Undergraduate Certificate in the History of Art

Course details

Are you fascinated by paintings, sculpture and architecture? Do you love visiting galleries and exhibitions, and wish you knew more about the history, techniques and terminology of art?

If so, our two-year, part-time Undergraduate Certificate in the History of Art might be the right choice for you. Taught at first-year undergraduate level, it offers an excellent introduction for students who want to develop their knowledge of art through structured study. You will learn more about how artworks are made, and receive an overview of the development of Western art from the classical period to the 20th century. You do not need to have any formal qualification or previous study in the subject area.

The first year will give you an introduction to techniques, ways of looking at the visual arts, and the necessary terms that will underpin all further study. In the second year, you will explore various historical periods in art in greater depth.

Tutors will lead visits to museums and art galleries throughout the course, with trips to current exhibitions whenever possible. Oxford has a wealth of museums and gallery spaces, and we will take every opportunity to introduce these to you.

Completing this course will prepare you well for further study, for example, the Department’s Undergraduate Diploma in the History of Art.

Online open event

An online open event was held on Thursday 25 January 2022, from 6-7pm (UK time). If you missed this event but have questions about the course, please get in touch by emailing undergraduate@conted.ox.ac.uk

Coronavirus update

The safety of our students and staff is our top priority, and we are following Government guidance and University regulations, which are subject to change. The teaching on this course in the coming year is expected to take place in person, although we are prepared to move this teaching online (either fully or partly) should circumstances dictate. For example, should social distancing be necessary, we may opt to conduct teaching fully online, or to have some participants accessing teaching from home whilst others join us in the classroom. Offer-holders will be kept informed of all developments.

Quick links

Who is this course for?

You will need enthusiasm, commitment and a high degree of motivation if you are to enjoy and complete this course. You do not need any formal qualification or previous study of the history of art. We will judge all applicants by the same criteria – an evidence of interest in the subject, the necessary language skills (see below for English language requirements), a determination to succeed and sufficient time available to devote to studying.

How you will study

The course is taught through weekly sessions, usually held on Wednesday mornings from 10.00am - 12.00pm at Ewert House, Ewert Place, Banbury Road, Summertown, Oxford, OX2 7DD. The classes are lively, structured and informative with plenty of time for discussion. Each class will be illustrated with slides and video material.

There will also be study visits to museums and galleries, which we will make every effort to arrange at convenient times.

You will need to spend about 8–10 hours in home study per week in term time.

The course in detail

Course structure

Year 1

In the first year, students will be introduced to art historic methods and be given a broad overview of the development of Western art.

Michaelmas term 2022: Unit 1

  • Learning to look at the visual arts. A study of colour, subject matter, space, tone, form, composition, etc
  • The Materials and Techniques of painting

Hilary term 2023: Unit 2

  • Understanding Sculpture
  • An introduction to Critical Theory and the use of primary texts

Trinity term 2023: Unit 3

  • Understanding Architecture
  • Understanding the Decorative Arts

Year 2

In the second year students will study specific art historic periods in greater detail.

Michaelmas term 2023: Unit 1

  • Medieval art and the significance of context

Hilary term 2024: Unit 2

  • The Renaissance

Trinity term 2024: Unit 3

  • Towards Modern

Guidance will be given about reading and detailed book lists will accompany each module.


For Year 1, you must complete five assignments of not more than 1,500 words, and a research project of not more than 3,000 words.

For Year 2, you must complete three assignments of not more than 2,000 words, and a research project of not more than 5,000 words.

There is no formal examination at the end of the Certificate course.

IT requirements

To study at this level you are expected to have some IT skills, access to a computer and the internet. Your course requires you to engage with the Virtual Learning Environment for course materials and uses the Department’s online assignment submission system. Students need to have regular access to a computer and the internet, and some level of experience and skill including the use of Microsoft Word or similar word-processing package, email and internet browser such as Firefox or Google Chrome.

The computer you use should meet our recommended minimum computer specification.

Teaching staff

The Course Director is Dr Sean Willcock.  Along with Dr Willcock, the teaching panel includes:

  • Mary Acton, BA Hons (Courtauld), FE Diploma
  • Antony Buxton, MA, PhD
  • Patrick Doorly, MA, PGCE, FRSA
  • Oliver Gosling, MA, RCA
  • Bryony Leighton, MA
  • Kristine MacMichael, MA
  • Manya Pagiavla, PhD FHEA FSEDA

  • Dr Hubert Pragnell
  • Gillian White, BA, MA, PhD

All our tutors are very experienced, not only in their subject but in teaching adult students. They understand the learning needs of students returning to education and will able to advise you on subject-based study skills throughout the course.

If you are returning to learning after a period of time the Department has a number of Study Skills workshops to help you with study techniques or to write essays. You can obtain information about the Department’s Study Skills programme by contacting +44 (0)1865 280728.

Contact information

If you would like an informal discussion on academic matters before applying you may contact the Course Director, Dr Sean Willcock: sean.willcock@conted.ox.ac.uk 

Applications and admissions: +44 (0)1865 270312 undergraduate@conted.ox.ac.uk

For general guidance and advice, credit transfer, special needs provision and sources of funding: +44 (0)1865 280355 student.support@conted.ox.ac.uk

For information about Study Skills courses: +44 (0)1865 280892 studyskills@conted.ox.ac.uk

How to apply

Please click on the ‘Apply’ button which will automatically notify us that you want a link to the online application form. We will email you that link together with a code to waive the application fee, and guidance on completing and submitting your application.

You will need to upload the following documents as part of your application:

  • a statement of 300 words outlining your previous experience of the subject (if any) and your reasons for wishing to enrol on the course. No need to submit any written work.
  • contact details for one referee 
  • proof of English language ability if a non-native English speaker. Further information on English language requirements can be found here. Please note that candidates are required to have the higher-level score.

If possible, your referee should be someone who can comment on your academic ability and background, but where this is not appropriate, please choose a referee who can vouch for your motivation, commitment and potential. A reference from a family member is not acceptable.

Admissions decisions will be based on an assessment of knowledge, relevant experience, academic ability, potential and suitability for a course of study. We welcome applicants without traditional qualifications, including those with relevant career or life skills.

Selection criteria

Even if a course has no specific academic entry requirements then: (a) assessment of an applicant’s academic ability and suitability for the course of study will still take place and (b) since applications for many courses often significantly exceed places available, each application will be judged against the gathered field of applicants for each course each year.

The University is committed to promoting diversity, equality, inclusion, and widening access, including during the admissions process. We fully endorse the Equality Policy and our admissions procedures are kept under regular review to ensure compliance with this policy.

Short-listed applicants will be invited for interview.

The final decision on admission to the course rests with the Department.

Award and credit transfer

An Undergraduate Certificate will be awarded on completion of the course. Outstanding performance will qualify for a Distinction. You will be invited to receive your Certificate at the annual Awards Ceremony of the Department for Continuing Education, held at Oxford’s Sheldonian Theatre.

The syllabus and teaching of the course are aimed at first-year undergraduate level (FHEQ Level 4). An Undergraduate Certificate in the History of Art (120 CATS points) will be awarded to students on completion of the two years of the course. Credit points may be transferred to the Open University, modular universities such as Oxford Brookes University, and other institutions of higher education. For further information about transfer of credit, contact the Course Administrator on +44 (0)1865 280154 or undergraduate@conted.ox.ac.uk

Fees and expenses

The fee in 2022-23 is £2,780 (Home, Islands, and Republic of Ireland students) or £5,230 (Overseas students). An option to pay the fee in instalments may be available.

Please be aware that fees will usually increase annually.

Information for applicants from the EU, EEA and Switzerland

On 11 May 2021 the UK Council for International Student Affairs published new regulations and guidance to be used in assessing the fee status of students commencing courses in August 2021 and later. We will be using this guidance to carry out fee status assessments for students commencing courses in 2021/22 and later, including students from the EU, EEA and Switzerland. 

If you are an EU national and do not live in the UK then you are likely to be charged Overseas fees. Students with settled and pre-settled status in the UK and some other categories of students who work in the UK can qualify for Home fee status as long as they meet the residence criteria.

Students from outside the UK/Republic of Ireland

If you are from outside the UK/Republic of Ireland, you will be classed either as an ‘Overseas’ or 'Islands' student.

Information on financial support can be found on our website here.

Overseas students

This course is not suitable for overseas students who do not already live in the UK before the course begins. For information, refer to www.gov.uk/browse/visas-immigration.

English language requirements

Please read the English language requirements for undergraduate study on the University's website. Applicants are required to have the higher level scores.

English language test waivers

To request a waiver, please answer the questions in the online application form accordingly.

Criteria for requesting an English language test waiver.


The Department for Continuing Education offers day and weekend courses, weekly classesonline short courses and summer schools in the History of Art. In the Undergraduate programme, we offer the Certificate in History of Art, the Certificate of Higher Education, and the Diploma in History of Art. At Postgraduate level we offer a Postgraduate Certificate in Architectural HistoryMSt in the History of Design and MSt in Literature and Arts, along with the DPhil in Architectural History and DPhil in Literature and Arts.

You may also be interested in studying History.

If you are planning on embarking on a new career as a result of your studies, or hope to progress in your current field, you can access help and advice through the University Careers Service.