Enabling Emiratis to lead the industry

Dr Derek Hodgson, the head of the UAE’s Petroleum Institute, explains how he is helping to build a new generation of leaders.

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By  J Shankar Published  June 7, 2005

|~||~||~|The oil & gas industry, the backbone of the UAE economy, has been facing a huge crisis, which is dearth of talent. In 2001, the UAE passed a decree to set up its own Petroleum Institute, which would serve a greater purpose to not just the industry but the economy as well. With its first batch of students set to graduate next year, Dr. Derek Hogdson, executive director, Petroleum Institute, tells Oil&Gas Middle East, about his role in the emiratisation of this lucrative industry.

Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC) and its partners set up the Petroleum Institute in association with the Colarado School of Mines. What is the mission of the institute?

The institute was set up in 2001, as it is the desire of the nation to increase the number of nationals in professional positions [in the oil & gas industry]. We are here to develop United Arab Emirates (UAE) nationals to be the next generation of engineers. We are funded and operated by ADNOC and also supported by British Petroleum, Total, Shell and JODCO [Japan Oil Development Company]. All of our students have guaranteed positions at ADNOC.

So far, all our students have been young men, but beginning in 2006, we will begin enrolling women students, about 100 in number. All our students will be educated to be engineers or geo scientists. Our second mission is also to provide a research hub for the ADNOC group of companies. They have provided us the resources, so we should be able to provide research in return and also provide continuing education for managers in the companies.

The oil industry is said to be facing a slump in terms of employing skilled middle level management. Do you see your institute as playing a role in bridging the gap between the entry level and the middle level?

We are actually a response to this situation. We have been able to attract young people of high potential and ADNOC also makes it very attractive to study here. The students do not have to pay for anything, as ADNOC incurs all the expenditure and even pays a stipend to the students. They are even given housing and transportation at the college’s cost.

This seems very different from elsewhere in the world where students put in enormous effort to gain entry into a college and pay for their own tuition. Don’t you think this actually deters the students from appreciating the value of their education?

Not really, as students do have to put in a lot of effort to get in. For instance, most of our students have had Arabic as the medium of instruction in high school. So, we have a foundation programme, or a bridge programme, for the students to learn English.

So, we make them ready to be undergraduates. We prepare them for a situation that is very difficult, because everything he reads is in English, everything he sees is in English and everything he writes is in English and that is not easy. We may admit a young person, whose TOEFL score is 310, but when he enters his first year [of the degree programme] it is 500 and obviously the young man has worked very hard for it.

What about internships, will it be only with the ADNOC group or are the students exposed to the working of any other international oil company?

We right now only have internships with ADNOC operating companies and they are nineteen in number, so that is a huge variety. Currently, we have only about 40 – 42 students ready for internship. Once we get the large numbers, there will be partnerships with the international companies.

Total, as a company, is very interested in taking our students for internships, but we want to give them more training before they intern with an international oil company.

What about training the students hands-on, because oil & gas is an industry that is driven by work at the site?

We are aware that our students here bring with them certain disadvantages. For example, an American wishing to pursue engineering has got his nails dirty at some point or the other, but here the culture is different and so our students have to be given more opportunities to be on the site and experience working hands-on.

We do have excellent lab facilities and good equipment, but we also understand the importance of field experience, especially in this sector.

Is the institute strict on its policy of admitting only Emiratis or will you be open to admit any other interested student?

We do have a small percentage of Emirati residents (non-national), but they would have to be connected to the oil and gas industry, as in have a relative working in the ADNOC group. However, we do not admit anyone from outside the UAE.

But if it is a response to the slump, why restrict admissions?

We are primarily here for Emiratisation of the industry, so our mission is to educate Emiratis. The national oil company has invested so heavily in this institute, only because they want Emiratis to take leadership positions in their company.

What is the normal duration of the degree courses?

The engineering course is four years and the bridging course is about one year…so, in total about five years… But it is very difficult to graduate in five years, as the course is intensive and gruelling. Therefore, the students who do graduate in five years are simply the best. Next year, we will have about 30 students graduating out of the hundred [currently studying].

Traditionally, any technical university supports the corresponding industry by making its people aware of advancements and finding solutions to its problems. How are you progressing in this direction?

Well, that is exactly what we are trying to achieve. We have already got about 90 faculty members highly educated in their specialised field of study. The Abu Dhabi National Oil Company and its sister companies have serious problems like corrosion, for which all these members from the various departments along with a team from ADNOC can work out feasible solutions.

So, we have potential to make major contributions to the industry even for something as specialised as enhanced oil recovery, which is still not tried in the Middle East region.

Do you have teams working on any problems at the moment?

No, in the short term we are likely to be very directed by the ADNOC group of companies, in terms of research, and the nature of the research will be reactive rather than exploratory.

You have said that women will be enrolled in the PI from the coming year. Is that because of the interest shown by women or for any other specific reasons?

One, we have had some enquiries from women students wishing to pursue a career in this industry. Two, ADNOC has recognised that talent comes in two genders. And the world must make use of the talents of both men and women. We want the best of the talent in the industry, whether it is men or women.

Do you have plans to expand the portfolio of the institute in terms of introducing post graduate courses or any other types of higher education courses?

Oh yes, we plan to introduce courses for post graduates by 2008 and maybe opportunities for PhDs in about four years. We are also expanding our campuses in terms of buildings, because this fall, when new students, hopefully 350 in number, enrol, we will still be having our students from the batches of 2002 onwards in the campus. We are also expanding our library and recreation facilities.

Is your syllabus identical to the Colorado School of Mines (CSM) Syllabus or have you adapted it to suit the region?

We have modelled our undergraduate syllabi on the CSM syllabi. But, we test ourselves frequently to see how our curriculum stacks up against the international petroleum institutes’ curriculum. Our plus points are that we teach much longer than they do, as we spend more time in the classrooms.

We have a distinction of having around 90 faculty members and fewer than 600 students, so as to ensure greater individual attention to the students. When we built the buildings, we made sure that we did not have big classrooms. All we have are rooms that can accommodate groups of twenty or twenty-two, cause we realise that the needs of the students here are different.

Since you have taught for over three decades in the United States, do you find any differences in terms of students’ approach to learning and what do you see for the future?

One of the differences between here and the western society is that the western society has had a long written tradition. Mothers, traditionally, read to the children, because in that society reading is the key to education.

However, in this part of the world, the written tradition is not very strong, but they do have a strong oral tradition. So, the Emarati students may be at a disadvantage when it comes to reading long technical papers and learning. Therefore, we have to work on inculcating that habit in the institute. I think His Excellency Yousuf Omair Bin Yousef, the CEO of ADNOC, has thought about these issues in relation to the country’s needs and the industry’s needs and has developed this institute as the cornerstone of his vision. We should, therefore, in a decade, be the source of indigenous knowledge and national talent for the petroleum industry.

Finally, does ADNOC closely monitor the performance of the institute and offer advice on its operation?

Of course, it cares very much about this institute and the students. I have been on phone twice today with His Excellency; this shows his concern for the activities of the Institute.

The students in this campus are taken such good care of by the institute, as they want them to occupy senior and responsible positions in the operating companies in the region. This must be the only institute in the world that comes with a job guarantee; and that too, in the ADNOC group of companies.||**||

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