Conservation Studies

MA Conservation Studies

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Applications open
Duration: 1 calendar year (46 weeks) full time
School: Conservation
Location: West Dean
Scholarships and bursaries: See available funding

The MA Conservation Studies equips you with the high level specialist skills sought by the conservation sector. For students of English, History, Archaeology and varied Humanities disciplines Conservation offers an exciting career.

This rigorous and highly respected programme draws on an extensive sector network, nationally and internationally, including industry bodies such as Icon. The Masters in Conservation Studies is the global industry standard for conservation, and our alumni work in many of the most prestigious museums, archives, libraries and private practices across the world. 

The course focuses on research through practice. You will draw on theoretical, scientific, and analytical study of artefacts and materials, and analyse the context and practice of conservation. MA Conservation Studies students deliver a major final research project.

Elements of interdisciplinary work are involved, but you will choose from one of the specialisms below:

All disciplines are accessible from both humanities and science study backgrounds.

Kirsten Ramsay of the BBC's The Repair Shop studied Conservation of Ceramics between 1989-1991 and shares her experience and memories of studying at West Dean. 

Learning environment

  • High tutor: student ratio
  • Workshop access
  • An interdisciplinary environment
  • Visiting lecturers from public and private institutions
  • Six week work placement

You can expect

  • To develop excellent practical skills in conservation and repair
  • To develop research skills
  • To incorporate scientific analysis into conservation projects
  • To build contacts and gain transferable skills

The content of this programme has been developed in line with the Institute of Conservation's Professional Standards in Conservation and the UK Quality Code for Higher Education.

Course structure

Areas of study in the first two semesters include further development of practical skills through supervised work on objects with complex treatment requirements, incorporation of scientific analysis into conservation projects to inform treatment decisions and a six week work placement to broaden practical experience, build contacts and gain transferable skills. Research skills are taught in the first semester in preparation for final research project development during the second semester. The third semester is devoted solely to the student’s final research project.

Course features

Unique features

  • The has a large and diverse collection comprising objects from all disciplines. The collections are used by students to apply their knowledge to real-life problems. 
  • The immersive environment encourages joint learning and interdisciplinary practice.
  • Regular visiting lecturers and part time tutors from public and private institutions.
  • Field trips to conservation studios, historic sites and exhibitions.
  • The programme has a low student to staff ratio.
  • The 46 week programme has workshop access 8.30am – 10pm, seven days a week which is exceptional in a higher educational environment.

Research methods of conservation

This unit introduces a range of research methods and tools appropriate to an advanced level of study in conservation. It is designed to enable the identification of research questions and methods appropriate to the development of an MA research project.

At the start of the year, Academic Research and Writing Skills sessions will introduce students to the Library’s research resources (catalogues, information retrieval, online databases and archives) as well as appropriate academic conventions for citing and referencing (Harvard).

Through a series of lectures, seminars and workshops, a range of scientific, social scientific and humanities based research skills will be explored and visiting lecturers will present on their areas of research. Further lectures and seminars will investigate the role of the conservator in diverse contexts and fields of practice, and contemporary concerns and debates in conservation. This will lead students towards identifying research opportunities within their practice as it develops through MA1A. Possible research questions are then presented and discussed with peers and tutors with a view to: assessing their purpose and viability, identifying source material and primary research methods, possible constraints and ethical issues, methods of analysis, evaluation and presentation. Students are expected to review a range of research skills to provide them with a broad understanding on which to develop the methodology for their final selected research question.

In addition, through individual and group exercises, students will study, critically evaluate and discuss examples of writing to a publication standard in preparation for the written element of their final research project. This will comprise lectures and seminars, theoretical exercises, peer group discussions and independent study leading to a review of research methodologies, development of a final research question, methodology and indicative reading list with an oral presentation of the research question to an audience of peers.

Course units

Semester 1 (18 weeks)
Study block 1 (12 weeks)


Extending Practice (50 credits)

Unit MA1B

Conservation Science Analysis (10 credits)

Unit MA1C

Research studies and project design (10 credits)

Semester 2 (14 weeks)
Study block 3 (6 weeks)


Professional Practice (35 credits)


Work placement element

Study block 4 (8 weeks)


Professional Practice (cont.) (35 credits)


Unit MA1RP

Project Development (15 credits)

Semester 3 (14 weeks)
Study block 5 

Unit MA2RP

Project Realisation (60 credits)


Contact hours


On the MA Conservation Studies you will typically have around 19-20 contact hours per week, typically consisting of:

  • 5-6 hours of lectures or demonstrations
  • 1-2 hours of seminars and peer to peer presentations
  • 10 hours of workshop time with a supervisor
  • 1 hour of tutorials to discuss practical projects and more formal tutorials

For semester 2, outside of the work placement, you will continue to have full workshop access and have 10 contact hours per week in the above areas.

For semester 3 you will continue to have full workshop access and have approximately 1 hour tutorial time per week.

Independent learning

When not attending lectures, seminars and workshops or other timetabled sessions, you will be expected to continue learning independently through self-study. Typically, this will involve reading journal articles and books, working on individual and group projects, undertaking research in the library, preparing coursework assignments and presentations and undertaking and writing up your final research project.

Overall workload

Total scheduled teaching and learning: 600 hours
Independent learning: 1200 hours

In semester 1, 41% of your time will be spent in scheduled learning activities or under supervision.
In semester 2, 25% of your time will be spent in supervised activities.
In semester 3, you will be expected to work independently with tutorial support.

International study trips

The College continues to monitor travel advice from the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with regards to any international travel. At this time, all international travel which includes study trips will be subject to agreement by the College.

Term dates
West Dean College of Arts and Conservation Alumni Tabea Rude Credit Michael Goldrei

Work placements and Careers

Work placements

The College’s extensive links with museums, conservators and professional bodies in the heritage sector in the UK, EU and internationally, opens up an impressive range of opportunities for the six week work placements that MA Conservation Studies students typically undertake.

Recent placement host institutions include:

  • National Museum of Scotland
  • Brighton Royal Pavillion
  • Cambridge University Library,
  • Amsterdam City Archives,
  • The Art Institute of Chicago
  • Bodleian Library, British Museum
  • Heritage Blacksmith Partnership
  • Imperial War Museum
  • Lambeth Palace Library
  • Library of Congress
  • Maritime Museum Rotterdam
  • National Museum of American History
  • Oxford Conservation Consortium
  • Royal Collection Trust
  • Royal Museums Greenwich
  • Smithsonian National Museum of American History
  • Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A)
  • Yale University Library.

Find out where our current MA Conservation Studies undertook their placements in a new blog post.


From the MA, alumni work with public and private collections and include professional conservators in high profile museums and libraries nationally and internationally. Some pursue a career path into collections care, or work as independent conservators, advisors or tutors. Alumni have gone on to work at:

  • British Museum
  • Royal Collections
  • National Maritime Museum
  • Royal Swedish Palaces
  • Windsor Castle
  • Gold Museum (Bogota Colombia)
  • Columbia University Library (Columbia, USA).

Image: Tabea Rude Aluma, Photo Credit Michael Goldrei. Tabea is the Dynamic Objects Conservator at the Wien Museum, (Vienna Clock Museum, Austria) and looks after a collection of around 4,000 clocks.

Read more in our interviews with alumni
School of Conservation West Dean

School of Conservation

Our School of Conservation offers a dynamic, internationally connected and respected learning environment where students benefit from the unique opportunity to study in a working historic house. Students enjoy access to well-equipped professional workshops, studios, and a state-of-the-art analytical laboratory.

School of Conservation

Fees and funding

Course fees are the same for UK and international students

  • £4,920 per term (£19,680 per academic year)

Lunch, accommodation and other living expenses are additional. Find out more

A £250 course fee and £200 accommodation deposit (if residential) is required to secure your place. Details will be provided to you in your offer. Fees are billed termly in advance. Please see the Terms and Conditions for further information.

We may routinely increase our course fees from year to year for one-year courses and may review and change such course fees without notice.

Postgraduate loans
If you are a UK student and plan to take a postgraduate Master's course you may be able to get a postgraduate loan of up to £12,167 to help with course fees and living costs. See

Student scholarships and bursaries
Scholarships and bursaries are available from £500 to £10,000.

Find out more about funding

Entry requirements

Progression from the Graduate Diploma in Conservation Studies to Masters requires successful completion of the graduate programme with a good pass.

Applicants with conservation experience and scientific knowledge equivalent to the Graduate Diploma in Conservation Studies may enter directly on to the Masters programme, in which case an upper 2nd class or above UK Honours degree in an appropriate subject or a non-UK equivalent is required. Alternatively, accreditation of prior experiential learning (APEL) will be considered for those who have been out of formal education for some years and are over 21, who do not meet the general (minimum) entrance requirements, but who can demonstrate practical skills or evidence of practical interests and research and writing abilities commensurate with BA level.

International students will require English language CEFR (Common European Framework of Reference for Languages) Level B2 or IELTS 6.5 or above.

How to apply

Applications for this course can be made by submitting a completed application form and emailing it to: [email protected].

Any questions?
Email [email protected]; call us on: (01243) 818 300 and select option 1, or read more about our Admissions processes.

University of Sussex Logo


Commendations from the University of Sussex include:

"This re-validation further builds on the success of the courses, which have been refined over a number of years to produce excellent results."

"The professional networking opportunities provided through external collaborations and the opportunities for students to disseminate their work to an external audience."


Do I get to study several specialisms in Conservation Studies programmes?

Students on the MA Conservation Studies choose one of the following pathways to specialise in when they apply:

I have a degree but no experience in Conservation. Can I still apply for the MA in Conservation Studies?

To be eligible to study on the Masters programme, you need to have a good honours degree PLUS experience in the relevant conservation specialism. Using Metals as an example, we would expect MA applicants to be familiar with Metals and have worked in that specialised area for a few years. You would be expected to demonstrate familiarity and experience with Metals in your application and supporting portfolio. If you don’t have this experience, we would recommend you apply for the Graduate Diploma

What would you expect to see in a Conservation Studies portfolio?

A portfolio should demonstrate your interest and experience in conservation and your chosen specialism. It can comprise sketches, photos, video evidence of you working in a conservation environment with your hands using materials such as Books, Metals, Furniture (relevant to your chosen specialism). Read our portfolio advice to learn about the general requirements, what we look for in a good portfolio, and what it should reflect.

What is involved in the practical test?

You are asked to complete a task using workshop tools so we can see that you have the right level of mental agility and manual dexterity to undertake the practical elements of the course. Assessments take place onsite at the College workshops or remotely when it is not possible to come into the College.


Lorna Calcutt Ceramics Tutor at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation

Lorna Calcutt MA ACR

Programme Coordinator and Subject Leader for Ceramics (and Related Materials)

Lorna has been a tutor then Subject Leader at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation for 16 years and prior to that was employed as a conservator in national institutions and in the private sector.

Malcom Archer Horology Subject Leader at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation

Malcolm Archer FBHI

Subject Leader, Clocks (and Related Objects)

Malcolm's extensive experience in private practice, as well as the heritage sector/museums, lies behind his in-depth understanding of the profession. He brings a comprehensive knowledge of traditional craft skills, theory and contextual history. He also has an interest in new and innovative ways of applying conservation to mechanical objects.

Karen Vidler FIIC

Subject Leader Books and Library Materials

Karen Vidler FIIC is a book and paper conservator and bookbinder with over 25 years’ experience working as a conservator and bookbinder in the United Kingdom and Australia. She has worked at The National Archives, V&A Museum and the Leather Conservation Centre.

Maudie Casserly

Maudie Casserly MA

Subject Tutor, Books and Library materials

Maudie is a book and paper conservator and bookbinder. Having worked a various institutions and companies over the years, including the Victoria & Albert Museum and The National Archives, Maudie now works for herself, taking on commissions from museums, libraries, collections and private individuals. In additional to practical conservation and binding, Maudie also teaches a range of online classes in bookbinding  to students all over the world.

David Dorning Subject Tutor at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation

David Dorning MA ACR FIIC

Subject Tutor, Conservation Science

David is a book and paper conservation specialist who has tutored more than a generation of book conservators since he began as a tutor in book conservation at West Dean College in 1988. He has taught science for conservators in the UK, USA and Europe, established the analytical laboratory at West Dean College in 2007 and has been the college's science tutor for 25 years.

Tim Hughes, clocks tutor at West Dean College

Tim Hughes

Subject Tutor, Clocks (and Related Objects)

Tim Hughes MBHI, clock maker, trained at West Dean College and works as a clockmaker and scientific instrument restorer, and as external consultant at Bellmans Auctioneers. He has received several awards, including the Trustees' Prize while at West Dean College and a QEST Scholarship. 

Jasmina Vučković, ceramics tutor at West Dean College

Jasmina Vučković MA ACR

Subject Tutor, Ceramics (and Related Materials)

Jasmina Vuckovic is Subject Tutor at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation. She has been a visiting lecturer at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation prior to becoming a subject tutor in 2018. Jasmina is a member of ICOM and accredited member of Icon.

Anna Guy in the Science Lab at West Dean College

Anna Guy

Conservation Science Laboratory Tutor

Anna studied organic chemistry in Italy and her interest in academic research brought her to the UK. Her passion for research and art brought her to West Dean College, a very special and unique place where applied science meets cultural heritage.

Deborah Lee

Deborah Lee is a visiting lecturer at West Dean and freelance Metals Conservator, specialising in Arms and Armour.

Dale Sardeson, Tutor at West Dean College

Dale Sardeson

Subject Tutor, Clocks (and Related Objects)

Dale Sardeson is a subject Tutor, Clocks (and Related Objects), professional clockmaker and conservator based in West Sussex. Dale is an accredited member of ICON (the Institute for Conservation).

Shayne Rivers Collections Care Subject Leader at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation

Shayne Rivers MA FIIC

Research Skills and Cross-curriculum Practice

Shayne Rivers is an acknowledged world expert in the conservation of furniture and Asian lacquer. She has lectured on conservation in the USA, Australia, Japan, Europe and the UK, and has been involved in the education of the next generation of conservators throughout her professional career.

Kate Jennings - Metals tutor at West Dean College of Arts and Conservation

Kate Jennings

Subject Leader, Conservation Studies specialising in Metalwork

Kate's background includes practicing as a solicitor before making a career change to train as a blacksmith and specialist Metals Conservator. She earned an MA in Conservation Studies from West Dean, following which she founded a small business specializing in the conservation of forged and architectural metalwork.

Jonathan Farley, books tutor at West Dean College

Jonathan Farley MA ACR

Subject Tutor, Books and Library Materials

Jonathan is a Library and Archives Conservator with over 40 years experience. Jonathan has worked for various institutions such as the National Archive, Hampshire Record Office and The University of Hull. Jonathan is an accredited member of ICON (the Institute for Conservation).

Phil Lyons, Subject Tutor for furniture courses at West Dean

Phil Lyons BA BAFRA

Subject Tutor

Phil is a BAFRA accredited conservator/restorer based in Buckinghamshire. He has twenty years experience in private practice running a small business providing a professional conservation/restoration service. 

Leszek Knyrek, Books tutor at West Dean College

Leszek Knyrek

Subject Tutor Books and Library Materials

Leszek gained his Diploma in Bookbinding in 1997 and has been a Master bookbinder for the last 25 years. More recently he became a qualified book conservator. He has been in private practice in London and Poland as both a bookbinder and more recently book conservator.