PTDF Seeks Policy Shift In Scholarship Programme | Independent Newspapers Limited
Newsletter subscribe

Business, Power

PTDF Seeks Policy Shift In Scholarship Programme

Posted: Sep 8, 2015 at 12:34 am   /   by   /   comments (0)

l As Scholars Record Milestone Results In Research Work

By Phillip Oladunjoye,

Lagos

The Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) has announced new policy directions that will fundamentally affect the operation and funding of its overseas scholarship scheme and other training programmes under its management.

These include a partial or outright domestication of the scholarship scheme in Nigeria in line with the Local Content policy of the Nigerian government, and the denomination of the scholarship in hard currency as against the naira due to the volatility of foreign exchange rates.

To give effect to these policy shifts, the Fund has opened up discussions with officials of foreign universities where Nigerian scholars are regularly sent for their Masters and PhD studies under the sponsorship of PTDF, on the possibility of either setting up branches of their institutions in Nigeria or collaborate with local universities in Nigeria, particularly those whose oil and gas related departments have been fully upgraded by the Fund, to become Centres of Excellence in teaching and research.

Essence Of Partnership

Executive Secretary of PTDF, Mr. Femi Ajayi, who held interactive sessions with officials of the Imperial College London and the University College London as well as Nigerian scholars, said such a partnership will hence forth form the basis for the Fund’s future relationship and co-operation with universities providing training and research to its scholars abroad.

“This is because we have institutions in Nigeria which PTDF has over the years been upgrading. So we want a situation where there will be more co-operation between universities out here and our universities back home, and we have some faculties that we have developed or upgraded as an agency where some of these short term and long term courses can be run. So we are discussing the various modes of partnership and collaboration towards moving along this line,” he said.

He noted that the Petroleum Technology Development Fund has, as part of its mandate of enhancing the institutional capacity of universities offering oil and gas related courses, upgraded not less than 24 departments in universities as well as developed oil and gas polytechnics from scratch. The Executive Secretary said that some of these upgraded facilities have become centres of academic excellence for oil and gas related courses in Nigeria.

“So it is along this line that we will want our partners to work out some kind of partnership with them with a view to doing something locally, because the challenge of industry relevance of research is also pointing us to that direction.  If you partner with a local institution that is very close to what the challenges and problems are in the oil and gas industry in Nigeria, you probably will be able to structure your research along that line and that will ensure that the education we are giving to these people are need based and research oriented.”

He said that in the immediate, the Fund plans to use the National Institute of Petroleum Policy and Strategy, Kaduna, developed by the Fund as the co-ordinating centre for alternative energy sources and renewable energy resources and called on foreign universities to come on board with the Fund in realising the project.

Concerns Raised By Scholars

The students, mostly PhD scholars, had at the interactive session raised serious concerns on the domestication and commercialization of their research results, which they alleged are currently appropriated by their universities of study. The scholars are worried that their research efforts are rather benefiting UK companies and industrial concerns. According to Mrs. Uwaila Omoruyi, a PhD scholar at Imperial College London, so many Oil companies and pharmaceutical firms in the United Kingdom have indicated interest in her research work on the use of biomas as catalysts.

“The thing I am worried about is after I have done my research, one company in the Uk just comes over and buys it. Still we cannot even go back to Nigeria and say NNPC, Shell etc we have this beautiful catalyst, we can produce all the solvents from biomas, can you implement this on an industrial scale? A whole lot of billions will be generated. We get this research done, our supervisors sometime collaborate with the industry in UK, and our ideas and sweat are just gone and all we get at the end of the day is a PhD.”

She was of the opinion that the Federal Government having invested so much in their training should also ensure that their research outcomes directly benefit the oil and gas industry and the academia in Nigeria.

Adamu Abdullahi Suleiman, also a PhD scholar at the Imperial College London is working on how to increase the hydro carbon of Nigeria by identifying the hydrocarbon deposit of Nigeria’s frontier basins such as Chad and the Benue trough.

“We do this work here, we produce and generate results of our research here and they are used by North Sea prospectors. These results go back to their industry, tomorrow British Petroleum will use it, increase its production capacity; we pay tuition fees, we do the research for them and then we give them the results, so if there is any way we can get data for our research in Nigeria, this will help and this is where PTDF can come in- so that we can have the result going back home.”

Scholar’s Patriotic Zeal

Akpan Michael, a PhD scholar at the University College London, said his research topic was rejected twice by his supervisor because of its non relevance to current realities and challenges in the UK industry. He said his research proposal for waste management material recycling facility-optimising the 6 geopolitical zones in Nigeria, was intended to be of relevance in solving the challenge of waste management in Nigeria. “I won’t use Nigerian money to Fund another person’s project because I am a Nigerian to the core. I will not use my fatherland’s money to Fund somebody else’s project. I have a passion for Nigeria and I want to do a research that will benefit Nigerians and I am determined to lose the scholarship if denied the opportunity to do research that favours Nigeria,” Akpan said.

Meanwhile a PhD scholar, Maurice Ezeoke, studying at the University College London under the sponsorship of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF) has designed and built an electromagnetic sensor, as part of his research on electromagnetic characterisation of bare faced terrain for security surveillance and monitoring.

Ezeoke, a Lt Commander in the Nigerian Navy and a Naval Satellite Engineer was part of the 12 man Nigerian team that built Nigeria’s first two satellites- the Nigerian Satellite 2 and Nigerian Satellite X.

Ezeoke said his research, which led to the design and development of the radar equipment, will be of immense benefit to the intelligence community in Nigeria. “My last chapter deals with geo-intelligence, that is, how you can use patterns and proximities to help predict and forecast events such as terrorist bombings. I expect that after my research here in the UK, I am going to be of assistance to my country by way of contributing to the work of the defence space agency and the office of the National Security Adviser, where I hope that my work will help them to better predict terrorist incidents.”

PTDF Executive Secretary agreed that patenting and commercialization of research results is the way forward, but regrets that getting more spin off or multiplier effect from research by PTDF Scholars has been a problem. A way out, he said, is that PTDF will hence forth be more inclined to provide project based sponsorship because if we do this, at the end of the day we will be the end users. We will make sure that one of the prerequisites for sponsoring research is its industry relevance- is it relevant to our own industry back home? The Executive Secretary disclosed that the Fund will provide a platform back home in Nigeria where PTDF scholars with patentable breakthroughs will showcase their research findings, particularly those that can easily be applied to projects in Nigeria.

“That way we will see the application of the academic studies and the research efforts they have made. We will also encourage them to set up research teams to address some of the challenges in the oil and gas industry based on the output of their research efforts here.”

On the issue of payments and remittances for the scholarship programme, the Executive Secretary said that current realities with regards to the foreign exchange regime necessitated a shift in policy of denominating the scholarship payments from naira to hard currency. “We will now denominate the scholarship in pound sterling because this foreign exchange volatility has posed a serious challenge. What will happen now is that while we denominate it in hard currency, we will continue to pay in Naira and this will give us the opportunity to pay according to the prevailing exchange rate, so by that way we are solving the problem of procuring foreign exchange without causing unnecessary difficulties to the scholars.”

The Fund had before this policy change denominated the upkeep  allowances of scholars in naira due to the challenge of sourcing foreign exchange, which was time consuming and cumbersome. Fluctuations in exchange rates had led to wide differentials which meant that the scholars will be underpaid at a fixed naira value for the foreign currency. “This time around we pay in naira but at the current prevailing rate, so that way we solve problems of under payment. So we are retaining the payment in naira but we will be denominating the scholarship in pounds sterling,” he said.