Professor Thilo Rehren, Director, UCL, Qatar

25 Feb 03:30 AM

Sector : Education Country : Qatar

The Past and the Future


University College London (UCL) Qatar is a partnership between UCL, Qatar Foundation and the Qatar Museums Authority. UCL Qatar opened in 2012, offering Masters degrees in Museum and Gallery practice, Conservation Studies, and Archaeology of the Arab and Islamic World. B'Here interviewed the director of UCL Qatar, Professor Thilo Rehren, to discuss developments over the past few years, new courses such as maritime archaeology, and its recent partnership with Hamad bin Khalifa University.
Professor Thilo Rehren is responsible for leading UCL Qatar in its development as a centre of excellence for teaching and research within cultural heritage. He holds a PhD in Volcanology from Albert Ludwigs University of Freiburg and in 1999 commenced his position as chair in Archaeological Materials and Technologies at the UCL Institute of Archaeology, London. His wide research interests include the reconstruction of past processes for the production of metals and glass, including Late Bronze Age glass making in Egypt. Further original research includes Islamic crucible steel production in Central Asia. 


This year, UCL Qatar offered for the first time in the Gulf region a maritime archeology course. Is this set to usher in a new era of maritime archeology in Qatar and the Gulf? And might UCL Qatar offer a full course in the subject?

Maritime archaeology is a very important subject not just for Qatar, but the entire region. Pearling, fishing, trade with India and East Africa – all this was crucially dependent on ships. Seafaring in the Gulf goes back many thousand years. Maritime archaeology is already offered as part of our MA in Archaeology of the Arab and Islamic World, and over time, we hope that students from the GCC and beyond can specialize in this subject at UCL Qatar.

In UCL Qatar’s first intake of students in 2012, 32 students from 13 countries enrolled. How many students are there in this academic year, and how many students do you forecast UCL Qatar having in years to come?

Our enrolment numbers have significantly picked up; this year, we have 77 students altogether, with Qatari students being the biggest group by far. Beyond this, the majority of our students were already in Qatar when they applied to study at UCL Qatar – we serve primarily the people of this country to achieve the QNV2030. For this, we are proud to attract also excellent students from around the world, to offer a truly international education on a par with what UCL offers back home. In two years, we want to reach our target of 100 enrolled students.

Can you tell us about UCL Qatar’s collaboration with the Qatar Museums Authority (QMA) and contributing to the continued development of Qatar’s cultural sector? 

QMA is an important organization within Qatar, not only developing its many world-class national collections into stunning new museums, but also overseeing Qatar’s rich heritage. There is a very lively modern art scene here, which is crucial for the development of the cultural sector.  At UCL Qatar we work closely with our colleagues at QMA in providing training courses, organizing community engagement events, and of course our degree programs. Then, there is our joint research, in large projects such as the Origins of Doha excavations that give us fascinating new insight into this city’s beginnings..

UCL Qatar originally offered three postgraduate degree programs - MSc in Conservation Studies, an MA in Museum and Gallery Practice, and an MA in the Archeology of the Arab and Islamic World. Which courses are the most popular? And are there any plans to offer doctorate programs?

All three of our original courses are popular, and we receive every year more applications and increase the number of offers to the best students. On a year on year basis, the MA in Museum and Gallery Practice is the most popular. But since the other two programs run for two years to offer a fascinating range of specializations and practical training, they have very similar student numbers enrolled at any one time. 

In regards to doctoral students, as one of the top-five universities worldwide, research is very important for UCL. We are proud that already the best of our graduates are enrolled as doctoral students, working with our faculty on research that is directly relevant for Qatar and the region. 

In 2013, UCL Qatar teamed up with Hamad bin Khalifa University to offer an MA in Library and Information Studies and a Diploma in Academic Research and Methods. How is teaching split between the two universities, and will UCL Qatar enter into more such partnerships with Qatari universities?

Our cooperation with HBKU started almost immediately when this university was first announced, and we are glad to be able to work with it as it establishes itself as a research-led university complementing the important programs that are already available at Education City. At the moment, teaching in both of these programs is done entirely by UCL faculty, with new faculty in these two courses to be hired by HBKU, working alongside UCL faculty. I see HBKU as our strategic long-term partner.

What research projects is the university working on – in conjunction with funding from the Qatar National Research Fund (QNRF) – in Qatar, Sudan and Egypt?

Sudan is a particularly interesting country for us, but also for QMA with whom we cooperate closely there. We are conducting excavations at the Ancient City of Meroe, focusing on early iron production.  Other research we do concentrates on early cities and their formation –something of direct relevance for Qatar and the astonishing growth of Doha. The whole concept of living in cities was ‘invented’ in the Arab world; the oldest cities here go back nearly 10,000 years – where better to study their origins, development and future than here?  


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