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Aditi Khare, Resist printed cotton quilt


A unique learning environment

Key details

  • 180 credits
  • 1 year programme
  • Full-time study

School or Centre

Next open day

Application deadline

  • 16 Feb 2022
  • Still accepting applications

Committed to practice-based, public-facing history.

This programme is subject to validation

The V&A/RCA MA History of Design draws on the exceptional resources and national and international networks of two world-leading centres of excellence for scholarship and creativity, the RCA and the Victoria and Albert Museum (V&A). With a base at the RCA and dedicated programme rooms and library at the V&A, since its foundation in 1983 this pioneering programme has earned a world-wide reputation as the leading MA programme in the field. Our research-led teaching and experiential methods inspire and train future leaders in the field. Alumni of the programme are today working successfully in a range of positions across universities, museums, cultural organisations, design firms and media outlets, as well as in independent practice.

We see the history of design as interdisciplinary and future-facing. We offer ground-breaking tools and approaches for studying the history and material culture of design in everyday life, across a global geography from c. 1400 to the present. Our research and teaching ranges from the early modern to the contemporary, with particular expertise in the UK/Europe, North America and Asia, and in transnational and global connections. Our programme is strongly committed to inclusivity, decoloniality and social and environmental engagement.

We combine scholarly excellence with risk-taking to forge histories of design and material culture that are public-facing, and experimental, as befits our location in the public museum and the art school. We use artefact analysis – of physical objects, digital matter, and spaces as well as services, interactions, policies, institutions and legal and technical systems – to reshape historical narratives and ask ambitious and relevant questions. We draw on our strong and distinctive track record of employing a global outlook, whether this means placing local histories in comparative context or tracing global networks through material culture.

Our wide staff expertise and the rich resources at the RCA and V&A enable students to explore, for example: fashion and textile history; histories of architecture, building and urban space; digital materialities; material histories of medicine, science and technology; the material culture of everyday life; histories and practices of making, craft and embodied knowledge; environmental history, ecologies of design and the Anthropocene; history of theatre and performance; social and political history in relation to design; decoloniality and social justice through design history practice; and global history through material culture.

A 24-month, part-time offer of this programme will open for applications from January 2022. Please check back for details.

Explore further

Visit 2021.rca.ac.uk to view graduate work from the class of 2021

Replay our November 2021 online Open Day.



The V&A/RCA History of Design MA is located primarily in Kensington, in RCA Kensington and the V&A, with teaching on other RCA campuses.

View all facilities

Students on the V&A/RCA History of Design MA programme have access to a dedicated library in the V&A as well as shared student spaces at the RCA.

  • History of Design Programme Library, V&A

    V&A/RCA History of Design programme library in the V&A

  • Object handling at the V&A

    Students working with Spike Bucklow and V&A metalwork curators

  • Students working with Guido Beltramini on a Palladio workshop

    Students working with Guido Beltramini on a Palladio workshop

  • History of Design lecture

    History of Design lecture

  • Library Kensington

    RCA Kensington Library

  • Artefact close inspection session, V&A Museum

    Artefact close inspection session, V&A Museum

More details on what you'll study.

Find out what you'll cover in this programme.

What you'll cover

This programme is subject to validation

Students develop advanced knowledge, skills and approaches from the perspective of design history. Teaching is organised to support students in fostering their own self-directed intellectual journey and professional development and identity. The syllabus incorporates unique opportunities for active interactions, learning experiences and tangible outcomes across the Arts & Humanities as taught and experienced at the RCA and the V&A. In addition to more conventional historical methods, our students produce innovative understandings of the cultural, societal and economic impacts of design through engagements and exchanges with emerging practitioners from across the RCA and leading museum professionals within the V&A.

A 24-month, part-time offer of this programme will open for applications from January 2022. Please check back for details.

This programme is subject to validation

The programme is delivered across three terms and includes a combination of programme, School and College units.

Term 1

The Artefacts in History unit develops your fundamental skills for undertaking historical research through artefact analysis. It explores analysis of different object types using core theoretical approaches and archival/primary resources.

Across Terms 1 and 2, you will participate in the College-wide unit. This unit aims to support students to meet the challenges of a complex, uncertain and changing world by bringing them together to work collaboratively on a series of themed projects informed by expertise within and beyond the College. These projects will challenge you to use your intellect and imagination to address key cultural, social, environmental and economic challenges. In doing so, you will develop and reflect on the abilities required to translate knowledge into action, and help demonstrate the contribution that the creative arts can make to our understanding and experience of the world.

Term 2

In the Research in the History of Design and Material Culture you will learn about approaches and methods for writing design histories, conceive an original and viable research project and locate it in relation to existing fields. You will explore how histories are written, engage with current debates and new directions in design history and material culture research, and produce your own dissertation research proposal, ready to move on to term 3 and the Independent Research Project.

In term 2 all School of Arts & Humanities students will participate in the Urgency of the Arts, School-wide unit. Through this unit we ask: what does arts and humanities research and practice have to offer in our current socio-political climate? The unit introduces students to a diverse range of perspectives, approaches and practices relevant to contemporary practice and thought in the Arts & Humanities. The delivery is devised to help you identify and query your own practices and disciplinary assumptions through encounters with others and within the various practices undertaken by students in the School, and to raise awareness around contemporary concerns. You will be supported in understanding the ramifications of your own work and practice within a broad cultural context, and to recognise its many potentially unintended readings and consequences.

Term 3

The Independent Research Project develops and extends your independent research practice, culminating in a 12,000-word dissertation as well as an oral presentation, Research Poster display and Statement of Practice.

A 24-month, part-time offer of this programme will open for applications from January 2022. Please check back for details.

A 24-month, part-time offer of this programme will open for applications from January 2022. Please check back for details.


What you need to know before you apply

Candidates are selected entirely on merit and applications are welcomed from all over the world. The selection process will consider creativity, imagination and innovation as demonstrated in your application, as well as your potential to benefit from the programme and to achieve high MA standards overall.

You should have a good first degree in an arts and humanities or an art, design, photography or performance practice background. If you have a different background, for example in the social sciences or professions, we encourage you to apply. We welcome applications from students of all ages, and view both prior academic and professional experience as valuable.

What's needed from you

Your portfolio is a showcase of your work as an artist or designer and can be made up of images, videos or writing examples. Your portfolio helps us to better understand your application and allows you to show evidence of your ability and motivation to undertake a given programme.

Generally, we’re looking for you to demonstrate your:

  • Creativity, imagination and innovation
  • Ability to articulate the intentions of the work
  • Intellectual engagement in areas relevant to the work
  • Technical skills appropriate to the work
  • Potential to benefit from the programme

For your application portfolio to the V&A/RCA MA History of Design please supply two pieces of recent writing, for example an academic assignment, which displays your preparedness and appropriateness for the programme.

Here is what we would like to see in the writing you provide:

  1. Evidence that you are ready for the programme: that you have the intellectual, academic and professional skills and aptitude required to take full advantage of the opportunities for learning provided to students on the programme.
  2. Evidence of alignment with the programme direction: that your academic interests and professional direction will be supported by the programme.

Each piece of writing should be between 1000 and 6000 words. If you are not a recent graduate and feel that your academic writing assignments do not reflect your thinking and writing now, you are welcome to supply a new piece of writing, such as an exhibition review or book review.

If you are not a national of a majority English-speaking country you will need the equivalent of an IELTS Academic score of 6.5 with a 6.0 in the Test of Written English (TWE) and at least 5.5 in other skills. Students achieving a grade of at least 6.0, with a grade of 5.5 in the Test of Written English, may be eligible to take the College’s English for Academic Purposes course to enable them to reach the required standard.

You are exempt from this requirement if you have received a 2.1 degree or above from a university in a majority English-speaking nation within the last two years.

If you need a Student Visa to study at the RCA, you will also need to meet the Home Office’s minimum requirements for entry clearance.

Find out more about English-language requirements

Fees & funding

For this programme

Fees for new students

Fees for September 2022 entry on this programme are outlined below. From 2021 onward, EU students are classified as Overseas for tuition fee purposes.

Overseas and EU


New entrants to the College will be required to pay a non-refundable deposit in order to secure their place. This will be offset against the tuition fees.

Overseas and EU

* Total cost is based on the assumption that the programme is completed in the timeframe stated in the programme details. Additional study time may incur additional charges.



Scholarships are awarded for a specific programme and entry point and cannot be deferred without consent from the academic Programme and scholarships panel.

More information

External funding

There are many funding sources, with some students securing scholarships and others saving money from working. It is impossible to list all the potential funding sources; however, the following information could be useful.


Tuition fees are due on the first day of the academic year and students are sent an invoice prior to beginning their studies. Payments can be made in advance, on registration or in two instalments.

Start your application

RCA students at work (photo: Richard Haughton)

Change your life and be here in 2022

The Royal College of Art welcomes applicants from all over the world.

Before you begin

Make sure you've read and understood the entrance requirements and key dates
More information about eligibility and key dates
Check you have all the information you need to apply.
Read our application process guide
Visit our applications portal to get started

Ask a question

Get in touch if you’d like to find out more or have any questions.

Email us at
[email protected]
RCA Kensington cafe