Africa’s premier petroleum varsity in the throes of want

Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Efffurun

Ten years after it was established as Africa’s premier oil industry university, the Federal University of Petroleum Resources (FUPRE), Effurun, Delta State, is still hamstrung on several fronts. That notwithstanding, it is also recording modest achievements. As the university, the sixth of its kind in the world celebrates its 10th Founders’ Day and first convocation (comprising 2011 to 2016 sets), between yesterday and today, it is doing so with the bill establishing it yet to be assented to by the president, lack of funding from the Federal Government, inadequate attention from stakeholders. Assistant Features Editor, ENO-ABASI SUNDAY, writes on the unfortunate scenario.

With massive crude oil deposit and an estimated 170 tcf of proven natural gas reserves in the country, the Federal Government in its wisdom felt that it was out of place for a country so endowed to rely on expatriates to harness its potentials, hence the establishment of the continent’s premier petroleum university, the Federal University of Petroleum Resources (FUPRE), Effurun, Delta State.

The school, which pioneer vice chancellor was Prof. Babatunde Alabi, established in March 2007, (under a Federal Government initiative aimed at building a specialised university to produce unique high-level manpower and relevant expertise for the oil and gas sector in the country and beyond), at first occupied the PTI Conference Centre, Effurun, which is a few kilometres away from the permanent site.

FUPRE as Africa numero uno was destined to be the premier international institution-of-choice with state-of-the-art facilities to provide the petroleum and allied sectors, world-class education, training, research, consultancy and extension services.

At the initial stage, things were looking up for the institution, and three years after it came on stream, the first sod turning at its permanent site took place on March 10, 2010.

For many, with this development, the school was on course to realising its vision of being the premier international institution with state-of-the-art facilities to provide for the petroleum and allied sectors, world-class education, training, research, consultancy and extension services.

All also appeared set for it to attain its mission of creating top quality human resource in order to enhance local content in the oil and gas and energy industry of the country; to design, develop and deliver cutting edge education and training programmes for professionals in the industry; to engage in research, consultancy and development activities in all technical and managerial aspects of the oil and gas sector, as well as, take the leadership role in promoting the economic development of the immediate community and the society at large, through specific education, training and outreach activities.”

Sadly, however, the financial challenges besetting FUPRE, which are dire, appear to form a larger part of the albatross bogging down the school.

Interestingly, some of these challenges date back to its inception. For instance, some of the serious challenges and issues that incumbent vice chancellor of the institution, Professor Akii Ibhadode, met on assumption of office, are still yet to be resolved. One of the most prominent among these issues is the school’s take-off grant.

After the Federal Government approved a take-off grant of N1b to be funded by the Education Trust Fund (ETF), now Tertiary Education Trust Fund
(TETfund), and the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF). The ETF released its first tranche of N75m in 2008 and the second-tranche of Two hundred N200m in 2009.

“To date, PTDF has not released to FUPRE its share of the special take-off grant of N500m. So, we appeal for the release of this amount from PTDF, as its release would go a long way to alleviate some of our financial challenges to enable us to deliver on our mandate,” he stated.

Ibhadode also recently lamented that the school was in dire need of support and would love to be showered sufficient attention, the type given the Petroleum Development Institute (PTI).

Said he, “I mean the government has not given the Federal University of Petroleum Resources (FUPRE) enough attention. The focus is mainly on PTI because it is much older. The little support FUPRE gets comes only from the TETFund. We need meaningful support, to carry out our mandate of producing high-level manpower for the oil industry. We’d like FUPRE to be centrally important to oil and gas industry training in Africa. We want to capture that sector. This means the Petroleum Training Development Fund (PTDF) should direct most of the postgraduate level students it sponsors to FUPRE, and send few abroad. Government should invest, maybe, a tenth of what that is costing in FUPRE. It would make a world of difference.

Another factor that is hampering the full-scale operations of the university, as well as limiting the goodwill it ought to have attracted from the industry and sundry stakeholders is the fact that the bill for its establishment, which has been passed by the two chambers of the National Assembly, is still awaiting the assent of the President/Visitor to the school.

In addition to the sparse academic infrastructure that are insufficient for learning and research, social infrastructure are also non-existent in the school. Staff housing, sports complex, convocation arena, students centre are some of those facilities that are still lacking.

To date, the Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) facilities located in Edjeba and Ogunu, near Warri, vacated in 2013, and listed by the SPDC to be handed over to the school are yet to change hands due largely to bureaucratic bottlenecks.
The above scenario reflects how challenged the school is in the area of infrastructure, as it still strives to meet standards in a critical sector of the global economy.

Even though the university was set up as a specialised one, it has not in true sense witnessed, or been accorded any special attention, either by the Federal Government or international oil companies operating in the Niger Delta region where it is situated.

In view of the remuneration in the Nigerian University System (NUS), the school is finding it difficult to attract the calibre of professionals and expertise in the oil and gas sector as faculties or industry mentors in the realisation of its mandate.

But despite the crippling and stifling conditions, which it operates, FUPRE has recorded some strides within its decade of existence. For instance, a team of its engineering students participated in the Shell ECO Marathon race competition in October 2015 with their prototype racecar (Delta Cruz 001). At the competition held in Johannesburg, South Africa, the team broke the record of being the first and only team in Africa to win the first on-track award for producing the most energy-efficient racing car in the gasoline prototype category. Their product ran 55.9km with just a litre of Premium Motor Spirit.

The same FUPRE Shell Eco-Marathon team also won an off-track award under the technical innovation category for designing a superb anti-theft technology for the vehicle.

A team of researchers from the school that participated in the oil and trading logistics (OTL) downstream development Africa at the 2015 OTL African conference, emerged the overall winner of the competition with its entry titled, “Ground Robotic Oil Spill Surveillance Systems (GROSS).”

The FUPRE Chapter of the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE), which emerged tops at the Petrobowl Quiz Competition in Nigeria, and represented Africa in the United States, also emerged first in the 2016 African Regional qualifier of the Petrobowl Quiz Competition and paper contest, and represented Africa at the global version in Dubai in September 2016 in Dubai.

FUPRE, which is collaborating with the private sector on the design and upgrade of mini-refineries in the country, is also pioneering an ongoing design and fabrication of lightweight utility vehicles for use in rural communities.

As part of efforts to expand its frontiers and establish linkages, FUPRE has entered into collaboration with several national and international institutions and organisations to achieve her mandate.

Also worthy of mention is the fact that the university’s collaboration efforts led to the support and sponsorship deal by ESSO Exploration and Production, which resulted in the donation of Petrel Workstation, funding of field works of Department of Earth Sciences, as well as support for geophysical mapping in addition to a bus to enhance fieldwork operations.

While the National Biotechnology Development Centre (NABDA) is helping in the development of academic research and offering mutual assistance in areas of education, exchange programme and capacity building, the school is collaborating with the Faculty of Science and Technology, University of Stavanger, Norway in areas like staff, student exchange programme, joint research, and mutual exchange of academic publications among others.

Lappeenranta University Of Technology, Finland, is also collaborating with the school in areas like staff, student exchange programme, joint research, staff training and so on.

At the ongoing Founders’ Day/convocation, where a total of 795 graduands are being released into the gas and oil sector of the economy, Ibhadode is optimistic that things would take a different turn for the university.

The convocation, which is for six sets of graduates (2011 to 2016), will also see the emergence of honorary awardees including Archbishop of Abuja, His Eminence, John Cardinal Onaiyekan, His Royal Majesty, Abe 1 Emmanuel Sideso; Ovie of Uvwie, Sir Daniel Nwannka Chukwudozie, and former Vice President, Atiku Abubakar, among others.

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