The emerging oil and gas industry in Lebanon may have hit a few speed bumps recently, but that hasn’t stopped the country’s universities from starting to think about the industry’s potential. Lebanon’s universities have always graduated students into the oil and gas professions but they are beginning to recognize the demand for specialized programs that will prepare students to work in the petroleum industry in Lebanon if and when the country does extract its hydrocarbons.
The Exploration and Production Agreement, which is still awaiting approval from the Lebanese government, requires four-fifths of a company’s local labor be Lebanese nationals. According to one well-informed source, meeting the labor needs for the sector will be a challenge, though it does present an unlikely opportunity. The 80 percent requirement could prompt companies to hire based on merit rather than wasta — informal connections. While political pressure is being applied to hire connected individuals, as more technical opportunities become available it is unlikely that any one sect could dominate hiring. Clearly, making sure that Lebanon’s youth are trained to work in the sector is a key priority for the country.
AUB and USJ
A number of universities in the country are introducing new academic programs or expanding existing programs to cater for the next generation. Université Saint-Joseph (USJ) has developed a masters program in oil and gas exploration, production and management. The program is admitting individuals holding technical and engineering backgrounds and will prepare students within a two-tier system: a technical upstream track for students to gain expertise in the domain of exploration and a downstream track for students to gain expertise in management issues. The dean of the engineering department, Fadi Geara, told Executive the program is prepared to customize studies based on the background of the student and desired specialization for sub-field expertise.
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A major draw for students will be the organizations affiliated with the program. Partners include French energy giant Total, with the participation of the French Petroleum Institute and additional support from Attock Oil International and the Embassy of France in Lebanon. Students will have the opportunity to associate with high-level industry experts, including a 3–4 month training period reporting to Geara and Petroleum Administration member Nasser Hoteit. As Geara noted, partners will help develop both the students and the nascent program. “For the moment, it is a professional program, [there] is no research program. It is an option for the future,” he added.
The American University of Beirut is one of a number of universities offering new courses
At the American University of Beirut the approach appears more holistic. The university has several programs at the undergraduate level to prepare students for entry into the petroleum industry. These programs include petroleum geology and a planned petroleum engineering minor to be offered within the chemical engineering department.
A noteworthy development from AUB is an interdisciplinary program entitled “Master of Energy Studies,” due to launch next spring, which will address energy from the social sciences, emphasizing the economic mechanism, funding mechanisms, policy and technical aspects. The degree will target individuals who anticipate careers as executives with decision-making responsibilities.
Also under development within AUB, and possibly attached to the Energy Studies program, is a partnership with the Graduate Institute of Geneva, which would offer a six-credit course for oil and gas training. The first training workshop is tentatively scheduled for this coming January, and will admit members of the general public not just AUB students.
Other universities are also rethinking their programs. The Lebanese University, Notre Dame University and the Beirut Arab University, are all set to offer degrees related to the industry.
Meanwhile, the University of Balamand has established a master’s program in chemical engineering with a major designated for petroleum studies. The Holy Spirit University of Kaslik has a similar master’s degree.
These programs are very positive developments for Lebanon, but doubts remain. Will there be enough employment opportunities created for individuals to return to the country and work in the sector? Will companies be able to keep them from more lucrative work in the Gulf?
Asked whether he felt the universities were preparing to train a generation of Lebanese oil and gas experts, caretaker Minister of Energy and Water Gibran Bassil said “Some are, some are not. It is a big educational challenge. But not difficult for the Lebanese. They know; they learn.” But this requires coordination if Lebanon is to make the most of its prospective gas wealth. The education and energy ministries must work with the country’s universities to establish advanced studies that prepare students for the sector. Laying the right foundations now will make a big difference for future generations.
List of current oil and gas programs in Lebanon, click to enlarge