Learning and teaching

Learning and teaching

Learning and teaching methods include lectures, individual and group tutorials, placements and work-related learning.

NUA emphasises learning and discovery through studio and workshop practice, critical reflection and experimentation with ideas, processes and materials. Other learning and teaching methods include lectures, individual and group tutorials, placements and work-related learning, alongside technical demonstrations, exhibition practice and other presentations of students’ work. 

Students’ progress is assessed in a number of ways. All courses provide clear information about the work required for assessment, and the criteria which are used in assessment. Courses make considerable use of group critiques where students present their work for discussion. Courses also use self-evaluation and peer evaluation to complement the assessment of work by tutors. Students come into contact with a wide range of staff, all of them committed to supporting learning. As well as academic staff, these include staff in technical workshops, the Library and Careers Service, and Student Support

To fully benefit from the course, students are expected to attend all of the taught sessions that are included on the timetable. Timetables are made available at the start of term. For undergraduate students, the balance between taught study and independent learning changes as students progress through the course. As an approximation, an undergraduate student can expect to attend taught sessions for 35% of their time in Year 0, 30% in Year 1, 26% in Year 2 and 24% in Year 3. Postgraduate taught students can expect to attend taught sessions for approximately 20% of their study time.

Independent Learning

Independent learning complements and builds upon the teaching you receive on your course. Key aspects of learning develop through the acquisition of research skills, the generation and development of ideas, and independent study. Learning Agreements are used by courses to support independent study and to enable students to focus, direct and negotiate their individual pathway through the course. 

At undergraduate level, an increasing emphasis is placed on independent learning as students progress through their course. This enables them to make the best use of the University’s resources in support of individual creative development. Independent learning may be based on projects or assignments set by staff, or it may be self-initiated. There are significant opportunities for self-initiated study at both undergraduate and postgraduate levels. 

PAL scheme

Each undergraduate degree course has a system of peer support known as Peer Assisted Learning or PAL. This means that Year One students have ready access to trained Year Two students from their course, from before they arrive through to the end of the first year. The advice and support given by the PALs is directly relevant to first year students and is delivered by Year Two or Three students who have had similar experiences themselves. This extra layer of support for first year students has been found to be very effective in helping to smooth the transition to higher education.


One of the most exciting aspects of study at NUA is the opportunity for students to concentrate on their art and design discipline. However, there are also valuable opportunities to learn from the experience of working collaboratively or as part of a team with students on other courses. Collaborative projects may form part of the approved content of a course unit, with the outcomes of the collaboration being formally assessed, or they can be negotiated as part of a learning agreement. The chief benefit of collaborating in this way is that it reflects the realities of professional practice in the creative industries, and thus it enhances students’ understanding of the professional context for their work. 

Work-related learning

All NUA courses offer students opportunities to undertake periods of work placement in order to reinforce their professional development and awareness. Other types of work-related learning emphasised by courses include: guest lectures or workshops led by visiting artists and designers; ‘live’ projects or commissions for external clients; mentoring by practising artists and designers; and projects which simulate professional practice in the creative sectors. In addition, students are encouraged to participate in regional and national competitions for artists and designers such as the Starpack Packaging Awards and Design & Art Direction Awards, often achieving significant success. 

Students also undertake voluntary projects, for example in schools, hospitals and the wider community. This experience is particularly valuable for those who want to pursue a career in teaching or community work. NUA is developing mechanisms by which such activity can be accredited towards a degree. The University regularly takes advice from the creative and cultural industries in order to maintain the currency of its courses and to ensure that the learning experience is relevant to future employment, freelance work and progression to postgraduate study.  

Strategy for Learning

All of these features of learning, teaching and assessment are underpinned by NUA’s Strategy for Learning which sets out its principle aims and the ways in which learning and teaching will be enhanced at NUA. Academic and other staff involved in teaching and the support of learning regularly identify and share good practice with colleagues within the University and nationally. Each year NUA recognises the contribution made by staff through the Vice-Chancellor’s Teaching Excellence Award.

Staff are able to apply for small grants for the development of new approaches to learning and teaching, and for funding to promote the application of their research and creative practice to inform and update their teaching. The University is committed to a learning environment in which traditional forms of learning and teaching are complemented by e-learning, and which is significantly enhanced by the digital resources available through Workshops and the Library.

European Study and Exchange

NUA has a policy of strengthening and extending its present participation in European student exchanges and links and in facilitating student mobility. Partnership exchange schemes are in operation with a range of European academies and it is the University’s aim to continue to develop the network of art and design colleges in the European Community. Find out more about Erasmus at NUA.