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FUPRE as bridge between education and innovation

By Iyabo Lawal
25 April 2019   |   4:22 am
When a team from the Federal University of Petroleum Resources (FUPRE) recently visited Equatorial Guinea’s Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons to build a partnership that would launch the institution as an international petroleum technology innovation centre in Africa

Professor Akaehome Akii Ibhadode

After gaining full accreditation from the National Universities Commission (NUC) and the Council for the Regulation of Engineering in Nigeria (COREN) in 2017, the Federal University of Petroleum Resources, Effurun (FUPRE) is playing a key role as Africa’s leading petroleum university and the continent’s hub for petroleum training and research, Head, Education Desk, Iyabo Lawal writes.

When a team from the Federal University of Petroleum Resources (FUPRE) recently visited Equatorial Guinea’s Ministry of Mines and Hydrocarbons to build a partnership that would launch the institution as an international petroleum technology innovation centre in Africa, not a few might have thought it was a jamboree.

A Nigerian university with many firsts, FUPRE has the bragging right of innovating a low-cost mini-refinery, low-cost petro-chemical plants, laser additive, and drilling tools. The university has also set up a recycling of waste motor oil to diesel-like fuel, manufactured a prototype lightweight utility vehicle, and pneumatic power generator powered by compressed air.

In April 2018, the institution’s vice chancellor, Prof. Akaehome Akii Ibhadode and his colleagues visited the United Nations Industrial Organisation (UNIDO) and the Organisation of Petroleum Exporting Countries (OPEC), in Vienna, Austria for collaboration initiatives. Today, that visit is yielding a number of benefits. UNIDO has given a provisional approval for FUPRE to establish a UNIDO HP LIFE Centre for high-level entrepreneurship training. That is not all; UNIDO has considered FUPRE for the GEF project on energy efficiency and cleaner production.

More than that, FUPRE is successfully building “beneficial collaborations” with key industry players and its success stories are eye-catching. Such collaborations with some companies have resulted in the development of a 12.5bpd micro-refinery; getting a £140,000 grant from the Royal Academy of Engineering under the Higher Education Partnerships in Sub-Saharan Africa (HEP-SSA) for the project on “Biogas for Sustainable Energy and Off-Grid Power”; the design and construction of a 20-seater marine vessel; and the re-manufacturing of new automotive components from end-of-life components via hybrid selective laser melting/high speed machining (HSLM/HSM) technologies.

There is also the exploratory work on local development of lightweight prime movers (two-stroke engine and electric hub motor) underwater current power turbine electricity project in which electrical power is produced by water current. “It will make possible the powering of ocean vessels by wave power without the need for diesel fuel. It is currently being tested at Mudi Beach Resort on River Ethiope, Abraka to light up areas of the resort. It is sponsored by the University’s Centre for Marine and Offshore Studies (CMOS). Further development is in collaboration with Light-Up-Nigeria Initiative (LUNI). It has been patented,” Ibhadode said recently at a press briefing ahead of tomorrow’s convocation of the institution.

These are no mean feats. Yet, Ibhadode promised more. “As we are forging ahead on these landmark researches, I am glad to inform you that the Federal Ministry of Petroleum (Resources) has given positive nod to our modular refinery and petrochemical facility. The designs are ready and we are poised to start work in a few months after putting finishing touches on the documentations,” he added.

It is in a bid to advance the frontiers of its relevance in all facets of the university’s programmes that necessitated the institution’s “deep introspection on other approaches” to educational development. So, on the approval of the university’s council, FUPRE established the Centre for Corrosion Research; the Integrated Institute for Environment and Development; the FUPRE Vocational and Entrepreneurship Centre – dedicated to the training of locals on hands-on skills with 89 individuals recently inducted.

In a similar vein, it is observed that the institution looks out for its indigent students. Prof. Ibhadode explained how.“Very critical is the welfare of our students, for whom, we are all here as servants of the people. Therefore, in recognition of the constraints many students have in the course of their study, particularly, the indigent ones, the university introduced a ‘Students Work Study Scheme’ where identified indigent students are engaged on light schedule and paid stipends monthly,” he stated.

“This has a twin objective of providing extra source of finance for their education and instil in them, the spirit of dignity in labour. As of February this year, a total of 16 students have participated or are participating in the scheme.”This year’s FUPRE’s convocation will witness the graduation of 735 students. From this lot, 642 bagged the first degree while 93 obtained post-graduate diplomas. Out of the 642 about 32 graduated with first class.

Exuding pride and satisfaction, Prof. Ibhadode noted: “Our commitment to training the best industry-ready manpower is absolutely manifest in the quality of our products which will be on the shelves from Saturday, April 27, 2019 when we shall finally release them to the world.” To him, the university has kept faith its mandate, affirming that “research and innovation have propelled us to the global arena”. No doubt that has earned the institution “good footing in agency and organisational ratings”. The VC added: “In our maiden convocation, we had the privilege of awarding five honorary degrees to very distinguished citizens of the country. We also have the honour to award another set of honorary degrees to three eminent Nigerians that include, Dr. Ambrosie Bryant Chukwueloka Orjiakor, Chairman, Seplat Petroleum Development Company Plc; Mr. Abiola Oyedotun, Managing Director/CEO Banco Serengeti Limited and Hon. Ned Nwoko, Managing Partner Nwoko & Nwoko Solicitors.

FUPRE is also gradually shifting from the era of total infrastructural deficit to “some level of availability”. All thanks to the Tertiary Education Trust Fund and other partners that have enabled the university to improve on its infrastructural development. Touching on the infrastructural development, Ibhadode said: “Some of the new projects under the TETfund interventions include the three-floor college of sciences phase II which will provide more classrooms, a lecture theatre; offices and a college library on completion; the Entrepreneurship Phase II building with construction works now at 50 percent completion; and the twin-250 capacity lecture theatres now 100 percent completed will be commissioned tomorrow, April 26, 2019 by the Group Managing Director of the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation, Dr. Maikanti Baru, as part of events for this ceremony.”

In addition to that, FUPRE is among the eight federal universities and one teaching hospital benefiting from the first phase of the Energizing Education Programme (EEP) of the Rural Electrification Agency of the Federal Ministry of Power, Works and Housing. “The agency is building 0.5mw solar-diesel hybrid power plant to ease the epileptic power supply in the university. This project is 75 percent completed,” FUPRE VC said, “and I believe in a few months’ time the university would soon begin to leverage on power from the project.

Ibhadode pointed out the briefing that the institution does not joke with its staff.  According to him, the university has continued to train and re-train its workforce with the objective of re-orientating them to play the leading role of being the primary agent of the technological transformation of the oil and gas sector, adding that “workshops and train-the-trainer programmes were organized for staff”.
From 2017 to date, 15 staff were granted scholarships for post-graduate training at a total cost of N351.74 million; 152 members of staff were sponsored to national and international conferences at a total cost of N39 million; and N30 million grants for manuscript development and publications.
It is not all rosy for FUPRE. For the institution, its challengers are familiar but daunting – lack of adequate funding.
“Our major challenge as a university is that of funding which may not be much different from those of other institutions. However, we are particularly disadvantaged considering the manner the school took off. The non-provision of a take-off grant at inception has slowed down the development of FUPRE,” the university’s VC explained.

The petroleum industry is capital intensive and the best hands in the sector prefer to be in the industry where the conditions of service are far better than what obtains in the university. “If FUPRE is to live up to expectations of its founding fathers, the government must do more to adequately fund the university. In every area we turn to, we require fund to operate. But the challenge of inadequate fund across the economy has adversely affected our operations too. “We passionately appeal to the visitor to kindly consider and approve the implementation of the special funding windows in the University Establishment Act. This will greatly facilitate the FUPRE’s relevance as a key global player in the development of human capital for the oil and gas sector,” Ibhadode said.

The one-of-a-kind institution also has to contend with the non-participation of stakeholders in spite of the global accolades that FUPRE has received so far. If this seems a cause for concern, the VC of the university is looking at better days ahead.He stated: “However, we are optimistic that with the assent to the university establishment act by Mr. President, many of them (key stakeholders) will begin to show forth for our collaboration.

“But we call on the Nigerian Content Monitoring and Development Board (NCMDB), the Nigeria National Petroleum Corporation (NNPC), the Petroleum Trust Development Fund (PTDF) as well as other international oil companies which we have capacity to render services to, to urgently key into our vision of providing industry-ready manpower in lubricating the sector for development.”

Still, FUPRE is not resting on its laurels. The posture of the Nigerian institution is to take the lead globally. “So, today marks a turning point,” the VC said, “because the same university that has been in obscurity in the past will soon take the global centre stage in showcasing rare innovations that will add value to mankind. Ibhadode also admitted: “The magnanimous efforts of the federal government under the leadership of President Muhammadu Buhari have also added to our advancement. The historic signing of the FUPRE Establishment Act has further defined our vision to serve the interest of the nation in particular and humanity at large.”

Speaking further, the FUPRE VC affirmed that the institution is not deterred by the uphill task that will “culminate in fulfilling our mandate”.
“We believe that the spirit, with which Mr. President assented to the Act, would be same measure to implement its letters. It is on that platform that our journey to the apogee of academic glory will commence with earnest zeal and truly make our university the first in Africa and the sixth in the world. On this day I stand to express my deepest gratitude to Mr. President and urge him to keep on with his good works,” Prof. Ibhadode concluded.

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