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Posted 11.05.17

Extended Degree or Foundation Diploma - which is best for you?

By Kat Peberdy

Helen Markes, UAL Foundation Diploma in Art and Design course leader.

We met with UAL Foundation Diploma in Art & Design course leader Helen Markes to find out more about what the college has to offer for anyone looking to study a Foundation Diploma or Extended Degree, and how to decide which one is best for you.

The Foundation Diploma course prepares students for progression to one of our outstanding bachelor’s degree programmes here at Plymouth College of Art, or to study at degree level at other prestigious universities. Previous Foundation Diploma students have gone on to study at the University of Cambridge and University College London and at specialist arts institutions such as Goldsmiths, Central St Martins, Glasgow School of Art and The Bartlett School of Architecture. 

"Both courses encourage students to push the boundaries beyond existing pre-conceived ideas that challenge and develop practical skills and theoretical concepts."

– Helen Markes, Course Leader UAL Foundation Diploma in Art & Design

For prospective students who are already confident in their specialist subject area, Extended BA (Hons) Degrees allow students who may be returning to education after a break or perhaps without formal qualifications to study their practice, and it also guarantees them a place on our full undergraduate programme.

Helen is one of the longest standing members of staff at Plymouth College of Art, with 30 years of experience teaching at the college. We visited the Foundation Diploma studio to sit with Helen and discuss the benefits of both courses.

Can you tell us about the Foundation Diploma in Art & Design?

The Foundation Diploma is an opportunity to develop yourself in an independent way, it's about finding your artistic voice. You do that by putting your preconceived ideas to one side, and just having an open mind, being flexible and just playfully experimenting with; materials, ideas, themes, projects, processes, ideas, techniques, academic theories. You push the boundaries of what you know, so your work possibly won't look like it did in the past, it will turn into something new and exciting. It's a well planned, well organised course but inside that plan, there's plenty of room for movement and manoeuvre, so you are able to find what truly excites you.

How does that compare to the first year of the Extended BA (Hons) Degree?

The Extended BA and Foundation programmes share some elements but are very different in their approach. Students joining our Extended BA course have already made a decision about what they want to specialise in, so they enrol in their chosen degree subject’s extended BA course and they are on their way to achieving that qualification. The students on this course can range from 18 years old right up until 80, some come straight from school and some are returning to education after a break. Both courses share the same philosophy, they’re both about experimenting and exploring the facilities available here at the college.

“It's about developing the knowledge you arrive with and adding to it, it's about diagnosing your future and maybe taking you to places you didn't even know existed. It's about challenging yourself, facing the unknown and having a go: it's playful experimentation to find your passion.”

– Helen Markes, Course Leader UAL Foundation Diploma in Art & Design

What benefits do students get from a Foundation Diploma as they move into Higher Education, compared to someone who may have come straight from A-Levels?

The year spent on the foundation programme before joining higher education means their skill levels are higher and they’re much more confident in themselves. So when they start that first year of a degree they hit the ground running. We’re sending them out into the creative industries with a head start on other students because they've had that intensive, cutting edge education.

They have a year to specialise, an opportunity to spend this year developing the way they think in terms of those critical skills, being able to analyse their own work, research fully and deeply and in a more inventive way. Foundation is a great opportunity to make fantastic disasters, it’s hard work and intensive, it’s very challenging and it pushes you.

How does that compare to Extended BA degrees?

On the Foundation course, you’re still developing your confidence and ways of thinking. Whereas Extended BA students often come with already formed opinions and ideas. The discussions between Extended BA students can be very dynamic because they bring a variety of viewpoints, often from different eras and different countries.

What would you say to any students trying to decide between Extended BA and Foundation Diploma?

If you’re under 19 it’s still free to do a foundation diploma, you could go from A-level straight onto a foundation diploma.

If you are above the age of 19, you have the choice of joining one of our Extended BA programmes, with the aim of preparing yourself for Higher Education in the form of a BA (Hons) or similar degree. You can join an Extended BA course with qualifications earned 30 years ago, or even no qualifications at all.

What have some of our Foundation Diploma and Extended BA students gone on to do?

We've had FAD students go to University College London Bartlett School of Architecture, Cambridge University to study art education, and also to Ruskin School of Art at the University of Oxford. Some students also choose to stay on and study at Plymouth College of Art and they do extremely well. I always remember a higher education tutor in Cardiff rang me up once and said ‘what do you feed your students, they're really vocal and interesting!’.

Julie Ellis, Exhibition at Artmill Gallery

One of our stand-out Extended BA students is Julie Ellis, who graduated last year. She is doing extremely well with her own studio in Royal William Yard, painting and selling her work – you can keep up to date with her work on Instagram @julieellisartist