Internationalization of the Professional Training of Petroleum Engineers in Nigeria

Abstract — The process by which universities everywhere establish academic and professional linkages among themselves, as well as with industry and other stakeholders, exchange staff and students and set up shared projects including the award of joint Degrees, is always desirable. Such measures foster academic relationships, promote diverse population of staff and students, sponsor trans-cultural research, and give rise to university qualifications that attract International recognition. In Nigeria, International collaboration was integral to the university system from its inception in the late 1940s to the late 1970s when the national economy commenced on a downward slide that resulted in severe strains in the operations of universities. Sadly therefore, this global context within which universities in Nigeria operated could not be sustained due to poor funding and also a harsh political environment. The suitability of the nation’s universities as enabling environments for scholarship was thus eroded leading to the departure of foreign staff and students. The Nigerian university system lost its International complexity including some decline in the quality of its graduates. Set up in 2003, as a strategic tripartite international collaboration between two academic institutions, the University of Port Harcourt and the IFP School, Paris, France, the Institute of Petroleum Studies is running programmes and offering joint Master’s degrees in Petroleum Engineering with the IFP School, Paris, France which carry International recognition. By this action the Institute is bringing back the lost glory of the early days of the Nigerian universities system when International collaboration was integral to the system.


The process by which universities everywhere establish academic and professional linkages among themselves, as well as with industry and other stakeholders, exchange staff and students and set up shared projects including the award of joint Degrees, is always desirable. This is so because as was stated in the 1998 World Declaration on Higher Education for the 21st century, International cooperation and exchange are major grounds for advancing higher education throughout the world (1) and it is this supposition that encourages universities to reach out and to collaborate with one another, especially across borders in a bid to integrate an International component into their operations. Such measures foster academic relationships, promote diverse population of staff and students, sponsor trans-cultural research, and give rise to university qualifications that attract International recognition (2).

In Nigeria, International collaboration was integral to the university system from its inception in the late 1940s to the late 1970s when the national economy commenced on a downward slide that resulted in severe strains in the operations of universities. For example, up to the late1970s, among the staff and students of the University of Ibadan, Nigeria’s premier university, were many individuals who were not only from other countries of the continent of Africa, but also from several European and Asiatic countries, and even the Americas, who had come to study or pursue careers on their own, or on the bases of bilateral or partnership arrangements with sister institutions and organizations outside the country. The university community was cosmopolitan; the quality of academic work was high and the Degrees awarded by the institution were given recognition in many parts of the world. The same was true of the Universities of Lagos and Nigeria, which followed closely on the hills of Ibadan.

Unfortunately, this global context within which universities in Nigeria operated could not be sustained due to a number of factors. First there was the issue of the down turn in the economy which culminated in the introduction of a Structural Adjustment Programme (SAP) in 1986. The massive devaluation of the national currency occasioned by SAP, meant, among others, that universities were no longer able to pay competitive salaries to their staff, including expatriates, who then sought other avenues, within and outside the country, for the furtherance of their careers. The economic downturn and SAP also resulted in diminished budgetary allocations by government, the sole proprietor of universities at the time, to institutions of higher learning. Nigerian universities became unable to maintain their infrastructure, or purchase the educational materials, including books and journals that were required for teaching and research even as they struggled with the payment of staff salaries and emoluments. The suitability of the nation’s universities as enabling environments for scholarship was thus further eroded leading to the departure of more foreign staff and students.

Next was the problem of protracted military incursion into the body polity of the country from the late 1960s to the late 1990s, which drew the rebuff, anger and condemnation of the International community. The country suffered a number of sanctions and almost became a pariah state. Not unexpectedly, academic work went into further recluse as universities almost lost what little contact they still had with their foreign colleagues. Staff and students were unable to keep up with correspondence, have access to current editions of relevant journals, attend local and International conferences, exchange academic visits, or carry out qualitative research.

The net effect of all these unfortunate events on higher education in Nigeria, was that the quality of scholarship fell somewhat, resulting in the doubt that is currently being cast on the worth of the training and degrees that are obtained from universities in Nigeria, especially in the professional disciplines.

This paper describes the Professional Training of Petroleum Engineers in Nigeria as a prototype of programmes that are run in the Nigerian universities system. It portrays the difficulties the institutions have faced and recounts the responses to the complexities by stakeholders in the petroleum industry. The paper goes on to depict the establishment and operations of the Institute of Petroleum Studies (IPS) of the University of Port Harcourt and concludes that by its activities, the IPS is achieving the professional training of Petroleum Engineers in Nigeria with certifications that are given due recognition in the International forum despite all the problems that are inherent in the tertiary educational system of the country.

Training of Petroleum Engineers in Nigerian Universities

Following the discovery of crude oil in Nigeria in 1956 by Shell D’Arcy, the first barrel of oil was shipped out of the country in 1958. But it took another 14 years for the formal training of Petroleum Engineers to commence in any Nigerian university. For it was not until 1972 that a post graduate diploma in Petroleum Technology was introduced at the University of Ibadan (UI) for the training of eight senior non-engineering staff of the National Oil Company of Nigeria (3). Happily, the programme at UI quickly progressed into formal degree programmes which were followed by those from the Universities of Benin and Port Harcourt, in rapid succession. Thereafter, in their quest to achieve the national goal of rapid industrialization and self reliance, the Federal and State Governments established a number of universities many of which offer programmes in Petroleum Engineering.

Judging from the request of students who sit for the Joint Admission and Matriculation Board (JAMB) examinations for placement in various engineering degree programmes in Nigerian universities, only electrical/ electronics has an edge over petroleum engineering in popularity. It is possible that students are attracted to petroleum engineering as a career on account of the higher salary structure that is paid in the oil industry.

Since the training in the engineering disciplines in all Nigerian universities is ultimately regulated by a common body, the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN), the objective and course content of the undergraduate petroleum engineering programmes in most of the universities are similar; the aim of the training being to produce graduates with high academic standards and with adequate practical background, who will be of immediate value to industry and the nation in general (4). The specific features of the programme are also similar and include a foundation year, workshop practice, design projects, and acquisition of special skills. These specific features are extracted from a hybrid of the basic sciences of physics, chemistry and mathematics and those of the engineering specialties of mechanical, chemical, electrical, computer and civil, as well as inputs from the earth science of geology (4).

Collectively, universities in Nigeria produce about 1500 petroleum engineering graduates every year at the first degree level, a number which is far in excess of the requirements for exploration and production in the oil industry. In addition, Masters and Doctorate degree programmes are offered by many universities.


Training in Petroleum Engineering, like other training programmes in many Nigerian universities, suffered substantially from inadequate funding which became a characteristic feature of Nigerian universities in the 1980s and 1990s. SAP which was introduced to arrest the declining economic fortunes of the nation by reducing importation and boosting exportation, and so improving the nation’s balance of payment, failed to achieve the desired aim. The result was a further impoverishment of the nation’s economy, greater accumulation of foreign debts and a corresponding cutback in real terms, of financial allocation to the universities.

The professional programmes like Petroleum Engineering were most badly hit. For instance universities were no longer able to provide the expensive tools, machines and equipment which students needed to be familiar with in the course of their studies on well drilling and oil exploration. Furthermore, it was difficult to support students’ field trips which are necessary to enable them have hands-on experience on some aspects of their training. Acquisition of books and journals for routine consultations and reference work was also affected as Library shelves became empty.

As for the students, they too were not spared the general rot that had afflicted the system. Some of them employed illicit means to gain access to the universities and while there, participated in some of the ignominious actions which students were wont to engage in. The combination of poor funding with all its corollaries and students’ disorderly behaviour at a time of an increased intake of students from heightened demand for tertiary education resulted in profound difficulties in the conduct of university affairs which compromised scholarship to some extent. This, perhaps led to some decline in the quality of graduates, especially in the professional disciplines like Petroleum Engineering where technical competence is important.

Some Proffered Solutions

Efforts aimed at stemming the deterioration in the quality of learning to which reference has been made, have come from all stake holders in the educational sector. Government, which has ultimate responsibility for the nation’s educational system, has increased, by several folds, the allocation of funds to universities, and with it, set up a more stringent supervision of university programmes through the National Universities Commission. Furthermore, the democratic government which was voted into power in 1999 has worked tirelessly to restore recognition and respect to the country in the international arena. With specific reference to petroleum engineering, government established the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) in 1973 and charged it with the mandate of developing the nation’s manpower capacity to effectively participate in the exploration and production of the abundant petroleum resources in Nigeria. Apart from the establishment of six professorial chairs, including one at the University of Port Harcourt, PTDF awards foreign scholarships to aspiring Nigerians to undertake various courses of studies that relate to the petroleum industry. Only recently, an African Institute for Science and Technology (AIST), a World Bank initiative, was established in Abuja, Nigeria for quality research and training in science and technology, including the petroleum industry.

As for the private sector, worried by the lack of ability of fresh petroleum engineering graduates to fit into industry as professionals, a number of organizations in that area took steps to redress the situation and to improve the skills and technical competences of university graduates. Annual scholarships are awarded to deserving students to enable them concentrate on their studies while chairs of petroleum engineering are endowed in some universities to uplift the general tone of academic work. The latest in the series is the one endowed by Shell Petroleum Development Company (SPDC) at the University of Port Harcourt only last week (5). Furthermore, SPDC initiated a Shell Intensive Training Program (SITP) in 1988, in collaboration with the Robert Gordon University, UK, ostensibly to upgrade the standard of fresh graduates and technicians seeking placement in the Nigerian oil industry (6).

On their part, universities took measures to ensure a more judicious application of funds, thus freeing finances for use in the proper training of professionals, including those in petroleum engineering. They also fine-tuned the process of admission of students by introducing an aptitude test after the JAMB examinations in order to harvest only well-qualified students into programmes in the universities.

However, as constructive as these measures are, it was felt that they do not sufficiently strike at the heart of the matter i.e. the improvement of the learning environment of the students – the institutions themselves. A partnership understanding between the proprietors of the universities (government in most instances), the institutions and the private sector (major employers of products from the universities) was required to forge symbiotic arrangements that would benefit all stakeholders as is indeed the case in many advanced countries of the world where industrial experts teach part-time in universities and the more distinguished of them, hold academic chairs in institutions. (7, 8). In such arrangements, the universities themselves profit from industrial experience, have access to modern tools and machines and hence, enrich their teaching portfolio (4).

It is this view of direct intervention and partnership between industry and university that gave birth to the emergence of the Institute of Petroleum Studies (IPS) of the University of Port Harcourt in 2003. However, even before the emergence of the IPS, the University of Ibadan had been selected in 2002 as the Schlumberger Ambassador University, south of the Sahara and the UI-Schlumberger Learning Centre, with full compliment of hard and soft wares, relevant to petroleum engineering training, put in place. That establishment thus became the first major direct intervention of industry in the university training of petroleum engineers in Nigeria (6).

The Institute of Petroleum Studies of the University of Port Harcourt

Situated as it is in Port Harcourt, the epicenter of the hydrocarbon industry in Nigeria, the University of Port Harcourt felt a compelling reason to embrace teaching and research in petroleum right from its inception. It established a Faculty of Engineering with two foundation programmes in petroleum as well as electrical engineering and quickly developed undergraduate and graduate programmes in Petroleum Engineering. In 2000, the institution went further to carve a niche for itself by expanding the programme in Petroleum Engineering to include gas engineering and so it became the first university in the country to offer courses in that discipline and to be designated a Centre of Excellence in Gas Engineering by the Education Trust Fund (ETF). The Senate of the university also approved the establishment of a Petroleum Museum, the first of its kind in the Nigerian university system and directed that the 17 million years old fossil shell which the university received as gift from Jeroen van der Veer, the Chief Executive Officer and President of Shell International on the occasion of his investiture with the honorary Doctor of Science degree by the University of Port Harcourt in 2005, be deposited at the Petroleum Museum (9, 10).

With such a rich profile, the institution was placed at an advantage and had a lead when the NNPC/EPNL sought for a university in the country which it would sponsor on an International collaboration as a strategic approach to human capital development and capacity enhancement in the petroleum industry. NNPC/EPNL Joint venture approved and supported the establishment of an Institute of Petroleum Studies (IPS) at the University of Port Harcourt and a partnership between it (the Joint venture), the University of Port Harcourt and Ecole du Petrol et des Moteurs (IFP School), Paris – an institution of immense standing which trains Engineers in many countries of the world and had also trained a good number of persons who have occupied the higher echelons of the petroleum industry in France and Nigeria at one time or the other. Partly in appreciation of this critical intervention in the affairs of the university, the Univerisity of Port Harcourt honoured Mr. Thiery Desmarest, the President of Total International with an honorary Doctor of Science degree in 2005.

The IPS functions outside the university’s School of Graduate Studies and has a mission to meet the needs of the petroleum industry through a commitment to excellence in training, applied research, continuing education and capacity building.

In order to accomplish this mission the Institute offers opportunity to selected students to acquire high quality education with up-to-date technology in disciplines related to oil, gas, petrochemicals and internal combustion engines (as used in the oil and gas industry). It awards joint International degrees of the highest quality in the petroleum industry and improves the number and quality of professionals available for the upstream, midstream and downstream sectors of the petroleum industry as well as corporate management. Furthermore, it encourages and promotes scholarship and research in the field of Oil and Gas learning.

The partnership with Industry goes beyond mere support as Industry is actively involved in curriculum development as well as the admission process and profiling of students. There is an Advisory Board which is made up of experts representing various stakeholders in Industry within and outside the country. The Advisory Board reports to a Governing Council which in turn functions under a Board of Trustees. 80% of the lectures are shared by staff of the University of Port Harcourt and those of IFP, Paris, in equal proportions while the remaining 20% is delivered by professionals from the industries. Additionally, industry staff supervise students’ projects and presentation of seminars as well as field visits.

This mutually beneficial model of International collaboration and partnership with industry is Internationalizing the Professional Training of Petroleum Engineers within the country thereby saving the industry and Government foreign earnings while at the same time developing internationally exposed and well-trained human capital.

The IPS is still evolving and when in full operation, will be made up of seven specialized centres that will offer:

  • operations- oriented post graduate programmes
  • continuing education programmes
  • applied research and services
  • capacity building programmes

The seven specialized centres of excellence for which arrangements have been concluded, except for funding, are

  • Centre for Oil & Gas Technology
  • Centre for Petroleum Geosciences
  • Centre for Information and Communication Technology
  • Centre for Environmental Management
  • Centre for Petroleum Economics, Policy and Strategic Studies
  • Centre for Petroleum Refining and Petrochemical Technology
  • Centre for Offshore Technology

Of these seven, the Centre for Oil and Gas Technology is already well established and trains petroleum and gas engineers. It offers a Master’s of Science degree in Petroleum Engineering and Project Development to no more than 20 students who are admitted annually. The objective of the 12-month programme is to provide graduates in engineering with the broad- based training that is required for onshore and offshore oil and gas field development and management. The living and learning environments are ideal as accommodation is provided; so also are individual computers and all day access to the internet as well as to virtual library.

The MSc degree that successful candidates receive at the end of the programme is jointly awarded by Ecole du Pétrole et des Moteurs (IFP School), Paris, and the University of Port Harcourt, Nigeria. In addition, the students are presented for the International Well Control Forum (IWCF) Certification and National Registry of Environmental Practitioners (NREP, USA) certification. In the IWCF certification, the success rate of the students has gone up from an initial 15% with the first batch, to 78% with the last batch (3rd batch). As for the NREP certification, all the students presented by IPS had passed and the Institute had scored 100% on the two occasions it had fielded candidates for the certification. What all this translates to is that students at the IPS, although studying at home, obtain certificates that are awarded by two top-rate universities-one in Nigeria and the other in Europe. In addition, they obtain internationally recognized professional certifications for various aspects of the work they had done while studying in Nigeria.

The Centre for Petroleum Economics, Policy and Strategic Studies should also be functioning soon as Emerald Energy Resources, the organizers of the Abuja Petroleum Round Table, have pledged to build the structure that will house the proposed centre which, on completion, will compliment yet another proposed venture of the university, the Port Harcourt Business School. There is also the added urgency to mount courses in petroleum policy and strategic studies as countries go into bilateral cooperation agreements such as the Nigeria – Sao Tome and Principe Joint Development Authority.

This decision to establish the Centre for Petroleum Refining and Petrochemical Technology is in recognition of the fact that the availability of refined products has continued to constitute a major bottleneck in the economy of the nation. Given the liberalization of petroleum policy which has led to the privatization of refineries and petrochemical plants as well as the policy that fifty percent (50%) of crude oil produced in the country should be refined locally, it becomes expedient to vigorously pursue the establishment of the proposed Centre. With the licensing of new private refineries and petrochemical plants, the need for high quality manpower to operate these plants has assumed some degree of importance.

As for the Centre for Offshore Technology, it will address itself to the technical needs of Offshore West Africa (Gulf of Guinea) with its huge proven hydrocarbon reserves which have become of strategic importance not just for countries in the Gulf of Guinea as well as multinational E & P companies, but also, globally. To develop such huge reserves in the deep offshore is a highly challenging prospect in its financing, human capital needs, as well as offshore technology. IPS plans to establish a world-class Offshore Technology Centre.

Diligent planning that was based on careful needs assessment was also behind the identification of the other centres as areas of future development for the IPS.


Intervention by companies in higher education has been shown to be mutually beneficial. In the area of the professional training of petroleum engineers, while companies provide up-to-date facilities, equipment and machines for use by staff and students, universities offer training, continuing education and consultancy services to the companies. Serving and retired Industry staff also get involved in teaching as adjunct lecturers and visiting professors and so avail students of their wealth of field experience. Furthermore, companies fund academic chairs and finance teaching positions which enable universities to retain high quality staff that would have sought better remunerations and conditions of service elsewhere. On their part, university lecturers can spend long vacations and sabbatical leaves in industry in order to contribute to finding innovative solutions to field problems. It is by this way that major engineering outfits are built up abroad. For example, the story of the Silicon Valley of California in the United States of America derives from the good relationship that exits between Stanford University and the electronic industry in the San Francisco Bay Area (4). Given the chronic problems that have plagued the Nigerian university system, especially those of poor funding, infrastructural decay and brain drain, one important way of ensuring sustainable human capital development, is through the medium of public-private partnership in which companies should be committed to establishing and funding research centres in universities, where research can be initiated and results tested before their application in industries. Because such centres will be dealing with actual problems, they will attract the best brains that are available in that field.

With an estimate of about 62 billion barrels of oil (25 billion barrels onshore and 37 billion barrels offshore) and 200 Tcf of gas yet to be discovered in Nigeria (11), it is likely that the country will remain one of the leading players in the global petroleum dynamics for a long time. Furthermore, Nigeria’s proximity to and dominance in the Gulf of Guinea, bequeaths to it, a central role in the emerging importance of that region. As a strategic goal therefore, the nation must take steps to rapidly enhance the local content in the industry with professionals whose training, level of competence and certifications meet international standards. Taking a cue from the spectacular success story of the Centre for Oil and Gas Technology, it can be said that the programmes at the IPS if properly supported, will prove to be a reliable model for achieving this goal.

The Institute of Petroleum Studies of the University of Port Harcourt is training professional petroleum engineers in Nigeria and certifying them to global standards. It is bringing back the lost glory of the early days of the Nigerian universities system when International collaboration was integral to the system.


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Internationalization of the Professional Training of Petroleum Engineers in Nigeria presented by Professor Nimi D. Briggs, University of Port Harcourt, at the ABUJA PETROLEUM ROUNDTABLE on Friday 9 March 2007