The content of courses at UK film schools

2 March '15 5 Comments on The content of courses at UK film schools

Today I am sharing the second part of an investigation I performed into UK film schools and courses.  Part one last week looked at the number of film schools and qualifications on offer and next week I’ll be sharing more of the opinions of UK film students. I looked at all film courses in the UK which last at least a year, feature some element of practical filmmaking and are open to join in 2015. In summary…

  • Film schools charge much higher fees than universities that offer film courses
  • The National Film and Television School (NFTS) charges non-EU students £50,000 for their two-year MA
  • The majority of international film students at UK universities pay between £10,000 and £15,000 a year.
  • There is just one full time Documentary film course in the UK (lasting at least a year, with some practical element and starting in 2015)

Course Fees

Studying at a dedicated film school does not come cheap,with many two year courses costing more than £40,000.  In the UK, university fees are capped by the government at £9,000 a year, meaning that we shouldn’t be surprised that 89% of film courses in the UK are taught within universities.

BA courses

BA fees do not differ hugely across Universities, with most opting to charge the new maximum of £9,000 p/a and the vast majority of the rest charging around £6,000.  International (i.e. non-EU) fees for BAs differ more substantially, ranging from around £10,000 to around £20,000, with the vast majority falling between £10,000 and £15,000. Film schools’ fees for BA courses vary hugely depending on the school. They often charge considerably more for BAs, although they tend to offer more intensive two-year courses.  Fees are in the range of £9,000-£22,000 p/a for BAs at Film Schools

MA courses

The fees for University courses at MA level are far more varied in terms of fees.

  • Most universities charge in the range of £5,000-£10,000.
  • Foreign fees for MAs are relatively similar to those for BAs, again ranging from around £10,000 to around £20,000, but with the vast majority falling between £10,000 and £15,000.
  • The key difference with MAs is that the fee disparity between UK and foreign students is far greater than with BA courses.

Film Schools’ fees for MA courses are significantly more for both UK and foreign students.

  • UK students are charged between roughly £8,000 and £27,000 for courses, with most in the range of £15,000-£22,000
  • Non-EU students are charged between roughly £12,000 and £27,000, with most in the range of £16,000 to £22,000. The NFTS charges £25,000 per year for all their two-year MAs.
  • More expensive, fixed-rate courses (at the Met Film School and NFTS) charge UK and foreign students the same amount. In general there is less discrepancy between UK and foreign fees at film schools than at other institutions.
  • Film school diplomas are roughly £20,000 p/a for Filmmaking Courses and roughly £12,000 p/a for screenwriting courses for both UK and International students. It is unclear whether this correlates with value.
  • Raindance offer an MA accredited by the University of Stafforature which costs £7,950 (possible due to it’s part-time, self-guided study structure).

Courses with other qualifications

HND/FDA/CertHE and other short courses cost far less. They are generally in the range of £3000-£6000 p/a, although some charge as much as £9000.

UK film schools with highest fees

SchoolCoursesAve annual fee
Met Film School10£19,076
Central Film School5£16,313
London Film Academy5£14,500
Regent's University London (College of Film, Media and Performance)3£14,117
London Film School2£10,683
National Film and Television School20£10,205
Bath Spa University3£10,165

Principal topic of the course

For each of the 537 courses I found in my criteria, I assigned a ‘principal topic’, based on the course literature.  This can be a tricky task because each school documents their courses differently and some courses allow for significant specialisation meaning that there isn’t one principal topic. UK full-time film courses at film schools There are just 3 full time documentary courses in my criteria, two at MA level and one at BA. It should be noted that despite there being 102 courses under the category of ‘production’, almost none of these courses are specifically aimed at training producers.  I found this out first-hand as I studied on a three year degree entitled ‘Film and Video: Production’ and yet the total teaching time focused on learning how to be a producer was three hours! Here is a more detailed breakdown…

Principle TopicCourses
Production (Various)86
Film Theory69
Above-the-Line Talent (Screenwriting)40
Post-Production, Effects and Animation (Visual and Special Effects)24
Post-Production, Effects and Animation (Various)23
Post-Production, Effects and Animation (Animation)23
Above-the-Line Talent (Various)19
Technical On-set skills (Sound)14
Production (Television)10
Art Department (Production Design)9
Above-the-Line Talent (Cinematography)6
Above-the-Line Talent (Directing)6
Production (Film Business)6
Art Department (Various)5
Post-Production and Effects and Animation (Editing)3
Art Department (Costume)3
Art Department (Make-up and Prosthetics)2
Technical On-set skills (Various)2

Practical vs theory-based

Making films is one of the things film students are rather keen on and yet, film schools struggle to provide the equipment and infrastructure to support a large amount of practical coursework.  Judging from their marketing materials, most film schools know that the amount of practical filmmaking on a course is of particular interest to potential students. It’s not possible to provide a clear number for the amount of practical filmmaking on each course, for a couple of reasons…

  • Gathering data – I can only use data published by the institutions or provided by current or past students.  In an ideal world there would be an independent film-based body gathering data on film schools and universities (in the same way that QAA does for accredited courses) but sadly there are currently few such monitoring bodies and none devoted to the study of film.
  • Measuring the amount – Even if we had complete data for every course, there is no clear unit of measurement for the amount of filmmaking a course contains.  My production company makes many short films a month and yet even to us it’s not clear how much of what we do is “practical”. Being on set is clearly “practical” but there are many other parts to the journey of making a film.  Should we include the brainstorming, writing, pre-production, legals, delivery, etc?  The % of our time spent on set versus spent in the office is pretty small (certainly under 20% on set).

Although we cannot create an objective measure of the amount of practical filmmaking on a course, it is possible to gather the opinions of current film students in order to get a vague understanding of the spread of film courses in the UK. I surveyed 317 current UK film students and asked them about their course. Split of practical versus film theory at film schools

Film industry sectors taught

‘Filmmaking’ is a broad topic and within the industry there are a great number of specialties and departments.  Most students start a film course knowing little about the intricacies of the film industry so it is important that film schools cover a wide spectrum of topics. I asked my cohort of 317 current UK film students what topics their course contains. Uk film students tell us what their film schools course cover

Work placements

Despite focusing on industry employability and professional contacts in their course descriptions, relatively few courses require (or even offer) modules dependent on work experience.

  • Around 15% of BAs/HNDs/FdAs require work experience placements for completion
  • Around 10% more offer optional work experience placements and stress the fact they support and encourage such placements.
  • MAs rarely offer work placements, just 10% offer either a compulsory or optional work experience placement.
  • Similarly, it is rare that film schools require or offer placements as part of or in lieu of their modules.

Course structure

The structure of film courses can be divided into three main types: specialised (early), specialised (late) and unspecialised.

  • In general, BAs, HNDs and FdAs tend to be of the last category and MAs of the first.
  • The content and progression of modules across courses is however hugely varied.
  • The majority of courses contain some modules on industry/ professional practice and some elements of film theory, although even this is not widespread enough to be considered a rule.
  • As mentioned above, the majority of general courses do not offer strict pathways, or a careful progression of modules. This may point to the fact that courses are perhaps poorly structured or insufficient care has gone into designing a natural progression between modules. In other words, too many courses appear simply to contain a range of unconnected film-related modules (this is supported by survey data from students presented in later sections).

Differences between types of institutions

There are sizeable differences between the types of educational institutions which provide UK film courses. They can be divided into:

  • Film schools (institutions offering solely film-related courses)
  • Arts Colleges (institutions offering solely arts courses)
  • Universities (institutions offering a wide range of courses in both film and non-film related subjects)
  • Vocational colleges (smaller institutions offering primarily HNDs and FdAs, these institutions also tend to offer a range of Certificates of Higher Education as well as A-Level equivalents).
  • Other (such as Raindance whose MA course has 122 current students but who break the mould of a traditional film school).

University film courses are found in a range of schools and faculties. This means that each has a different structure in terms of control of course content. Universities have heads of school and department who, with few exceptions, are not film academics or professionals. They also have programme leaders (heads of course) who tend to be film academics. Arts colleges have a similar structure, although their department heads are generally more specialised. Film Schools, on the other hand, are both run by and have their courses taught by film academics or industry professionals. Universities validate their own courses, whilst smaller colleges and film schools have their courses validated by larger institutions (they pay a fee for this service).  For example…

  • The Met Film School has courses validated by both Bournemouth University and the University of West London
  • The NFTS courses are validated by the Royal College of Art
  • London Film School courses are validated by London Metropolitan University

Arts colleges tend to validate their own degrees. In general, university courses contain greater theoretical content and film schools greater practical elements.  However, this is mainly due to differences in the types of degree on offer. In other words, universities offer a greater number of theoretical degrees or degrees with theoretical content, however, directly comparable degrees (filmmaking BAs for example) do not differ hugely in content dependent on institution.


It’s worth noting that this research is looking at the content of the courses (as described by the educational institution) rather than the quality of the courses. Over the years I have taught at numerous film schools and run specialised film courses around the world. At the moment, I have regular engagements at the National Film and Television School (NFTS) and the Met Film School and also consult for the Central Film School. I am grateful to Alexis Kreager and Zak Klein who were invaluable in the research process. Thank you both.


Next week I will give voice to film students as I share the results of a survey I performed with almost 500 students past and present.



  1. Great job….! As a Doctor in Education, I find your research quite interesting and wonder if you have any plans for markets/research like Latin America? Warm regards,
    Martha Juy

  2. A lacking fact is the shocking state of cinematography teaching, many schools claim to be teaching it but most do not have proper lighting, film studio or tutors with the technical knowledge. Most students do not understand the basics of optics (which should be known by all film makers, directors, art directors etc ) photography or lighting. In fact many of the courses do not teach any photo science at all or at most run a short 13 week course like “sound camera lighting” . At the same time there are now tutors who are “doctors” of film who have never made a film or worked on one. The numbers of students on these course is also shocking with a 100 on each year and being taught in shifts. A money making cow for universities. The use of words like “production” are used to confuse and blur what is really being taught, in pretending to teach everything, nothing is really been taught. It is film criticism with amateur film making tagged on.

  3. A very useful bit of research that I hope is just the start of something that goes deeper in time to examine quality lso. I think that there are a lot of students that are being short changed for some of the reasons that Cherry Chapman has commented on. From my experience of teaching in University on such courses I would say that what’s on offer in most cases is in fact courses in desktop digital video production. This is because the cost of this type of kit has lowered the cost of entry significantly over the past fifteen years and allowed many universities to get into this market. I don’t think there is any thing wrong with this other than the fact that many of these courses are being sold on the basis that they are film and television production courses. As such its very hard for prospective students to know what they are really getting for their money. One thing for sure its certainly not value. So Stephen please keep up the good work and hopefully one day prospective students will have a more transparent way of judging the quality of these courses.

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