Flexible learning

Julie Nightingale, March 2016
Students can choose from a wide range of qualifications and study options on museum studies courses
Museum studies courses come in different shapes with varying durations, reflecting the move by higher-education institutions to adapt to students’ need for flexibility in where and when they learn, as well as in content. Many take a modular approach with, for example, two or three core modules alongside additional options.

Courses also reflect the fact that a master’s degree is not just about entry into the sector. Many who opt to study an MA already have a job in a museum and want to develop their professionalism, skills and critical thinking, access new research and be part of conversations about new thinking and practice.

Besides museum studies, places such as Nottingham Trent and Bath Spa University also offer heritage management programmes. And courses in curating are provided by institutions such as Kingston University London, Christie’s, the Courtauld Institute of Art and Central Saint Martins. There are many other options.


  • BA, MA, MSc, MLitt.
  • Postgraduate diploma (PgDip).
  • Postgraduate certificate (PgCert).
  • Master’s degrees, diplomas and certificates cover technical skills and theoretical knowledge. Master’s courses also involve a dissertation of around 15,000 words or another research component. Most will include a placement, which is assessed.
  • MPhil – this usually involves a thesis of up to 60,000 words, done over two years full-time. Additional elements can include oral exams and practical work.
  • PhD – the opportunity to explore an area of museum work in greater depth, aiming to create new knowledge, produce original findings or revise existing views, and publish a thesis of up to 100,000 words. PhDs take a minimum of three years full-time to complete. Students work independently with supervisor support.

Study options

  • Full-time, campus-based learning – usually one year for a master’s and nine months for a PgDip.
  • Part-time over two years – enables students to combine work with study on campus.
  • Part-time by distance learning – students do not have to attend sessions on campus.
  • E-learning – Ulster University offers a part-time diploma in museum practice and management by e-learning, which has been especially attractive to overseas students.
  • Overseas opportunities – partnerships between UK universities and institutions overseas are common. The University of Leicester, for example, collaborates with the Hong Kong University School of Professional and Continuing Education on a version of its master’s in museum studies.

Giovanni Rendina

Giovanni Rendina, a student from Italy, is studying on the MA curating and collections at Chelsea College of Arts, London

“I did a BA in drama, art and music studies, graduating in 2015. It was based on interdisciplinary theoretical and philosophical studies. I focused more on the phenomenology of art and its history from the impressionists to contemporary art.

I have a passion for art and wanted to develop practical skills to apply my theoretical knowledge after my first degree. That’s why I applied for the MA at Chelsea. Before the course I knew about art as a subject but did not have a deep knowledge of the sector and how it works.

The course is exactly what I hoped for. In Italy, there is less emphasis on the practical, whereas here I am learning a lot of practical skills. The most enjoyable part is learning from my teachers, who are great curators and have a vast knowledge of curation, theory and practice, which they are sharing with us.

Most recently, I worked on Use/User/Used, an exhibition at the Zabludowicz Collection in London examining the consequences of the 24/7 working culture and the pressures it creates. The show drew on the existing collection, but new works were also commissioned. I proposed Fabric, a performance work by Filippo Marzocchi. I have not planned my next step.

I am growing a lot as a curator on the course and will aim to pursue a curatorial role. But I know you need luck to find a good job in the field of art.”

Elizabeth Kane

Elizabeth Kane did a part-time MA in art museum and gallery studies at the International Centre for Cultural and Heritage Studies at Newcastle University from 2013 to 2015. She is now a cultural development assistant at the Customs House, South Shields, Tyne & Wear.

“I applied for the course because I was frustrated. I’d given up teaching and was working as a freelance artist, and I’d had a few unsuccessful interviews at the Baltic Centre for Contemporary Art in Gateshead. Then Baltic’s head of learning recommended that I do a master’s.

In my first year I was working part-time at the Baltic but I managed most of the course plus a placement at the Laing Art Gallery in Newcastle, part of Tyne & Wear Archives & Museums (Twam).

In year two, I became the full-time assistant learning officer at the Shipley Art Gallery in Gateshead. It was challenging in terms of time management but it was brilliant to be able to work somewhere I could apply all my theoretical understanding. There was an established learning programme, but I was also able to innovate with projects such as the Shipley Art Gallery Juice Festival.

I am now organising the North East Arts Award regional conference for Culture Bridge North East, and developing a schools programme for the Customs House. I’ve also delivered a joint history workshop with South Shields Museum and Art Gallery through my Twam connections.

Given today’s context, completing the course doesn’t guarantee you a job but it puts you in a strong position to go for things in a highly qualified sector.”


Courses guide and listings (pdf)