What Subjects Are of Particular Interest to Azerbaijani Students in Russia?
Azerbaijan was the first country in the world to have drilled an oil well and built an oil pipeline - both with the help of Russian experts. A petro boom followed as a result, but both then and now primary oil producers in the country are not domestic companies but foreign-based entities.
Between January and May this year, the Republic of Azerbaijan exported 13.8 million tons of oil, which exceeds 70% of the country's export revenues and roughly equals $5 billion. Mineral resources are the foundation of the Azerbaijani economy. In fact, hydrocarbons are one of the few expert products of the Republic. Yet with that said, shortage of qualified local personnel remains one of the most significant issues for Azerbaijan.
As per Emil Qasimov, a graduate of Saint-Petersburg Mining University, "Although most enterprises employ Azerbaijani nationals, chief engineers are almost always specialists of foreign origins. Let us take LUKOIL, Russian multinational energy corporation, as an example: a ratio of Russian to local employees is 20 to 80, but top managers are mostly Russians. This is a typical situation, common to petroleum producers operating within the country. My friend is working at Schlumberger, a French oilfield services company, and, according to him, company executives are all Europeans. Of course, they have a degree in oil & gas engineering from one of the top universities. Azerbaijanis find it difficult to get employed by that company, but they do not stop dreaming about it. An effective way to build a career here is thus to earn a degree in the corresponding field, preferably from a foreign university."
Indeed Azerbaijan has its own universities, with some of them actually being very strong. Like Azerbaijan State Oil and Industry University, from which Emil - before coming to Saint Petersburg - had obtained a Bachelor's degree. Value of foreign education is, however, much higher in the country.
"If a person wants to study abroad, they usually choose between Russia and Turkey. Russia is an obvious choice since it had been involved with my country back from Soviet times. My parents, their generation and those who are older than them, worship Russia. They truly believe this is where one can get the best education. Our youth does not have as strong ties with Russia, but contrary to stereotype speak Russian quite well. As for Turkey, ethnic kinship is what unites us. Geopolitical interests must be playing a role as well. Because of special relations with these two countries, children can either study at Azerbaijani, Russian or Turkish school," explains Emil.
At nearing the graduation date youngsters are faced with a choice dilemma. Most often they choose a university based on the language of tuition at school they were studying at. Emil was attending a Russian school, and so he went to St. Petersburg, while his brother was studying at a Turkish school and left for Istanbul.
"It was not all about the national affiliation of the school, it was clearly more about what I was interested in. I was keen on physics, chemistry, and mathematics. I even won school Olympiads in physics held in Azerbaijan. At the same time, I was studying in a music school named after Muslim Magomayev. Occasionally I performed at concerts. Still, I made up my mind and, in the end, decided that my future profession would be petroleum engineering."
Oil and gas engineering is something Russia is good at. Azerbaijan was indeed the oil capital of the world in the nineteenth century. But today, capitalisation of our local oil companies is well behind what Russian companies have. And as for mining engineering education, there are some advantages that Russia can offer. For instance, Azerbaijani students rarely have something else but textbooks to learn from. Russian students, in turn, have teachers that can help them, they also have labs where they can experiment. Here, at the Mining University, we have drilling rigs and other devices that help to simulate various production processes. Then there is another advantage. Education in Azerbaijan has remained frozen from the twentieth century. In contrast, Russian universities are adapting to present-day realities. As such, Mining University's students learn how to handle blasting works at quarries through the use of professional software," says the student.
Emil won the contest administered by Rossotrudnichestvo, winners of which are entitled to a state-funded place in one of the Russian universities. Yet it was not an easy task: over a thousand applicants had to compete for one of 205 study places provided under the quota system. The young man decided to pursue a Master's Degree at St. Petersburg Mining University. On choosing an educational institution, he took into consideration both the university's rankings and its location, for he had to live there for the next few years.
"In addition to what I have already mentioned, I also got attracted by the strict discipline within the University. Students here are obliged to wear a uniform, and professors insist that we adhere to high standards. For me, it feels like being a part of the University wherein its history and status are honoured. As a foreigner, I would also mention the high-quality infrastructure: comfortable dormitories, cafés, swimming pools, and gyms," noted Emil.
The Mining University's student chose 'Oil & Gas Processing Equipment' as a speciality since he had previously studied oil mechanics in Azerbaijan. As he says, students mostly focus on such issues as raw materials transportation or field development, also paying some attention to enhancing oil recovery rates. On the other hand, the way equipment works, its principles, and possibilities for improvement - this is usually left beyond the study scope. Oil refineries, however, need specialists with skills and knowledge in that area.
As Emil recalls, "Last summer, I underwent an internship at the Heydar Aliyev Baku Oil Refinery. The equipment they previously used had become obsolete and caused pollution discharge into wastewaters. Therefore they were replacing old devices with modern ones. The only professional who knows how to estimate condition and breakdown susceptibility of technical equipment is an oilfield mechanic. I took advantage of newly achieved field experience, made few appointments with plant's employees and, based on the gathered data, presented and defended my thesis. It is dedicated to the modernisation of diesel hydrotreater pumps. And the solution I proposed not only results in increased equipment efficiency but also helps to reduce the discharge of pollutants."
Emil has recently completed a Master's degree and is about to start PhD studies soon. He again received a quota granted by Rossotrudnichestvo and will continue his education at the Mining University. As the Azerbaijani fellow believes, an academic degree he will obtain once graduating will let him earn a better position in the labour market. He also hopes it will translate into a job at one of the Azerbaijani oil companies.