Heriot-Watt University: Russia experience
2013-06-21 | Text: Interview with Marat Kamartdinov | Photo ©: | 5697


In 2001, in the structure of Tomsk Polytechnic University a new unit was established - the Center for Training and Retraining of Petroleum Engineers - Petroleum Learning Centre (PLC). As part of this project there were combined educational competencies of Tomsk Polytechnic University and the University of Heriot-Watt (Edinburgh, UK) - one of the leaders in the training of specialists in the field of petroleum engineering. We asked a few questions about the work of this center to Marat Kamartdinov - Deputy Director for PLC Training Activity.


-  Marat, could you tell us how the teaching staff of the Centre was formed?  


Even before the PLC opening a group of TPU teachers was sent to a 10 week internship at Heriot-Watt. While there, they developed a technology project of the Centre, and then became its first employees. A little later some experts joined from major business structures – «TomskGazprom», «Sberbank», etc. Current Director of «TomskNIPIneft» Ivan Nikolaevich Koshovkin played an important role in formation of the Center. He has headed the Centre since its establishment. Today many of its first graduates work in the Centre. I am among them.

Initially, of course, we were in the minor roles and the main activities were carried out by Heriot-Watt Professors. Now the situation has changed, and this University is considering us as an important strategic partner. Having obtained valuable experience in our example, Heriot-Watt in the same manner opened centres in Kazakhstan, Dubai, China, and Malaysia. Our employees are invited to arrange the work there. For example, Tatyana Kulagina (our former graduate also) left for Dubai to Heriot-Watt University brunch for a year to make arrangements for the same Center there.


  - Who were the first PLC students? 


Students for this project were selected throughout Russia. As a result of the competition a group was formed out of the 44 students who represented major companies of oil and gas complex of Russia. I was a participant in the second intake. In General, most of us were far from the topic of reservoir engineering. I majored in robotic systems in Ufa State Aviation Technical University, the others graduated from physical, mathematical, mechanical faculties of various universities of the country. At best, one in ten of us got a specialty for reservoir engineering. At first the oil companies were surprised, saying that it was impossible for a year to get a reservoir engineer from the physicists and mathematicians. Now they have changed their opinion. Practice has shown that physicists and mathematicians master this program better than those who have 5 years of studies at the course of field development.

Master's program, which we learned, included six months of theoretical training, two months of team work, an individual project development and trainings at Heriot-Watt.  On graduation we were distributed to companies in different regions, and then gathered together again –it was an idea of making a multidisciplinary team that could solve complex problems. Moreover a strong team of future young teachers of the center was created. A lot of them went ahead and took top positions in the production, for example, one of them became a Vice President of «TomskGazprom», another - General Director of «KrasnoyarskNIPIneft.» They were very intelligent guys, real linchpins.


-  What educational projects were set up in the Center?  


We have three directions. We started out with master's programs in the field of petroleum engineering. Then we engaged in research activities. The idea is that it is impossible to teach without doing something with own hands. Otherwise we run the risk of slipping on the level of many other educational institutions in which people work for 20 years and teach the 20-year-old technology. We are involved in projects of reservoir engineering, hydrocarbon reserves calculation and protect them in front of State Committee for Mineral Reserves. We also work for field development project administration.

The third area is the corporate programs. Jointly with «TomskNIPIneft» we launched a global year-long program, with other companies – shorter courses on narrower topics. We started with eight basic training courses, but now we have more than 30. For each course there is a book and a set of presentation slides – we are developing everything ourselves. Study of the theory is always accompanied by practice. Usually our students come to the same trainings with their own problems and data. We examine the case and try to solve it.


- Is the training for master's programs on a fee-paying basis? 


 Yes, the training is paid and rather expensive. Most of the students are not able to afford it, but companies pay for them: we cooperate with almost all the Russian oil companies and some foreign oil companies which have opened their representation in Russia. Students sign an agreement with the company that they should work off in this company some fixed period after graduation, usually 3 years.

Everybody is happy: graduates get jobs in their field of training in the Center, and the company has a skillful expert who can work in a team with required knowledge. Well, we get the money for the training of sought-after specialists. We have no government support. All these years we earn our fortune.


- What are the characteristics of learning at master's programs?  


A lot of them. I will focus on the main three. First, we ourselves select the students. We have built the interaction with universities all over Russia: we make a presentation, invite to an interview, test and select the most talented students. As the studies are taught by professors from the UK and all materials are provided in the English language only, the knowledge of this language is one of the basic requirements.

Secondly, during the year, the training lasts as long, they are to master a great deal of material, and all in English. It is impossible just to cram the course – you are to get a sense of it and understand. Heriot-Watt University does not require just a verbatim repetition of the material. It is important for a student to present the material with his own phrases, may be even ugly, but lucidly and with understanding.

The third feature is that after completion of the theoretical training and passing the exams team work shall start. With the help of training the team is formed and the roles are distributed. The students shall solve a complex task to develop oil fields, including geology, geological and hydrodynamic models and locations of wells, equipment selection, project economics, etc. It means they are to determine how to develop the reservoir engineering, and how much money they can earn. As a result, students present their project and protect it.

In practice, it takes from several months to a year to implement such projects at an institute; it depends on the production stream of the deposit. Our listeners are given only about two months for this job. It sets them up to the rapid incorporation into the work. Lots of our graduates after learning say that they are bored at work as they perform the tasks set by managers much faster than the given time limit.

The training ends by the Individual master's work. The students are given a specific task, acute for the company sponsoring his education. Thus, the students shall demonstrate their ability to meet the company goals and get knowledge about the structure of the company and its problems. Coming to work, they already know the direction to proceed.

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