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Home / Issue Archive / 2007 / April #4 / Gubkin Oil and Gas University: Where the Industry is Forged

№ 4 (April 2007)

Gubkin Oil and Gas University: Where the Industry is Forged

Moscow Mayor Yuri Luzhkov, Academician Anatoly Dmitrievsky, and the owner of Britain's Chelsea Football Club, Roman Abramovich, have one thing in common - they all attended the Gubkin University. 

By Anna Arutiunova, Sergei Balashov, Elena Zhuk

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Students affectionately call this university "Kerosinka" (the "oil stove" in Russian). Officially it carries the name of the Father of Soviet Oil Geology, Ivan Mikhailovich Gubkin. It's the Russian State University of Oil and Gas in Moscow, a beehive of industry supported R&D, which makes poignant the lessons of students who will one day manage the largest hydrocarbon resources outside the Middle East.


Gubkin University was birthed in the throes of the Bolshevik Revolution. Today it is a center for R&D supported by the bastions of the capitalist world - including private Russian oil companies - and its English speaking graduates are highly sought after by global oil industry that is becoming increasingly alarmed by the growing shortage of petroleum science graduates worldwide.


In 1918, the People's Commissariat Council established the Moscow Mining Academy, and by 1920, the geology and mining faculties opened. I.M. Gubkin was Dean when the academy's first students graduated in 1924. The institution has had several name changes to reflect development of the Soviet oil and gas industry - Moscow Oil Institute, Moscow Institute of Oil Chemistry and Gas Industry, Moscow Institute of Oil and Gas, State Academy of Oil and Gas. But there was always the same tagline "named after Gubkin".


In its first 10 years, Gubkin University trained 1,500 Soviet oil specialists, and became the principal school of the Soviet industry. Its scholars - geologists, mining engineers, economists, chemical and mechanical engineers - have explored the Arctic offshore, the Siberian tundra and taiga, the deserts of Central Asia. The university, staffed today by 253 professors and 500 assistant professors, has graduated 70,000 degreed engineers, PhDs and Doctors of Science who have worked not only in Russia but also in 100 foreign countries.


Its four original departments - geology and geophysics, oil and gas field development, chemical engineering and economics - have evolved with the industry. A faculty of automation and computer science was added in 1962, followed by a faculty of pipeline transport system design, construction and operation. In 1991 the university became the only one training lawyers for the petroleum sector, and in 1998 the environmental engineering faculty was established.


"We are one of only two universities in the world that offer an utterly comprehensive cycle of oil and gas education," Rustem Syunyaev, director of the University's Employment Service, told OGE. "There are other oil and gas universities, but only we and Beijing University train everyone, from geologists to lawyers."


Today the university is continuously expanding with new specialties, opening the first gas chemistry department in Russia, and taking a new direction in oil products and gas supply. Gubkin's university is also unique in having Russia' only faculty for offshore.


"A department's popularity depends on the sector that offers higher salaries," says Viktor Martynov, First Vice Principal of Educational Work. "When economists and lawyers were better paid, these departments were in high demand, but right now admissions are tougher in geology, pipeline transport and development, as young people are needed and salaries are growing." Martynov added: "We don't prepare specialists in general, we prepare them for the entire technological chain based on the industry's economy, which is different from the Western system, where one gets a general education and is then trained in the corporate system."

Feeder System to the Industry

In 1996, the university created a special Employment Service for graduates. The Service is on a good footing with most of the industry's companies (there are some 250 companies currently in its database) and some organizations submit specific vacancies to be matched to students' resumes. There are more than a dozen job fairs each year on campus in which name players, such as Schlumberger, TNK-BP, Itera, and ExxonMobile have participated.


"When we prepare bachelors and masters, we strive to provide them with opportunities to study abroad, thus the demand for our students is at 100 percent," says Vladimir Vinokurov, Vice Principal for Research at the university. "Rosneft, LUKOIL, and John Brown all recruit our graduates. We are also supposed to prepare graduate students to work in the north, and these specialists are recruited by Statoil and Norsk Hydro. Sometimes we find paid internships and send students to Gazprom, Orenburggazprom, VNIIGAZ, Promgaz."


Gubkin Oil and Gas University graduates work in more than 55 countries in the world. Schlumberger alone employs some 800 of its alumni. About five percent of students leave to work abroad right after graduation, and more leave as their career advances; 15-20 percent of graduates work at foreign companies in Russia, such as Halliburton and Total. The job requirements are tough - a high GPA (4.5 and up), working knowledge of languages (primarily English), computer literacy, and for many technical majors - a good understanding of economics. Syunyaev elaborates, "On average, no more than 1.5 percent of our graduates remain unemployed, which usually has to do with personal circumstances. About 85 percent of our graduates find work in large and medium companies in the industry, with some 10-12 percent finding work in an industry other than oil and gas on their own."


The Employment Service also faces the task of communicating the industry's constantly changing needs back to the university. Employment trends are formulated and reported to the university's administration, which in turn adjusts the educational practice accordingly. "Right now, geologists and developers are taken right out of school. If companies usually require a high GPA, for drillers nobody even looks at the GPA. We are also expecting a growing demand for chemists, as the industry stops selling raw materials and starts trading a finished product," predicts Syunyaev.


About a third of Gubkin's fulltime student body of 7,000 are Muscovites and more than 500 are foreign students from 54 countries including former Soviet republics plus China, Vietnam, and several African countries. Gubkin also offers skills upgrade courses to nearly 7,000 working professionals a year.


"We have students from 84 regions of our country out of 86, and these are all oil bearing regions," Martynov says. "We admit 40 percent of students from oil bearing regions only, mostly from Western Siberia. Economics and Law are especially popular with Muscovites, but we want to take people from the provinces, such as the children of oilmen."


Some 45 percent of Gubkin's students graduated high school valedictorian, and the university received 4.7 applications per spot. Entrance examinations are given in the Russian language, mathematics, and physics. Chemistry majors are currently in the toughest competition for admission. "The number of entrants with honors in 2006 exceeded 860 people. Traditionally, the competition is very high at such departments as geology, oil and gas field development, chemical technology and environment, automation and computer science, economics and management, law," says Vladimir Vinokurov.


And it is not easy to stay in. "We do fail lots of students. Some 30 percent of final grades can be 'Fs', and with a little over 7,000 students, we discharge 400 to 450 people annually, some of whom choose to repeat failed courses," says Viktor Martynov. "It's difficult to study here, and we have very high requirements. This is a technical university where one must stay put, cram, and sweat it out." According to Martynov, student performance is greatly stifled by the worsening quality of high school education. "If mathematics is still decent, physics, chemistry, and the Russian language are falling through the cracks," he adds.


If not admitted on a budget space or a company training program, one has the option of "sweating it out" for a very affordable 58,000 rubles per year (a little over $2,000) full-time, or taking evening classes for 27,000 rubles. Majoring in economics and law is a bit more expensive; tuition costs around $3,000. As for post graduation rewards: "In Moscow, our graduates don't agree to a salary of less than $700-800 per month, and if you leave Moscow, the salaries start at $1,500 and up," Martynov says.

The R&D Side of Things


Besides being an educational institution, there's the R&D side of Gubkin. The university offers the industry a wide research capacity, resulting in the invention of many new methods of exploration, production, transportation, refining and processing of hydrocarbons. More than 300 Gubkin scientists are laureates of governmental awards. "We try to simulate the environment for practical training at the university," says Vinokurov, noting that Gubkin needs to stay a step ahead of the industry itself. "If you walk into the courtyard, you'll see real wells drilled in Moscow soil, and also pipe valves, etc., - i.e. the equipment that enables students to acquire practical experience on the spot."


Gubkin works shoulder to shoulder with companies whose representatives visit lectures as guests and judge competitions. Partnership programs include scientific joint ventures with Schlumberger, the French Institute of Earth Physics, the Canadian gas company BC, Petrovietnam, and others.
Industry giants also support the university as an act of good will, as is the case with BP which includes Gubkin among the ten partner schools globally, which receive an annual $1 million grant. Vinokurov elaborates, "We are supported by Gazprom and LUKOIL. The RITEK company is very active in supporting the university, as are Transneft and Rosneft. We also have production partnerships with Norwegian companies, such as Statoil and Norsk Hydro - contracts have been signed with them that give us annual grants for students, grad students, and teachers."


But the university's closest tie with the industry is its Board of Trustees, headed by its alumnus, the Chairman of LUKOIL's Board of Directors Valery Graifer. The Board deals with issues of science and finance, as well as runs the Fund for Petroleum Engineering Education Development, providing students with the opportunity to visit distant parts of the country, such as Sakhalin Island and the Barents Sea.


Gubkin hosts annually 10 to 12 large scientific conferences, symposiums and seminars, and partners with the world's other leading universities of similar specialty: Texas A&M University, the University of Zigen (Germany), Freiberg Mountain Academy (Germany), the French Oil Institute (IFP), Rogaland University (Norway), the Chinese Oil University, and many others. In its turn, the university is the fountainhead of many other higher education establishments. The Ufa State Oil Technical University, the Almetyevsk Oil Institute, and the Ukhta State Technical University were all formed on the basis of its branches. The school has contributed to the creation of the Tyumen Oil and Gas University and the National Institute of Oil and Gas in Bumerdes (Algeria).


Gubkin's mission statement says it all: "To provide extended reproduction of intellectual resources of the oil and gas complex of Russia, to be the locomotive of the scientific and technical progress of the oil and gas industry as an utmost important factor of the country's development." But nothing could be possible if not for the university's dedicated, enthusiastic, and motivated faculty who forego the industry's offers of five to ten thousand dollar salaries and toil for some 20,000 rubles per month (less than $1,000). "Everything else is secondary," Martynov says, referring to the trouble that all state educational institutions face in Russia these days. So as Gubkin prepares to celebrate its jubilee on April 17th, an anniversary, which in Russian is called "The Day of Followers of Gubkin", Oil&Gas Eurasia joins the rest of the Russian oil and gas industry in wishing Russia's premier oil and gas university and R&D center only the best - "Za nas, za vas, za neftegaz!"

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