University of Sydney Handbooks - 2021 Archive

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Master of Fine Arts

Coursework structure and requirements

The course is normally undertaken full-time over seven research periods with an oral examination and exhibition at the end of the eighth research period. Full-time candidates are expected to devote the equivalent of a 35-hour week to their research.

At the beginning of your course you are required to nominate one of the following methods of candidature:

  • creative work and research paper, culminating in a substantial exhibition, performance or installation of works in a joint show of candidates at the end of candidature, together with a research paper of 10,000–12,000 words and oral presentation, or
  • thesis of 35,000–50,000 words in the field of art theory, art history, cultural studies or professional studies in visual art.

You must confirm the method of your candidature at your first Progress Review, which will take place towards the end of your first year.

Master of Fine Arts Seminar Program

At the commencement of candidature, all first year Master of Fine Arts students are required to enrol in the coursework unit CART7006 Art as Research from the Postgraduate Coursework Table R. The unit introduces PhD students to a range of philosophical approaches to creative arts research, and conceptual issues concerning the production of new knowledge in practice-led research and also within research more broadly. Students will consider how different methodological approaches may be appropriate for particular interpretive research projects, keeping in mind the epistemological 'fit', and develop appropriate strategies for planning and writing.

Graduate School Forum

While not compulsory, students are welcome to attend the Graduate School Forum.

Upgrade requirements

Master of Fine Arts candidates may seek permission to transfer to the Doctor of Philosophy at the end of their first year of study, provided that they have the support of their supervisor. Each candidate wishing to upgrade will make a presentation on the current state of their research alongside the first-year PhD cohort during PhD probation reviews to demonstrate successful completion of work to a standard commensurate with the requirements of the PhD. These upgrading candidates will also need to demonstrate that they have met the first-year PhD milestones.


Submission for Examination

At the end of your final year, you must submit for examination:

  • a substantial exhibition, performance or installation of artwork with supporting visual material of work completed during candidature; a presentation addressing the structure and mode of exhibition and developmental process; and a research paper of 10,000 -12,000 words relevant to the work and its development, its cultural and historical or theoretical references; or
  • a thesis of 35,000-50,000 words which is the result of original investigation in the fields of art theory, art history, cultural studies or professional studies in visual arts.

You must present your written work in English and identify those components of assessable work which are respectively your own and that of others.

The research paper should achieve, via its own internal consistency and nominated methodology, the following objectives:

  • Be a coherent document which illustrates your concerns as a creative work practitioner through words and images
  • Present a clearly sequenced and expressed discussion, including introduction, analysis and conclusion at a level appropriate to a Masters degree
  • Indicate the location of the creative work within the context of contemporary art practice
  • Show evidence of your familiarity with recent literature relevant to general developments in the discipline and to the concerns of your own creative work
  • State your intentions in the development of the exhibited works; and more broadly, the intentions in work developed over the course of study. (Both should relate clearly to your original research proposal)
  • Included appropriately presented and labelled illustrations to which the text makes specific reference, and which represent your creative work
  • Include all relevant bibliographic and pictorial reference data
  • Observe the required work length
  • Observe all formal presentation requirements (number of copies, binding, etc)

The research paper is seen as a complement to your creative work. Some candidates wish to extend the creative possibilities of their work into the written component. Should you elect to take this approach, you should indicate this in the Introduction (or Foreword, if there is one) to the research paper to clearly establish expectations of form and scholarship for examiners.

For information on supervision, annual progress reviews and examination procedures please refer to the Higher Degree by Research website.


Master of Fine Arts

These resolutions must be read in conjunction with applicable University By-laws, Rules and policies. These include:
– the Resolutions of the Faculty;
– the University of Sydney (Higher Degree by Research) Rule 2011 (the HDR Rule); and
– the Research Code of Conduct 2013; and the Research Data Management Policy 2014.
Additionally, the coursework components of this award course are subject to:
– the University of Sydney (Coursework) Rule 2014 (the 'Coursework Rule');
– the Coursework Policy 2014;
– the Academic Honesty in Coursework Policy 2015; and
– the Academic Honesty Procedures 2016.
The latest versions of all such documents are available from the Policy Register:

Course resolutions

Part 1: Preliminary

1 Course codes


Course and stream title


Master of Fine Arts

Part 2: Admission requirements

2 Eligibility for admission to candidature

To be eligible to be admitted to candidature by the Associate Dean (Research Education), an applicant must:
hold or have completed the requirements for:
the degree of Bachelor of Visual Arts (Honours) from the University of Sydney; or
the degree of Bachelor of Visual Arts and the Graduate Diploma of Visual Arts from the University of Sydney; and
present evidence of having the aptitude required for undertaking the course, by the method nominated, through a research proposal and a portfolio of creative work.
The Dean or Associate Dean (Research Education) may admit to candidature an applicant who does not meet the requirements of sub-clause (1), provided that the applicant holds a qualification or qualifications that, in the opinion of the Faculty, are equivalent to those prescribed in sub-clause (1).

3 Application for admission to candidature

In addition to requirements prescribed in the HDR Rule, an applicant for admission to candidature must submit to the Faculty:
the proposed method of candidature: by thesis comprising a body of creative work for exhibition and a written component; or by written thesis only;
a proposed course of research and advanced study;
for applicants wishing to proceed by thesis comprising a body of creative work for exhibition and a written component, a portfolio of creative work reflecting the applicant's recent art practice; and
for admission to part-time candidature, a statement that the applicant will have sufficient time available to complete the requirements of the degree in accordance with these resolutions.

4 Credit transfer

The HDR Rule specifies the conditions for the granting of credit for previous studies, including the effect on completion times.

Part 3: Candidature

5 Appointment of supervisory team

For each candidate, the Associate Dean (Research Education) will appoint a supervisory team of at least two supervisors, one of whom will be lead supervisor in accordance with the HDR Rule and the Supervision of Higher Degree by Research Students Policy 2020.

6 Control of candidature

The HDR Rule specifies the conditions for the control of candidature by the University.

7 Location of candidature and attendance

The HDR Rule specifies the conditions for the location of candidature and attendance by candidates at the University.

Part 4: Requirements

8 Degree requirements

To satisfy the requirements of the degree all candidates must:
complete any specified probationary requirements;
attend any prescribed weekly seminars; and
conduct research on the approved topic.
Candidates proceeding by written thesis only must also write a thesis embodying the results of the research.
Candidates proceeding by thesis comprising a body of creative work for exhibition and a written component must also:
submit for examination, at an exhibition by candidates, a substantial exhibition, screening, performance or installation of works; and
submit a research paper on an area relevant to the creative work.
if commencing during or after 2021, complete within the first year (full-time equivalency) of candidature a minimum of 6 credit points of study from Table R as determined in the relevant Faculty milestones statement and any other studies as required by the supervisor(s) of the research project.

9 The thesis and the research paper

A candidate proceeding by written thesis only shall produce a thesis that:
meets the requirements specified in the HDR Rule; and
is in the range of 25,000 to 35,000 words.
A candidate proceeding by thesis comprising a body of creative work for exhibition and a written component shall produce a research paper that:
meets the requirements specified in the HDR Rule; and
is in the range of 10,000 to 12,000 words.

10 Units of study

Candidates will be required to complete either 6 or 12 credit points of units of study from Table R.

Part 5: Enrolment and progression

11 Probation

A candidate is normally accepted for candidature on a probationary basis for a period not exceeding one year according to the provisions of the HDR Rule.
In the probationary period each candidate must:
complete any specified seminar programs;
develop and present a refined research proposal to the satisfaction of the Supervisor and Sydney College of the Arts HDR Coordinator; and
meet requirements in accordance with the Progress Planning Review for Higher Degree by Research Students Policy and Procedures.

12 Time limits, earliest and latest submission dates

The HDR Rule specifies the allowable completion times and submission dates available for full- and part-time candidates in this course.

13 Mode of attendance

The attendance pattern for this course is normally full-time in the first year of candidature.
Candidates may apply to change to part-time candidature thereafter.

14 Discontinuation of candidature

A candidate may discontinue enrolment in a unit of study or the degree subject to the conditions specified by the HDR Rule.

15 Suspension of candidature

A candidate may suspend enrolment from the degree subject to the conditions specified by the HDR Rule.

16 Leave of absence

A candidate may take leave of absence from the degree subject to the conditions specified by the HDR Rule.

17 Progress

A candidate is required to maintain satisfactory progress towards the timely completion of the degree. Progress will be reviewed annually according to the provisions of the HDR Rule.

Part 6: Examination

18 Examination of the thesis

Examination of the thesis will be conducted in general accordance with the standards prescribed by Academic Board for the Masters by Research, which are set out in the Thesis and Examination of Higher Degrees by Research Policy 2015.
The Faculty Research Education Committee will act in place of the HDR examinations sub-committee of the Academic Board to determine the outcome of the examination in cases where all examiners recommend award of the degree. In all other cases, the matter will be referred to the HDR Examinations Subcommittee for determination.

19 Award of the degree

The degree is awarded at the Pass level only.

Part 7: Other

20 Transitional provisions

These resolutions apply to students who commenced their candidature after 1 January 2021. Students who commenced their candidature prior to 1 January 2021 may complete the requirements in accordance with the resolutions in force at the time of their commencement.