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Teknologi Petronas (UTP) – Datuk Ir (Dr) Abdul Rahim Hashim, Vice Chancellor and CEO – Malaysia

Universiti Teknologi Petronas (UTP) was established in 1997 and has grown to be one of the most prominent private universities in Malaysia. The Vice Chancellor and CEO of the University, Datuk Abdul Rahim Hashim, explains why he believes that the university will have an increasing role in the Malaysian oil and gas industry.



The university was established in 1997 and has produced over 10,000 graduates. What was the initial vision behind the creation of UTP and how does this vision fit in today’s reality?

Since the university’s establishment in 1997, we have grown to be one of the most prominent private universities in Malaysia, offering a wide range of industry-related engineering and technology programs at undergraduate and postgraduate levels. We were invited by the Malaysian government to establish a presence in 1997, as part of their aspiration to improve higher education in the country, as well as to help provide a talented graduate pool for the private sector. We now focus on engineering and technology programs, as well as providing quality education in the areas of management and the humanities. Our mission is to become a leader in technology education and a center of creativity and innovation, nurturing the future talents of the country in order for them to become well-rounded citizens.

Today, we are a fully-fledged university with a current enrolment of over 6,000 undergraduates and 1,200 postgraduates from more than 50 countries around the world. We have both research and educational departments, and have a strong emphasis on oil and gas.

Research and development provides a core activity at UTP, as it strives to achieve the status of an internationally renowned research university. Could you explain some of the projects the university is working on?

With regards to research, we focus on nine mission-oriented research areas, of which five are related to oil and gas, with the other four related to national needs. Within oil and gas, we are focusing on projects such as nanotechnology, green technology, enhanced oil recovery, CO2 management and deepwater technology. With regards to the other four missions, we are focusing on sustainable resources, hybrid energy system, biomedical technology and intelligent city.

We have a vision to become a leader in R&D and consultancy, recognized internationally as a partner of choice for industries. The opportunity for collaboration between other university or key industry players presents itself frequently. For example, UTP and Shell have an agreement for the sponsorship of Shell Professorial Chair in Petroleum Geosciences at UTP. Typically, the objective of the Chair is to promote an integrated system of research, training, information and documentation within the relevant field. The Chair also serves as a means of facilitating collaboration between the university and other high-level, internationally recognized researchers and academics from other universities and institutions.

Apart from the Shell Chair, we also have PETRONAS Carigali Chair in Enhanced Oil Recovery, Schlumberger Chair in Petroleum Engineering, Mitsubishi Chair in Green Technology, Technip Chair in Deepwater Structure and Subsea Technology and SapuraKencana Chair in Deepwater Drilling & Construction Technology.

Could you give an example of how UTP is contributing to the development of the oil and gas sector in the country through its research?

We do not cover a broad base of research activities, but we do try to narrow and deepen our scope of research within carefully selected areas that are relevant to the industry. One such area is enhanced oil recovery (EOR), where UTP researchers are contributing to the oil and gas industry by being actively involved in Petronas research activities. We have the Centre of Research in EOR whose members have been working on Petronas projects contracted out by Petronas Research Sdn. Bhd. since 2009.  The Centre works on the average 8 contract research per year. Since these are Petronas projects, the problems investigated are highly relevant to industry.

UTP researchers are also planning EOR research projects on the Bokor field which are to increase its recovery and implementation of EOR project is expected to begin in 2018. Other areas of research are CO2 management and seismic studies which are also conducting projects for the technology department of Petronas to improve carbon dioxide extraction mostly and improving predictions of oil deposits using seismic.

Another area of focus for us is in deepwater technology. Deepwater is also a focus for Malaysian oil and gas operators, including Petronas. Our focus on this topic is testament to our commitment in closely aligning our research with industry requirements.

Recently, a new USD 1 million facility to test novel technologies for the offshore oil and gas sector opened in the National University of Singapore (NUS). UTP has created partnerships with some of the largest companies in the industry including Shell, Baker Hughes and Schlumberger. Why is UTP the right partner for the industry versus other Universities such as the National University of Singapore for instance?

We have invested almost USD 7 million in six research facilities over a short period in order to remain competitive and relevant to the industry. This capital expenditure allows us to perform high-pressure, high-temperature tests using CO2 as a medium to reflect conditions out in the field, allowing our research to remain up to date and closely aligned to industry requirements.

We do keep an eye on what other institutions are doing and what they are focused on. To a certain extent we are in competition for funds but funding is almost secondary to human capital. Money is available for focused research in the oil and gas sector, and if our projects are in line with industry requirements, the financial support will come naturally. However, our primary concern is human capital, and this is often the limiting factor in the success of the project. We must make sure that we have the right people on board to participate in the research in order for a favorable outcome to occur. 

How is UTP willing to address the issue of skill shortage in terms of training and how are you attracting local students to enter a career in technology?

We do not have difficulty attracting talented students to UTP as we believe we attract the best students to UTP. Also, 95 percent of graduates are employed within six months and typically they enter the oil and gas sector that is robust and pays well as compared to other industries.

The issue is more about trying to attract local students to continue their studies and do a postgraduate degree. The reasons are relatively simple; students leave university and enter an industry that needs them and hence they are paid well. As a result, many do not want to leave their paid positions to enter into a postgraduate degree.

The oil and gas industry is at the moment very vibrant and robust. We are trying to create the next generation of oil and gas engineers for the industry. As a result, the industry is attracting the majority of our students away from furthering their studies and making human resources a challenge within research.

With 95 percent of UTP students entering employment within six months of leaving university, how many go on to work for Petronas, as well as other Malaysian oil and gas companies?

About 34 percent of UTP graduates go on to work for Petronas, 51 percent to oil and gas companies and the remaining 15 percent are employed with non-oil and gas companies.

What are the current composition of sponsored students versus private and also the percentage of international students?

Petronas used to sponsor more than 30 percent of students, but this has now declined to about 10 percent. Currently, the mix of students consists of 50 percent who have received sponsorship from various sponsors including industry, with the other 50 percent being private students.

We also receive a large proportion of international students who make up 21 percent of the student population. Predominantly the international students are from the Middle East and North Africa, as well as South and Southeast Asia.

You have a strong background in the sector with more than three decades of experience at Petronas, having served in a number of leading positions. In addition, you are the former president of the Malaysian Gas Association. How do you translate this expertise into managing UTP?

I have personally been involved with professional development of individuals throughout the entirety of my career. I was responsible for putting young technical talent into career development programs during my years at Petronas. As a result, I was naturally involved in the university when it was established, initially as part of the steering committee, followed shortly by being a member of the board. I was later appointed the Vice President of Human Resource Management for Petronas, which meant that the university came under my remit. When the previous vice chancellor stepped down, they approached me and asked if I would be interested. This is a role I find incredibly rewarding.


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