By Oscarline Onwuemenyi
THE Executive Secretary of the Petroleum Technology Development Fund (PTDF), Mallam Muttaqua Rabe Darma, has announced plans by the Fund to end its popular Overseas Scholarship Scheme (OSS) by the year 2013.

Darma, who made the announcement on Friday in a chat with journalists at the end of the Fund’s maiden ‘Catch Them Young’ Quiz/Debate Competition for Secondary Schools in the country, explained that the decision was prompted by the Fund’s desire to harness potentials of local universities for training of students in petroleum technology_related courses.

He said, “Our desire is to look inwards and rejuvenate our local universities and other technological institutions to be able to give our students what they go overseas to get. Therefore, in the next three years, we plan to limit some of the programmes our students travel abroad for, at least from the MSc programmes downward.”

He noted that, “The PTDF is also upgrading local universities and technology institutions in a wholesome manner, so they can provide these skills and proficiencies that are required for the petroleum industry.

“The idea is to bring our local universities at par with the international institutions like Imperial College in London, by upgrading their facilities, their faculties and even the teaching skills. This we will do by taking the professors abroad to shadow_learn at top universities in the world and improve their knowledge about the latest and most modern technologies and developments in the sector.

“We want to be able to bring the Nigerian higher institutions to the same level as what obtains abroad where we take our students, and thereby harness potentials in our institutions and our students and lecturers to the maximum.
“If our schools can provide the skills and knowledge we need, why do we need to take our best brains and resources abroad,” he queried.”

More importantly, he said, the country would be able to invest the millions of dollars that it expends sending students overseas in institutions, thereby boosting our educational resource.

According to him, the Overseas Scholarship Scheme was designed to develop the potent manpower for the oil and gas industry in Nigeria. “We take them to schools overseas, where we believe they have an opportunity to learn skills that we don’t have in higher institutions in the country,” he said.

Darma stressed that it was important that the Fund begin to look inwards for solutions to the paucity of local manpower for the oil and gas industry.

According to him, “For an oil and gas producing nation like Nigeria, which has been exploring oil for over fifty years, it is high time we began to ensure that the wealth derived from the resource is impacting not just the socio_economic environment but  the educational system, too.

That has been the new focus of the PTDF in the past couple of years.”
He observed that this year, the Fund received over 11,000 requests for scholarship to study petroleum technology_related courses abroad, adding that only about 6,000 wrote the test for less than 650 slots.

“So you can see that if we are able to upgrade the facilities in local universities, including upgrading their teaching faculties and initiating virtual libraries with other libraries with top schools in the UK and America, then we can conveniently accommodate thousands of these applicants and avail them of the opportunity,” he added.
He stated that the PTDF would pay for subscription for the virtual libraries to be installed in various institutions across the country.
According to the Executive Secretary, PTDF had so far upgraded eight departments in eight universities and was in the process of upgrading another eight departments in different universities, bringing the number to 16.
He said, “We intend to upgrade 20 departments in 20 universities, now including state universities. We will bring these upgraded departments at par with any of its peers anywhere in the world. We will benchmark a department that is among the top 20 in the world before we begin to upgrade a certain department.”

He explained that upgrade programme was a response to the deluge of applications from persons seeking for the PTDF Overseas Scholarship Programme.

“Because of the number of people asking us for scholarships, we developed a programme of upgrading of departments in universities that are relevant to the oil and gas industry.”

Meanwhile, the Executive Secretary of the PTDF has hailed the passage of the Local Content Bill, stating that it remains the best thing to happen to the oil and gas industry in Nigeria.

He added that the Fund had been at the forefront of the campaign to promote the bill, bearing in mind that many Nigerians who train overseas under the sponsorship of the PTDF come back to the country only to be faced with unemployment.

“Nobody can appreciate the impact of the local content bill more than us in the PTDF. This is because the whole essence of the bill is to widen opportunities for local manpower in the oil and gas industry, and this is what we train people for them to get opportunities to show their skills in our country.

He added that with the local content bill, the era of Nigerians going to expensive colleges abroad and coming back home to face joblessness was over for good.

“Now, our young and brilliant graduates would have something to look forward to after their expensive, government_sponsored programmes overseas, which is really good thing,” he added.

The Fund further noted that the ‘Catch Them Young’ project was initiated as part of efforts to popularize Petroleum Technology and to arouse the consciousness and interest of Nigerians about the oil and gas industry, it has initiated a new programme that will target the youths in developing capacity for the industry.
The programme known as “Catch Them Young” Quiz/Debate Competition for secondary schools is targeted at raising the interest and participation of senior secondary school student in science subjects that are relevant to oil and gas courses and disciplines.

The competition, which was in three categories was contested at state, zonal and national levels. Category 1 is in Essay writing; category 2 is in schools quiz while category 3 is in schools debate.

The best contestants from each category at the State level will not only receive cash awards, but will also be sponsored to compete in the same category at the zonal level.

The best student from each of the six geo_political zones in each of the categories of the competition (Essay writing, schools quiz and schools debate) will also receive various cash awards and will be sponsored for the national competition, the climax of the programme.

First prize winners of the various categories at the national level of the competition will receive cash prizes of N100, 000. (One hundred thousand naira), a laptop and a fully sponsored trip to local and international oil and gas installations accompanied by their school teachers.

According to Darma, “We are very proud of the success that this competition has become. When we first muted the idea of the competition, many people, even within the Fund, expressed reservations about our ability to pull it off.  People told us it would not be possible, and that schools and state governments may not cooperate with us.

“But as a teacher, I have a strong belief that one way of bringing out the best in students is creating avenues for them to compete against one another. We have confidence in our ability working with our consultants and resources persons to make a huge success of this project.

He noted that one result of this project is that as at today more than one million youths and students have learnt a thing or two about the PTDF and what our mandate is.“They had to do research into the organization and our activities in order to do well in the competition.

Also, the subjects of the competition and topics were given at the venues of the competition, which means they have to read wide on almost everything about petroleum technology and the industry at large. That created reading and research habit for many of these students,” he explained.

He assured of the Fund’s plans to make the completion an annual event, noting that subsequent editions would be bigger, better organized and more competitive.

“We promise to give scholarships to the best students in this maiden edition to go to the university to study petroleum technology_related courses, and we have a lot of cash prizes for them, too.”

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