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Thilo Rehren

QATAR - Health & Education

Conserve & Display

Director, UCL Qatar

Bio

Professor Thilo Rehren studied Economic Geology (MSc) and Volcanology (PhD) in Germany before working for close to ten years as a research scientist for archaeo-metallurgy at the German Mining Museum in Bochum. In 1999 he was appointed to the Chair in Archaeological Materials and Technologies at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, focusing on the production of metal and glass in archaeology. During this tenure he develop the academic concept for UCL Qatar, before becoming its Director in 2011.

"This is a booming region where a lot of big museum projects are underway."

How would you assess the success of UCL’s first year in Qatar?

It was extremely interesting to see the diversity of the students that we attracted. We offer three different Master’s programs, with 29 students participating. We had originally hoped for 24 students, with eight in each program, so when we took on almost 30 students we were particularly satisfied. These students come from 13 or 14 different countries; nine are Qatari, and roughly one-third are from elsewhere in the region, and others from even further afield, like Europe and the US. As it was our first academic year, certain programs have required adjustment to adapt to the market needs and realities of the country. An example of this is technical and scientific training in our MSc in Conservation, a new course for the country that relies heavily on chemistry and material science. For this you need sophisticated laboratories and chemicals, and because a license is required for everything in Qatar, we had to adapt to accommodate these limitations. It has therefore been a learning curve for us, although we are happily entering our second year, with student recruitment almost twice what it was at the same time in 2012. Recruitment is working well through word-of-mouth and advertising, as well as through our collaboration with museums and international organizations. Real-world work experience is a crucial part of our programs, and we make sure that the students gain practical experience from their work placements. In addition, many of the placements take place in Qatar.

Does UCL Qatar teach an international approach to managing museums?

We teach an international approach to museum studies and conservation, but with a focus on what is needed and relevant in Qatar and the region. This is a booming region where a lot of big museum projects are underway. They need good content for the museums and outstanding exhibits, but they also need a strategy for interacting with their societies. Our programs in London are the same in terms of the admissions process and the degree, but the focus is different, as we are operating in a different environment.

“This is a booming region where a lot of big museum projects are underway.”

What are your thoughts on the development of a cultural atmosphere in Qatar?

The Qatar National Vision 2030 states that people need to understand cultural values and develop an awareness of this in order to shape their own national identity. It also spells out the need to attract highly skilled expatriates to come and work here and to make them feel genuinely comfortable living here. Perhaps we can play a part in this by providing and organizing enlightening public lectures and events, and by contributing to the dynamic museums environment. This is a booming region with many large museum projects underway. They need good content and outstanding exhibits, but they also need a strategy for interacting with their societies. We have a dual role: to help make Qatar a more attractive place for skilled expatriate workers, and also to help the country develop its own national identity. We operate an intensive program of ongoing professional development that we deliver specifically for the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA), with six or seven of their staff reading for MA programs with us. We are partnered equally with QMA and Qatar Foundation. Our teaching includes visiting lecturers from UCL London who deliver intensive courses, providing more academic diversity than our nine faculty members could alone.

What synergies exist between UCL in Qatar and the home campus in London?

Being able to draw on UCL in London is important for us. Our close relationship with the UCL Institute of Archaeology means we can provide much more academic diversity than our nine faculty members could provide by themselves. Our teaching includes visiting lecturers from London who deliver intensive courses. Students may spend time in UCL-operated museums in London and get a chance to see how UCL works from the inside. We actively explore how we can broaden our students’ experience.

How would you like to see UCL expand in the short term?

In addition to the MA in Archaeology, the MSc in Conservation, and the MA in Museum and Gallery Practice, we have launched an MA in Library and Information Studies, and a Diploma in Academic Research and Methods with the first students enrolling in late 2013. The latter is aimed at well-qualified candidates of notable potential. It is a six-month program that serves as a pre-Master’s preparatory course. We hope to continue welcoming a practical number of students to each course. We will also attempt to expand further and respond more fully to market needs. Qatar finds itself increasingly at the forefront of academic knowledge and education with the goal of developing a knowledge-based economy. We can assist in this by providing advanced technical methods for studying the past and the interaction between people and their environment. Many of the sites that are being studied today are in the waters around Qatar, with the water level having risen over time. I think that the study of these settlements and attempts to understand how people treated the environment and moved around is particularly important for a country like Qatar, which contributes significantly to climate change.

© The Business Year – March 2014

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