In many ways, an art school is like any other higher learning institution. Students come there to develop their skills, learn from masters, and gain networking opportunities.
But art schools have one different requirement, one not so often needed from other institutions: inspiration. When students enroll in an art school, they’re partially looking for that spark, that lightning strike that will help them create the next great masterwork.
For that reason, the United Kingdom is an ideal place to study art. England, Scotland, and Wales have everything a future artist needs to jump-start their imagination, from idyllic countryside locales to diverse urban environments.
Furthermore, UK art schools can provide students with practical elements to make their ideas into reality. They each offer ample studio space, both for creation and exhibition, as well as materials and collaboration opportunities.
Of course, the UK is a huge area, with many options. It can be hard to narrow them all down.
With this list, you can make the right decision for yourself. We’ve ranked each school according to student satisfaction with the course, as reported by The Guardian at the time of this writing. If two schools have the same score, we’ve given the higher spot to whichever program gets top billing from The Guardian.
Here are the 10 best art schools in the UK.
10. University of Sunderland (Sunderland, England)
At the University of Sunderland, students get expert guidance in whichever medium best serves their expression.
But the school’s claim to fame is the National Glass Centre, the largest glass and ceramics department in all of Europe. Every year, the Centre hosts as many as fifteen exhibitions, giving students ample opportunity to see the best works in their field and to network with fellow artists.
Furthermore, the Centre provides world-class facilities for students to realize their own products and showcase them in the yearly Degree Show.
Additionally, U Sunderland offers full support to its students pursuing careers in the creative sector. With career counselors and ample networking opportunities, the school strives to help its students become working artists, following their passions while also making a living wage.
9. Coventry University (Coventry, England)
The School of Art and Design at Coventry University offers undergraduate and graduate degrees focusing on a variety of media, including those you’ll find at many schools on this list. But Coventry also offers unique degrees, such as a BA Honours in games art.
The games art degree prepares students for a career in the games industry, designing characters and environments. This newly created course was designed in collaboration with studios such as Radiant Worlds, ensuring that students will leave the class with employable skills.
The course draws from the principles of narrative animation, film, and photography, bringing it into the unique games field.
On the academic end, Coventry also has a research focus that examines the role of art within various cultures and societies. The school’s research programs are interdisciplinary, helping students approach art from theoretical and historical perspectives.
8. University of Lincoln (Lincoln, England)
The University of Lincoln’s College of Arts doesn’t require students to enter the program with expertise in a particular medium or field. Instead, they give students space to experiment, to find the style of art that will best suit their creative vision.
The Arts Foundation Year at Lincoln is a programme that takes an interdisciplinary approach to the study of art. Students can take time working with a range of degrees within the College of Arts, including animation, design for event and performance, illustration, and more. This approach allows students to become well-rounded artists, leading to more complex projects.
For those who want arts education but do not want to participate in a full degree programme, U Lincoln has several short courses. These courses range from one day to six weeks, and feature certification classes taught by experts. Short courses cover topics such as cinematography, presenting human rights, and more.
7. De Montfort University (Leicester, England)
Those studying art at Leicester’s De Montfort University enjoy plenty of space in which to create and collaborate, and to display their latest works.
The Vijay Patel Building provides studios and facilities for every type of project pursued within the arts and design courses. Within the Patel Building, students will find workshops, labs, and studios, equipped with state-of-the-art resources to help their creations. More importantly, the Patel Building has display spaces for students to hold exhibitions and network with one another.
On a larger scale, De Montfort hosts a University-wide Festival of Creativity. During the festival, students and audiences can see the latest works from degree seekers, sampling everything from design installations to paintings to film projects. These display opportunities demonstrate that the University understands art as a community activity, in which creators and audiences come together to enjoy the work.
6. University of Chichester (Chichester, England)
The Fine Arts Department at the University of Chichester prides itself on its faculty, which consists of experienced professionals who can spark the creativity of its students.
Instructors in the Department include lecturer Rachel Johnston, who holds degrees from the Norwich School of Art and the Royal College of Art. Johnston specializes in mixed media, textiles, and vocational development. Her teaching emphasizes the role of art in society, as demonstrated by her residencies and commissions focused on arts in health.
Sculptor Željko “Jericho” Ivanković has been working as a professional artist since 2000. Ivanković’s work involves found objects and recycled objects to create works that look at masculinity and the human form. Ivanković brings this experience and perspective to U Chichester, helping students find their forms of expression.
5. University of Hertfordshire (Hatfield, England)
At the University of Hertfordshire, the Creative Arts department not only gives students the skills they need to bring their creative visions to life. It also emphasizes practicality and innovation, using art to make a real impact on the lives of students and the community.
Evidence of this innovation can be seen in the work of creative arts graduate Morchen Liu, who used his training from U Hertfordshire to start an eco-friendly fashion brand. Liu’s work won £9,000 in the 2020 Flare Ignite awards, accolades earned for the dynamic nature of his designs and the sustainability of his business plan.
In September 2021, U Hertfordshire alumni Will Murray and Lois Starkey won Graduate of the Year, and Makhosethu Sibanda won Postgraduate of the Year from the video game trade association TIGA. The awards speak to the quality of game design skills students learned while training at U Hertfordshire.
4. University of Salford (Salford, England)
The School of Arts, Media and Creative Technology at the University of Salford brings together the time-honored fine arts and the latest in media technologies. Lecturers and students put historical skills into conversation with the possibilities of our current digital age.
Evidence of this approach can be seen in the work of lecturer Adelina Court, whose short animated film Songs of the City debuted through the BBC’s New Creatives scheme. The film demonstrates the skills Court brings to students in her 3D design classes, using pen and ink drawings to bring the audience through the streets of Manchester.
U Salford’s commitment to innovation can also be seen in its recently opened New Adelphi building, a £55 million hub for creating and exhibiting work by artists, designers, performers, pop stars, and educators. The space encourages interdisciplinary collaboration, combining digital and traditional facilities to find new ways of bringing art to the people.
3. Aberystwyth University (Aberystwyth, Wales)
There are many factors that one can use to judge the quality of an art program. One of the most important, if under-discussed, is the commitment to displaying work by artists outside of the university, exposing students to a broader range of styles and approaches.
The School of Art at Aberystwyth University excels in this area, thanks to the collection it has been building since 1872.
The School’s ceramic collection includes over 2000 pieces from Britain and the larger world. The collection is particularly praised for its 20th-century studio pottery offerings, which include work from some of the most influential artists of the period. Furthermore, the internet-based Ceramic Archive brings the collection to the wider community.
The Graphic Arts Collection consists of European prints dating back to the 15th century. The collection includes works from Frederick Landseer Griggs, Graham Sutherland, Edward Bouverie Hoyton, and more.
2. University of Wales Trinity Saint David (Carmathen, Wales)
Located in Carmathen, the University of Wales Trinity Saint David Swansea College of Art was established in 1853. Since then, the College has trained some of Wales’s greatest artists, experts in fields such as painting, sculpture, and photography.
The College can attribute its success in part to its emphasis on professors of practice. In other words, Swansea employs teachers who also work as artists, bringing practical skills to their students.
One such teacher is art gallery curator Jenni Spencer-Davies, who redeveloped Swansea’s Glynn Vivian Art Gallery. Spencer-Davies received praise for updating the gallery, both introducing for accessibility options and exposing the community to modern artists.
Since the 1960s, Emeritus Professor of Design John Wood has specialized in interactive electronic displays. His work continues to integrate technology, theatre, and design, finding new ways to engage audiences in issues such as global warming and biodiversity losses.
1. Staffordshire University (Stoke-On-Trent, England)
Staffordshire University’s School of Art and Design takes the number one spot on our list because of its overall excellence. The school strives to provide its students with many opportunities to hone their skills and imaginations and display their work in various situations.
The school’s strength can be seen in the achievements of its graduates.
After graduating from Staffordshire in 2016, Yuka Kikumoto took her MA in Ceramic Design to display her work worldwide. Kikumoto’s work brings her cultural background from Japan into conversation with modern technologies in the UK. The success of her work has earned Kikumoto an internship at Royal Crown Derby, a fine bone china manufacturer.
Ray Thorley earned a degree in photography in 2010 and an MA in community and participatory arts in 2015. Thorley participated in the SPEEEDPlus Programme to connect his artistic training with business principles, allowing him to operate his own studio. Currently, Thorley enjoys a successful freelance career focused on landscape and portraiture photography as well as social documentary.