, and can be used as a preparation for employment.

Click to skip to:
Why take the course?  Where can you study the course? • Applying to study the course  What are the costs?

Student drawing

Why take the art foundation diploma course?

One of the primary aims of an Art Foundation course is to encourage students to explore and unshackle their creative abilities. In doing so, it allows students to establish which areas of art and design most interest them.

Most undergraduate art and design degrees require students to have a level of specialist knowledge and skill not taught in secondary education. Many universities prefer that students study for an art foundation diploma before applying, although they often won’t specify that a foundation diploma is an essential qualification. A number of universities admit students based on UCAS tariff points, interview and portfolio, without reference to specific qualifications.

The Art Foundation diploma provides an excellent basis for the preparation of a portfolio on which applicants are judged for university entry.  Course selectors are looking for talent, and it is possible to submit a portfolio and succeed in interview without having taken a foundation year.

An Art Foundation diploma might be useful if you wish to study Architecture at university. Art Foundation Diplomas are often accepted as one of a range of qualifications to enter onto an Architecture programme.

Finally, always remember to check the entry requirements for any course that interests you, as criteria will differ depending on the university or course.

Painter Mixing Paint Palette

Where can I study for an art foundation diploma?

Art foundation diploma courses are offered by:

  • Further education (FE) colleges
  • Universities

Universities offering art foundation diplomas will either do so as stand-alone courses, or as an integral part of an undergraduate degree course. Some universities will offer both options.

In Scotland it is the norm to take a four year degree course, and the first year of an art and design course is the foundation year.

In England and Wales, if you choose to study art foundation as part of an undergraduate course, your course will last one year longer than normal. In other words, if the full undergraduate course without a foundation year lasts three years, it will last for four years with the art foundation year. In these instances the foundation year will be the first, and often referred to as ‘year zero’.

Many universities are not concerned with foundation years and leave the provision of the course to the FE sector, which is arguably the natural home of the art foundation diploma.

Where is best – a further education college or a university?

Although FE colleges are the more popular and traditional option when it comes to studying for an art foundation diploma, both routes have their own pros and cons.

Advantages of studying at an FE college:

  • You’re more likely to live near a further education college, meaning that you can live at home and save on living costs.
  • Universities don’t mind where you studied the course, so art foundation diplomas from all colleges and universities will carry equal value on an application form.
  • You will have a better idea of the branch of art and design that most interests you as a result of taking the diploma.

Disadvantages of studying at an FE college:

  • You delay the university experience by one year, potentially missing out on going through it at the same time as many of your friends.
  • There isn’t the option to apply for a combined course. If you want to study for a full undergraduate degree afterwards, you will have to go through the UCAS application process while studying for the diploma.

Advantages of studying at a university:

  • You can get the university experience of living away from home.
  • You can apply for a course with an integrated foundation year, meaning you only need to go through the UCAS application process once. This also almost guarantees that you will progress to a full undergraduate course after successfully completing the foundation year.
  • Most universities will offer a fee-waiver for the diploma year if you are under 19 years of age.

Disadvantages of studying at a university:

  • You may have to move away from home, which means increased living costs.
  • If you are aged over 19, you will probably have to pay the full tuition fee.
  • If you apply for a course with an integrated foundation year, you may find it more difficult to switch degree course should your choice of speciality or interests (such as fine art, fashion or textiles) change during the foundation year.

Design Student

Applying to study an art foundation diploma

The application process will be different depending on whether you choose to study for an art foundation diploma at a further education college or a university.

Applying to a further education (FE) college

If you want to study for an art foundation diploma at an FE college, you will need to apply directly to the institution. More information on this process will be available on college websites.

Applying to a university

Universities in England, Northern Ireland, Scotland and Wales all have slightly different approaches to the application process.

England

If you’re applying for a one-year art foundation diploma course in England, you apply directly to the university (just like the FE college application). You should be able to find more details, including application forms, on the course details page of the university’s website.

Although this process doesn’t involve the UCAS application service, it will usually contain many of the same aspects. You should be prepared to need a personal statement, as well as at least one supporting reference.

Northern Ireland

Ulster University is the only university in Northern Ireland offering an art foundation diploma, and to apply for the course you must use UCAS.

Scotland

Art foundation diplomas are uncommon in Scotland, as the first year of the standard four-year degree course serves the same purpose. There is no common method of application for the small number of institutions that do offer the diploma so you should check the course details page of the university website.

Wales

There is no standard method of applying for an art foundation course in Wales – some institutions use UCAS and others accept applications direct. You must check the application section on the university’s course details page on the university website for more information.

Applying to a university to study art foundation within a degree course

If you wish to study an art foundation diploma as part of a four-year undergraduate course, you apply via UCAS.

Applying simultaneously for an undergraduate degree course and an art foundation diploma course

If you want to study for an art and design degree, but are unsure whether or not you will be accepted without an art foundation diploma, it may be worth hedging your bets by applying for both.  The advantage of this double-pronged approach is that in the event of a failed UCAS application, you have a secure place on an art foundation course. 

This strategy is not ideal.  The deadline for further education (FE) college applications is usually in the autumn, and most university applications need to be submitted by the middle of January, so the outcome of both applications will not be known before you need to make a decision about a place at an FE college.  Whilst it will probably be relatively easy to cancel your place at a further education college if you are accepted by a university, there may be a financial penalty.

Colouring pencils

What are the costs associated with an art foundation diplomas course?

Further Education colleges offering Art Foundation diplomas

England

For students who are not eligible for fee-free tuition, the 19+ (formerly 24+) Advanced Learner Loan offers financial support to help with the cost of tuition. The loans are non-means-tested and start at £300, while the scheme also has a bursary fund which offers means-tested support for those who require it.

For full details, check out the government's official Advanced Learner Loan page, as well as their information on further education courses.

Wales

There should not be a tuition fee for art foundation courses in Wales, but you must check the eligibility criteria for any course that interests you.

If you are aged over 19 you may be eligible for the Welsh Government Learning Grant (WGLG). The WGLG FE is an income-assessed grant of up to £1,500 that aims to encourage more people to continue with their education, where otherwise this may not be possible. It is not a loan and therefore not repayable.

The key eligibility criteria for the WGLG FE are as follows:

  • You must be 19 or over on 1st September 2017.
  • Your course must be eligible for Welsh Government Learning Grant FE support. Your college can tell you if the course you want to do is eligible.
  • Your household income must be £18,370 or less.
  • If you are a UK citizen living in Wales, you should be eligible.
  • If you’re not a UK citizen you may still be eligible. You should complete the application form and return it to Student Finance Wales who will let you know whether or not you are eligible.

Find more information on the WGLG on the Student Finance Wales website

Scotland

Most full-time students attending college will have their fees paid by the Scottish Government.

Northern Ireland

College students in Northern Ireland do not pay a fee. 

Other costs

You should expect to buy the necessary materials for your course, and in some cases, pay a registration fee.

Universities offering art foundation diplomas

Depending on the mode of study you choose, and the type of institution you apply to, you may or not have to pay for your tuition. As there are no fixed tuition fees, if you find a course that interests you, you should make sure to check what the institution charges (if anything), as well as whether any financial support is available.

Comic Book Background

Art foundation diplomas offered by universities

England

As a general rule, universities offering an art foundation diploma will only charge for tuition if you are aged 19 or over on 31 August immediately preceding the start date of your course. Depending on the institution, there may also be additional conditions such as whether or not you have already studied A Levels.

If you’re not eligible for a fee-waiver, your tuition could cost anything from around £1,000 to over £5,000, depending on the institution that you choose.

For students who are not eligible for fee-free tuition, the 19+ (formerly 24+) Advanced Learner Loan offers financial support to help with the cost of tuition. The loans are non-means-tested and start at £300, while the scheme also has a bursary fund which offers means-tested support for those who require it.

For full details, check out the government's official Advanced Learner Loan page, as well as their information on further education courses.

Scotland

Universities normally offer four year degree courses, so the concept of a free-standing art foundation year does not really apply in Scotland. See below for funding of degree courses with an integral art foundation year.

SAAS pay your tuition fees straight to your college or university. For further information, see our guide to undergraduate tuition fees.

Northern Ireland

The cost of studying art foundation at Ulster University is at the higher education rate.  Northern Irish students will pay £4,030 for 2017-18. For further information, see our guide to undergraduate tuition fees.

Wales

For further information on funding in Wales, read our guide to undergraduate tuition fees.

Art foundation within a university degree course

If you choose to study an art foundation as part of an undergraduate degree course, you may be charged the further education (lower) fee or the higher education (higher) fee for your foundation year (also known to as ‘year zero’). Universities offering art and design degree courses with an integral foundation year can price the foundation year in one of three ways:

  • Free.
  • Charged, but at a lower cost than the subsequent years of study.
  • Charged at the same cost as the subsequent years of study.

Some universities that charge for the foundation year also offer fee-waivers and bursaries for year zero. This financial support is usually means-tested, and aims to support students from poorer financial backgrounds or areas of low participation.

In Scotland, where it is the norm to take a foundation year as the beginning of a degree course, SAAS funding is available for foundation courses which will prepare you for degree-level study. You will be eligible for this funding as long as you meet the following two conditions:

  • You enrol for the whole course and not just the foundation year
  • Your college or university treats the foundation year (even though it is optional) as a necessary part of the degree course.

SAAS pay your tuition fees straight to your college or university. For further information, check out our guide to undergraduate tuition fees, and to find out whether you can receive funding, see our guide to eligibility for loans for living expenses.

Other costs

You should expect to buy the necessary materials for your course, and in some cases, pay a registration fee.