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Interview

with S.J. Chopra, Chancellor, University of Petroleum and Energy Studies (UPES)

08.02.2011 / Energyboardroom

UPES is something of a first in India, and in Asia at large—it is India’s first energy university, and Asia’s first and only energy and core sector university. Can you describe the vision behind the founding of this institution?

The Indian petroleum sector though fairly large, did not have any academy or institute imparting domain – specific knowledge, till UPES came about in the year 2003. The University was created with the vision of providing much-needed professionals equipped with right knowledge and right set of skills and would go on to prove themselves as future leaders of the petroleum industry.

Prior to UPES, the Indian School of Mines had been imparting training in the upstream operations of the industry. That was certainly not enough. Our aim, with UPES, was to address the knowledge and skill gaps covering the entire gamut of the oil and gas industry – upstream, downstream and midstream components. Further, also for the management programs, over emphasis has been very specific to domains. This thinking is reflected in all our academic programs.

Over the years, we have made efforts to remain true to our stated vision of providing quality education and also engage effectively in training, research and consultancy in the core areas of energy, power and infrastructure.

Our aim is to now address the growing needs of the entire spectrum of the energy sector with the idea of developing human talent that is tailor-made for the oil and gas industry.

Who first identified the need for this kind of school?

The individual who first conceptualized such a school is none other than – our President. He rightly observed that though companies recruited engineers having strong fundamentals in their respective engineering fields they still required intensive training in specific domain area to function more effectively. He felt the need to provide industry ready professionals i.e. engineers who could work and perform from day one.

He initially created the Indian School of Petroleum (ISP) that set the foundation for present day UPES. ISP offered not only technical programs for the industry but also MDPs, which I consider was a very wise decision, as it brought us into direct contact with industry professionals and opened the doors to innumerable opportunities. ISP, now ISPe (Indian School of Petroleum & Energy) continues to be a sister organization of UPES.

We have trained countless engineers and take pride in the fact that they are contributing to the growth of the Indian energy sector fulfilling the vision that started with one individual but is now shared by many.

How has the industry reacted to the creation of UPES?

I think that the industry has accepted us with open arms. This reflects in the support we receive from the industry, especially, in terms of a rich source for visiting faculty. As we are a domain-specific university, getting people with the right type of expertise coupled with strong academics has always been challenging.

The Indian petroleum industry has responded commendably to our need and given us the right mix of teaching and industrial expertise.

When you were building the faculty, whom did you want to attract? Members of the Indian industry? People with international backgrounds?

Definitely, we are open to having invaluable expertise from both the Indian as well the international industries. I have already mentioned the support extended by the Indian industry. Many of the Indian members of our faculty base have acquired their qualifications in either US or Europe.

We have had in the recent past engaged the services of renowned field experts from countries like Russia, Turkey and Nigeria. These men are internationally renowned, and we are lucky to have them share their knowledge and expertise with UPES. We have extended our efforts to recruit faculty from other countries, particularly, in Europe.

You are partnered with a number of leading oil and gas-related academic institutions around the world, including schools in Romania, Canada, and China. What kind of partnerships and links are you trying to establish with the world community?

Essentially, we are interested in developing a faculty and student exchange program. Added to this, UPES is also actively looking at research programs through global alliances.

In India, we are already in association with the country’s leading petroleum laboratory, the Indian Institute of Petroleum. We also have a link with the R&D Centre of the Indian Oil Corporation. As a matter of fact, some members of our staff are working at the laboratories of Indian Oil Corporation. Indian Oil also provides fellowships for some of our research students.

You have a great opportunity, with UPES, to mold India’s oil and gas sector going forward. How do you select programs at the university to identify gaps in education and skill levels, and identify areas of priority?

Let me share with you the initial process for developing our programs. When UPES was being conceptualized, the President and Vice Chancellor visited some of the premier institutes in Europe to study the academic programs in the existing international market as well as the industrial scenario. This was followed by a nationwide market survey and based on the responses of the sample groups from the academia and industry, the current needs of the Indian oil & gas industry were established. Specific programs were then designed for roll out.

There is a definite underlying attempt to keep our syllabi contemporary. If you take a closer look at our governing boards and the academic council; its members are not only strong academicians but belong to the industry. This probably accounts for the fact that we are in constant touch with the developments in the industry and are able to review and update the syllabi every year. As far as UPES is concerned – we want to remain contemporary. We hope to be proactive and keep in line with the industry need.

Is the industry coming to you and asking for specific types of engineers that they may require in future years?

UPES has a unique approach wherein it is provided with market data that enables us to deliver and fulfill the industry need in terms of talented manpower.

Let me elaborate, the ISPe together with UPES as a knowledge partner organizes an HR Round Table Conference that brings together the country’s best HR minds. The information generated through this platform gives us a more than fair idea about the industry requirements.

How would you assess the current rate of education in the oil and gas industry in India? Obviously, there is an older generation that has been very successful in building up India’s national oil companies, and the rest of the value chain. But many industry members are saying that the younger generation is worrisome in terms of human resource potential.

The industry requires people – the demand is huge. Since our founding, other schools with similar objectives have taken shape. Hopefully, we will be able to meet the industry’s demand to a great extent while maintaining quality.

I personally feel that while the older school of management has tremendously contributed to the growth of the Indian petroleum industry, the younger generation is equally up to the task of building the industry, and the Indian economy at large.

With the challenges that the industry faces now, the time to deliver must be almost immediate. And that is where we come in; that is where the other petroleum universities come in. We have our task cut out by developing young professionals that enable the industry meet such challenges and remain competitive.

Is it hard to attract young people to the oil & gas sector, when there are other very successful sectors here in India?

I do not think so. I think young students are still enamored -very enamored as a matter of fact – with the oil and gas sector particularly due to the competitive pay scales and perks it offers along with opportunities for career growth. There is no problem as far as getting the right type of potential talent for our programs. I am very clear on that.

How do you hope to build the capacity of the university? Are you happy with the number of programs, and the number or students, that you have at the moment? Or are you looking to further develop?

Our initial target was to have 5000 students. By next year, we will hit that figure, or even go beyond. At present, UPES has 4200 plus students across 40 courses. Besides, we have definite expansion plans in terms of infrastructure, some of which are underway. We are quite happy with our current state of development and are now entering a phase of consolidation.

As chancellor, building relationships with the industry is a very important aspect of your work. To what extent do you focus your attentions on developing relations with the local Indian market, and to what extent are you looking to provide your students with opportunities abroad?

It is true that till now, we had been focusing on the Indian industry. Gradually but surely, we are getting into markets abroad. We do intend to carry out marketing activities, both in terms of enrolling foreign students as well as placing our local students into foreign programs. Some of our students have been pursuing their summer internship programs abroad, specially in north America
I am glad to share with you, that UPES has experienced a lot of success, as far as multinationals are concerned, in India; we have good relations with Schlumberger, Cairn India, to name a few. Some of our students have already been placed abroad by various organizations. In the near future, we intend to create in – house programs to facilitate such placements.

There are some very famous examples around the world of oil and gas universities—for example, Gubkin in Russia. What are your ambitions for the long term?
We believe we will definitely have a similarly famous name in the future!

Today, with about 2500 students placed, UPES touches every segment of the industry. I feel very proud, when occasionally during industry visits, students that I do not even recognize come around me and say, “I was your student”! One feels very, very happy. At the recently held Petro tech exhibition 2010, that is a meeting ground for all oil majors, almost each stall had a UPES student!

Our long term ambitions include our effort to provide an enriching career to our prospective students.

Did you face any challenges in moving into academia after having worked for 30 years in the corporate side of the industry?

Before I moved up the corporate ladder, I was with the Research and Development Group of Engineers India Limited. I was groomed as a research engineer and headed the group. I was a visiting professor at IIT Delhi, as well as a visiting professor at the University of Roorkee (now, IIT Roorkee). So the move from the corporate to academics was not much of a problem for me. I have had my stints as far as teaching is concerned and have experience in the field. Moreover, I come from an R&D background which is always helpful in the academic world.

What is your advice for new students entering UPES, as someone that has had great success in this industry?

Work hard and the reward will be yours. I always tell my students that there is no such thing as job satisfaction. One has to satisfy the job requirements. I think that that is what is important. Initially one may have to struggle but one needs to give one’s best, no matter what. Then the whole world is yours, you will have earned your victories.

Chancellors of universities are always very well remembered by the students that graduate. In 20 years’ time, when people talk about Dr. Chopra, how would you like to be remembered?

I would like to be remembered as a man who focused on students’ careers, and as a man who focused on creating professionals with zeal enthusiasm and ethics. Simple!

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