UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage


Course structure and content

Find out about the structure and content of UCL's Sustainable Heritage MSc: compulsory and optional modules, the dissertation and the study visit.



The MSc uses a block teaching model, like an MBA, rather than the traditional one or two day per week Master's course, with each module structured as follows:

One week of advance reading using an online learning environment accessible through a web browser and traditional printed sources. This can easily be accomplished remotely. A taught phase where all students come together for two weeks of intensive classroom teaching, study visits and case-study work. This is based at UCL for most modules but students will travel either to Malta or to a UK heritage site for a study visit (travel and accommodation expenses are paid by the programme). Most students already have work experience in heritage or a related field, and this enhances the quality of classroom discussion, which is a central feature of the programme.

Students undertake modules to the value of 180 credits. The programme consists of three core modules (60 credits), two optional modules involving a study visit (30 credits each), two optional modules (15 credits each), a dissertation (60 credits) and an optional project placement (not credit bearing).

A post-module phase of three weeks where the student individually completes an assessed piece of coursework that is submitted online. This can be completed remotely.  For part-time students, longer deadlines are given to accommodate those with additional responsibilities e.g. work or caring.



Compulsory modules

There are two 15 credit compulsory modules: ‘Introduction to Sustainable Heritage’ and ‘Sustainability and Heritage Value’ and two 30-credit compulsory modules: ‘Heritage Materials and Assemblies: UK’ and ‘Heritage Management and Sustainable Development’

    Introduction to Sustainable Heritage

    This introductory module, shared across all of the Master’s programmes in the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage, offers students the chance to engage with the fundamental concepts and principles that underpin all the work undertaken by the Institute. It presents an opportunity for students to learn next to peers following different programmes within ISH, illustrating the range of disciplines that contribute to the fields of sustainable heritage and heritage science.

    The module has three fundamental aims:

    • To introduce students to the shared concepts and principles that are fundamental to the field of sustainable heritage.
    • To demonstrate to students the necessarily interdisciplinary nature of sustainable heritage, illustrating how their chosen speciality complements and builds on the work of those in other programmes.
    • It aims further to develop students’ sense of themselves as researchers, and to equip them with the skills necessary to work across academic disciplines.

    Students will consider what is and what is not heritage, the shape and nature of the heritage sector, how and in what ways heritage is valued, the role played by heritage in developing resilient and sustainable societies, how scientific data and evidence is used within heritage, and heritage risks and possible futures.

    The module will illustrate the social and material systems that form heritage, and develop students’ understanding of different research paradigms and methodologies, equipping them to collaborate in a truly interdisciplinary way.

    Sustainability and Heritage Value

    Sustainability and Heritage Value looks at the issues of value and sustainability in the wider context of heritage management practice and theory. The notion of value is becoming mainstream in conservation and world heritage management plans. The role of heritage in sustainable development (with special emphasis on the recently adopted United Nations Sustainable Development Goals) makes heritage and sustainability more topical than ever.

    There is also acceptance of the need to put stewardship of cultural heritage centre stage – that is, to involve communities in decision-making and for practitioners, in turn, to see the relevance of wider societal issues to their work.

    This module presents concepts that will become recurring themes throughout the programme and shows how they can be put into practice in a real heritage context. These concepts will increasingly inform students' understanding of how they can successfully perform jobs as heritage managers and leaders in a world where access to precious resources – economic, natural, technological and others – is becoming more constrained.

    The aim is to provide students with a grounding in the theories and philosophies of sustainability, conservation and heritage management, including their underlying values and ethics.

    Students will engage with issues and ideas relating to sustainability and sustainable development, and how they apply them to heritage management, thus questioning past and present attitudes to redefine future trends.

    Heritage Materials and Assemblies: UK

    Understanding a historic building is the first step towards decisions about management, repair, alteration and re-use. Heritage Materials and Assemblies aims to enable students to develop an understanding of heritage materials, mechanisms and evidence of deterioration, and the interaction and effects of context and use on heritage materials and assemblies.
    Students will learn about pathologies and diagnostics including monitoring, analysis and documentation, and use this knowledge to balance a complex range of social, economic, environmental and cultural factors that may affect the integrity of materials.

    As part of the module, we will organise a field trip at a UK heritage site in 2021.  Travel expenses will be covered by the course.  Given the current global situation, we can’t be sure that this can go ahead, but the field trip is tremendously valuable for our students, and we will run it if it is safe to do so.  However we recognise that travel may still not possible late into the 2020/21 academic year, or that students from outside the UK may still not be able to travel to the UK. If this is the case we will organise a virtual alternative to the field trip.  

    This module is not intended to develop your practical preservation and conservation skills. However, as heritage managers and consultants in the heritage sector, you will need to understand the main preservation and conservation issues in order to make informed decisions about the survival of often vulnerable assemblies and to be sensitive to the cultural, social, environmental and economic ramifications of your decisions.

    You will learn about the range of techniques and tools available, their advantages and limitations, discuss and use a range of strategies to improve your understanding of deterioration issues and how to achieve this knowledge using the resources available.

    Heritage Management and Sustainable Development

    'Heritage Management and Sustainable Development' aims to enable students to develop an understanding of heritage management, personal leadership and project management and how to successfully convert strategy into operational reality.

    The Module does so by providing students with a critical understanding of emergent issues related to heritage mainly in the context of cities around the world with particular emphasis on sustainable urban transformationsand the adaptive reuse and conservation of historic buildings in historic cities.

    The Module will explore the impact of local and global economies, social and environmental challenges on heritage (especially in cities) as well as examining the role of heritage in driving social and economic sustainability.

    Students will be equipped with skills to develop ‘critical’ urban heritage conservation and management strategies that intend not only to protect heritage in the dynamic, complex and urban environment, but also to make heritage contribute to the sustainable development of urban areas through heritage and community participation.

    Optional modules 

    There are two 15-credit optional modules. Students must take at least one of the following optional modules, and may take both. If they only take one, they should also choose a relevant and compatible 15-credit module from a different programme in order to tailor their career path.  Module choices should be discussed with the Programme Lead. 

    Strategies for Sustainable Heritage Landscapes

    This optional module approaches heritage landscapes from a sustainability perspective, understanding them as complex forms of heritage charged with cultural and natural significance. 

    The module provides an integrated understanding of heritage landscapes through discussing theoretical backgrounds and practical frameworks aimed at the sustainable management of these sites. The module addresses the significance and value of heritage landscapes and explores strategies for preservation that are underpinned by sustainability and take into consideration historical, cultural, social and environmental components and values.

    The module will cover the following:

    • The concept of “landscape” and the cultural significance, values and services of heritage landscapes.
    • Essential concepts such as biodiversity, ecosystems and ecosystem services, as well as their main threats, including climate change and other anthropogenic hazards.
    • The value, significance and services of managed parks and gardens.
    • Strategies for the social, economic and environmental sustainability of Heritage Landscapes in both urban and rural areas. 

    The teaching will be delivered through a combination of lectures and seminars, supported by case-study learning.

    Strategies for Sustainable Heritage Buildings and Collections

    This optional module explores theoretical and practical approaches for ensuring the sustainability of heritage buildings and collections. The module approaches heritage buildings and collections as complex forms of heritage that are intrinsically connected, and connected to their context.

    The aim of this module is to enable students to further their integrated understanding of buildings and collections, in consideration of their natural and social environment, and to formulate appropriate and sustainable response strategies. Students will focus particularly on sustainable strategies for conservation and reuse of heritage buildings and for effective management of collections, while taking consideration of implementation implications, including the optimisation of social, economic and environmental resources.It will refocus the balance between traditional preservation and conservation approaches and use, leading to sustainable solutions within the broader context of environmental sustainability.
    The module will explore the following:

    • Sustainability merits of heritage buildings from the material, environmental and cultural perspectives.
    • Strategies for supporting environmental sustainability of heritage buildings and collections, including control of environmental conditions, energy performance, use of renewable energy.
    • Interconnection between building condition, building performance and collection condition and strategies to enhance conservation.
    • Management strategies for museum collections.

    The teaching will be delivered through a combination of lectures and seminars, supported by abundant case-study learning


    Sustainable Heritage Master's students are required to submit a 10,000-word dissertation. Students select a topic in agreement with the Programme Lead, and the dissertation is supervised by a member of staff from the UCL Institute for Sustainable Heritage or an expert from a heritage organisation.

    The topic can be taken from a wide range of subjects related to the main themes of the course, and may be selected to assist career development, for its inherent interest, or because it is related to a relevant professional issue at work.

    Watch the video below to hear students from this programme talking about their dissertation research:

    YouTube Widget Placeholderhttps://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bm0z8xOR3KE

    You can also download the document below to see examples of part dissertation titles: