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Dr. Ismail A. Tag

UAE, ABU DHABI - Health & Education

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Acting President and Provost, The Petroleum Institute


Dr. Ismail A. Tag has a background in Mechanical Engineering, including a degree from Cairo University, a Master’s from South Dakota State University, and a PhD from the University of Tennessee. He has authored and coauthored more than 40 research papers in the areas of aero acoustics, solar energy, and the environment, and has taught and carried out research at a number of institutions across the world, including in Egypt, the US, and Qatar. He is currently Acting President and Provost of The Petroleum Institute.

"The easy oil is gone now, so now comes the challenging part."

What is the relationship between The Petroleum Institution (PI) and Abu Dhabi National Oil Company (ADNOC)?

ADNOC is our main sponsor and PI was founded by an Emiri decree on December 30, 2000 under the direction of His Highness Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed Al Nahyan. The Institute is governed and financed by a board, which consists of members from ADNOC and its international partners: British Petroleum, Shell, Total, and Japan Oil Development Company (JODCO). The purpose of founding PI as a university was to provide the UAE, its oil and gas sector, and the energy industry as a whole with engineers educated and trained to the highest standards. All students who attend PI have tuition, housing, books, and fees paid for by the ADNOC scholarship committee. The ADNOC scholarship program awards monthly stipends to full-time Emirati students who are registered for a minimum of 12 hours. The stipends are based on maintaining a good academic standing and a minimum semester GPA of 2.0. The amount is based on the student’s academic level: freshman, sophomore, junior, or senior status. The ADNOC scholarship program also awards special rewards to Emirati students toward their academic excellence. These are awarded based on the semester GPA, with 3.0 being the minimum. Students are employed by ADNOC upon their graduation and, of course, some go on to graduate school, either locally or internationally.

What are the challenges for PI when recruiting talented faculty?

This is a big challenge because we are competing with the oil companies. Oil companies offer higher salaries and there is a great demand for oil and gas people. Faculty members sometimes prefer to work for these companies. This is one of the difficulties; to recruit high-caliber people in oil and gas who choose to be educators. It is a big challenge.

“The easy oil is gone now, so now comes the challenging part.”

How can PI work with both local and international institutions to facilitate faculty exchange?

We have several partnerships with overseas universities, and also local universities. For our overseas universities, we have many partnerships with US, British, European, and Far East universities like the University of Tokyo. We have strong collaboration with these universities. We also have very good collaboration with the University of Petroleum in Beijing, China and with Universiti Teknologi PETRONAS (UTP) in Malaysia. In the US, we have partnerships with the Colorado School of Mines, the University of Maryland, the University of Minnesota, Rice University, Stanford University, and others. Aside from faculty exchanges, these universities also offer student exchanges and joint research projects.

How important is an institute such as PI in the UAE today compared to when it was first established?

We started the institution to educate engineers to serve the oil and gas industry, but right now we are heavily involved in applied research that serves the needs of ADNOC as well as other operating companies. We are now shifting to emphasize research.

How involved is PI in R&D?

PI is shifting its emphasis to applied research. That is exactly why we are establishing the Petroleum Institute Research Center (PIRC); to serve the needs of ADNOC in getting more oil out of the ground. The easy oil is gone now, so now comes the challenging part of extracting oil using enhanced oil recovery and improved oil recovery.

Can you tell me about the PIRC?

It is really going to be heavy in research, especially in enhanced oil recovery, geophysics, geophysical engineering, and unconventional methods. The challenges facing Abu Dhabi’s oil fields maturing and becoming depleted, coupled with the goal of expanding production capacity, gives PI the opportunity to become a key player in R&D in meeting the goal of increased production. The new PIRC is being constructed on PI’s campus next to the TAKREER Refining and Petrochemical Research Center and in the vicinity of the Borouge Innovation Centre, located close to Glenelg School. High-quality R&D projects will be conducted to provide efficient, environmentally acceptable, and cost-effective solutions for ADNOC and its group of companies upstream and downstream, Abu Dhabi’s R&D growth needs, and to develop a recognized and admired R&D culture to attract and train top R&D talent in the UAE and the region.

How does PI contribute to Emiratization and the diversification of the economy?

Education is never ending; people get Bachelor’s degrees, and while employed have to come back for professional development courses, Master’s degrees, and PhDs. The easy oil is gone, now it is a very high-tech industry so you need to train people beyond the Bachelor’s degree level. This is a very advanced industry now. With the government wishing to see the creation of higher-value employment opportunities, especially for nationals, and the increased participation of women in the workforce, the PI plays a major role in the future development of the UAE. We have the highest number of national faculty members compared to other institutions in the UAE.

What are your current student numbers?

PI has over 1,300 students enrolled with 34% of these students being female. We are proud to have a 91% success rate for continuing students. We have graduated over 900 engineers to work at ADNOC and its operating companies. We expect many more in the 2013-2014 academic year because of the opening of the dormitories for female students, and we are already getting quite a few applications from the northern Emirates.

Is there any potential for PI to work with the Masdar Institute?

We do work with Masdar Institute by complementing each other’s mission; Masdar focuses on renewables and sustainable energies, while we focus on traditional energy. There are many common interests between us. For example: the enhancement of oil recovery and the injection of CO2 in the ground; the sustainable part is Masdar’s duty, and it is our part to enhance oil recovery. We work together, complementing each other on these issues.

How will you target students to study here?

We are a very specialized institution in engineering and applied science for the oil and gas industry, and this is the bread and butter of the country. Having female students is very important for the country because eventually those female students will propagate science and technology in society. The PI ensures that we provide a high-quality education service to UAE residents. We ensure that the young national population has the opportunity for attractive, high value-added employment opportunities. According to an announcement made in late 2010, ADNOC expects to add about 7,500 new jobs by 2015. This is in response to the projected energy demands, which are expected to double by the next decade and the goal of expanding production capacity to 3.5 million barrels of oil per day by 2018. This represents approximately a 30% increase in production and growth in the workforce in the next five years. We cannot do it overnight; it takes time. We have to be patient about it. We cannot really achieve 1,000 graduates overnight to meet the needs of ADNOC and other companies. Plus, just as in any industry or any business, you do not want all of your graduates to be from one place otherwise you lose diversification. If we thought we were going to be the only producer, there would be something lost in the diversification of the workforce. We are not trying to be a monopoly. The oil industry is not just engineers. The oil industry is a multidisciplinary field; we need economists, business people, and social scientists. Our focus at PI is engineers.

Is the university market saturation hurting PI?

Our focus is on oil and gas. Other institutions are not competing with us because we offer a package that really nobody else offers. We offer jobs from day one after graduation. We offer full scholarships and even pay monthly stipends. Where else would you get this? Nowhere!

As Abu Dhabi moves forward in diversifying its economy, what will PI focus on over the next five years?

We need to increase our number of graduates. This is our mission. The need for the oil companies is 1,000 engineers per year for the coming 20 years. We are not there yet; we have a long way to go.

© The Business Year – June 2013



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