Art & Design Foundation Diplomas (Art Foundation)
Read about the art foundation diploma, a route to an undergraduate Art & Design degree course.
- What financial support is available?
The art and design foundation diploma is an introductory bridging course. It helps you make the transition from secondary education (such as A Levels and Highers) to specialist art and design education. It can also be used as preparation for employment.
The diploma is a one-year course. Historically, it’s the traditional route for English and Welsh students seeking to study art at undergraduate level. BTEC students also benefit from the broad-based curriculum, as you sample a range of specialisms before choosing your specialised degree course.
Specialisms such as drawing, painting, fashion, textiles, installation art, printmaking, graphic illustration, 3D design and fine art are covered by the course. The curriculum is designed to help you prepare a portfolio and make informed decisions about the area you might specialise in during a degree or other higher-level course.
Courses are offered at BTEC level 3 and 4 and can be taken at FE colleges and universities. They are awarded by ABC, Edexcel, Pearson and UAL.
Universities that offer art and design degrees do not mind where you studied your diploma, nor which awarding body assessed and validated it – all art foundation diplomas are considered equal.
Art foundation diplomas help you explore your creative abilities and decide which areas interest you most.
They can help you get into university, as the majority of undergraduate art and design degrees require a level of specialist knowledge and skill that’s not taught in secondary education. Many universities prefer you to study for an art foundation diploma before applying, although they often won’t specify it as an essential qualification.
During the diploma you’ll prepare a portfolio to help your university application (but it is possible to submit a portfolio and succeed in an interview without having to take a foundation year).
An art foundation diploma can also be useful if you’re looking to study Architecture at university. They are often accepted as one of a range of qualifications to enter onto an Architecture programme.
Remember to check the entry requirements for any course that interests you, as criteria will differ depending on the university or course.
Art foundation diploma courses are offered by:
- Further education (FE) colleges
Universities offering art foundation diplomas either do so as stand-alone courses, or as an integral part of an undergraduate degree course. Some universities offer both options.
In Scotland, it’s the norm to take a four-year degree where the first year of an Art & Design course is a foundation year.
In England and Wales, if you choose to study art foundation as part of an undergraduate degree, your course will last one year longer than normal. So, if the full undergraduate course without a foundation year lasts three years, it will last four years with the art foundation year. In these instances, the foundation year comes first, and is often referred to as ‘year zero’.
Where is best – a further education college or 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 pros and cons.
Advantages of studying at an FE college:
- You’re more likely to live near a further education college, meaning 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 carry equal value on an application form
- You 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 have to go through the UCAS application process while studying for the diploma
Advantages of studying at a university:
- You 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 almost guarantees progression to a full undergraduate course after successfully completing the foundation year
- Most universities 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’re aged over 19, you’ll 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
The application process is different depending on whether you choose to study for an art foundation diploma at an FE college or a university.
Applying to an FE college
If you want to study for an art foundation diploma at an FE college, you’ll need to apply directly to the institution. More information on the process is 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.
If you’re applying for a one-year art foundation diploma course in England, you apply directly to the university (just like for FE college applications). You should be able to find more details, including application forms, on course details pages of university websites.
Although this process doesn’t involve the UCAS application service, it usually contains many of the same aspects. You’re likely to need a personal statement and at least one supporting reference.
Ulster University is the only university in Northern Ireland that offers an art foundation diploma. You apply for the course through UCAS.
Art foundation diplomas are uncommon in Scotland, as the first year of a 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 check course details pages on university websites.
There is no standard method of applying for an art foundation course in Wales – some institutions use UCAS and others accept direct applications. Check the application section on course details pages on university websites for more information.
If you wish to study for an art foundation diploma as part of a four-year undergraduate course, you apply via UCAS.
Applying simultaneously for an undergraduate degree course and art foundation diploma course
If you want to study for an art and design degree, but are unsure if you’ll be accepted without an art foundation diploma, it may be worth applying to both FE colleges and universities. The advantage of this is if your UCAS application is unsuccessful, you have a secure place on an art foundation course at an FE college.
However, the deadline for 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 won’t be known before you need to make a decision about a place at an FE college. While it may be relatively easy to cancel your place at an FE college if you’re accepted by a university, there may be a financial penalty.
Further Education colleges offering Art Foundation diplomas
If you’re 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. 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 its information on FE courses.
There should be no tuition fee required for art foundation courses in Wales, but check the details and eligibility criteria for any course that interests you.
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 education, where otherwise it may not be possible. It’s not a loan and therefore not repayable.
The key eligibility criteria for the WGLG FE are as follows:
- You must be 19 or at the beginning of the academic year you wish to study.
- Your course must be eligible for WGLG 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 – complete the application form and return it to Student Finance Wales which will let you know if you are.
Find more information on the WGLG on the Student Finance Wales website.
Most full-time students attending college will have their fees paid by the Scottish Government.
College students in Northern Ireland do not pay a fee.
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 may not have to pay for tuition. As there are no fixed tuition fees, if you find a course that interests you, make sure to check what the institution charges (if anything), as well as whether any financial support is available.
As a general rule, universities offering art foundation diplomas 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.
If you 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. 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.
Scottish universities normally offer four-year degree courses, so the concept of a free-standing art foundation year does not apply. 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.
The cost of studying art foundation at Ulster University is at the higher education rate. For further information, see our guide to undergraduate tuition fees.
For 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 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:
- 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’s the norm to take a foundation year at the beginning of a degree course, SAAS funding is available for foundation courses which prepare you for degree-level study. You’ll be eligible for funding if you meet the following conditions:
- You enrol for the whole course and not just the foundation year
- Your college or university treats the foundation year (even though it’s 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. To find out if you can receive funding, see our guide to eligibility for loans for living expenses.
You should expect to buy the necessary materials for your course, and in some cases, pay a registration fee.