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University visit - 29 November 2007

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A visit to the Mongolian University of Science and Technology has been on my agenda since my departure, and yesterday I met with Purev-Erdene Ershuu, architect and lecturer at the Centre for Architectural Research and Design at this university. The meeting had taken several weeks to organise, with much help from Munkhzhul Choiljiljav, former London Metropolitan University architecture student and AA school applicant. With both Munkhzhul and my CTC interpreter Ariunaa in my entourage, Purev outlined the Mongolian architectural education scene in fluent English. The largest of four construction education institutions in Ulaanbaatar, MUST's architecture school has a population of about four hundred students, having increased threefold since 1995. There are two graduating cohorts each year, about twenty in total, and an intake of about one hundred. Purev says a high attrition rate is necessary to maintain a high standard.

With the currently buoyant construction industry producing high demand, almost all graduates apparently find work in Mongolia. The curriculum is understandably influenced by the history of collaboration with Russian universities. Russian language is still a compulsory subject, and the language of many textbooks. However Purev claims the curriculum structure is largely based on the German system, because of the strong links there. The studio master system has been replaced, however, by team teaching, in order to cope with the staff student ratio for 14 full time staff like Purev. Russian 'didactic' teaching methods are criticised but still present, and the university sees design workshops as seminars rather than as a separate delivery method western universities call 'studio'. There is interest in English-language architecture and culture. International links include Korean (KOICA) and Japanese (JAICA) volunteers and exchanges in the school, a Romanian exchange project, and a link with Vienna University of Technology. I was aware of the latter through my contact with Prof Erich Lehner, at the Department of 'Extra-European architecture' (Ausser-europaeischer Baukunst), who, with Viennese students, has been partner in an ongoing project in a ger district.

A member of the eleven-strong steering committee of the Mongolian Association of Architects (Mong. Arkh. Kholboo), Purev expressed frustration that as there is no protection or promotion of title here, and that the association is 'symbolic' and 'dormant'. Similarly, architecture-allied careers like drafter, technologist, historian and built environment educator are not professionalised. It was a very useful meeting and my collegue Ariunaa claimed that finding a kindred spirit had made me happier than she had ever seen me. My hopes for learning more about the advisory role of the Mongolian Association of Architects or MUST in continuing professional development and curriculum development are, for the moment, however, dashed...

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