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The Way to Get a Job at Petroleum Industry of Serbia

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Фото © gazprom-neft.ru

As was initially planned by the city leaders of Moscow and Saint Petersburg, switching to distant learning should have caused university students to leave the cities, thereby reducing the pressure on hospital capacity brought by the Covid-19 pandemic. According to a Master's student from Serbia, many non-locals and foreigners preferred to stay. She also spoke about the expectations of international students who study in Russia.

When the pandemic started, which was in the spring, there was no other choice but to study online. Upon completing the end-of-year exams, many of us went back to our home countries. A citizen of a particular country has a right to return to their country no matter what. Even with closed borders, special flights were being arranged, which we could take advantage of. However, those who left had problems getting back, ending up studying remotely... I was indeed concerned about the situation and how it would unfold. Hence, when in October Russia allowed air flights from Serbia into the country, I bought a plane ticket at once. With the start of the second wave in the autumn and the increase in the number of cases, students split into two groups. Some wanted to stay on the campus and attend classes, claiming they would abide by coronavirus safety precautions. Others claimed the risks of catching the disease were too high to allow contact learning. Like many people who I spoke to, I shared the view of those belonging to the first group," admits Jovana Milić, the student of St. Petersburg Mining University.

Jovana says it is essential to ensure that the imposed restrictions do not hamper the education process or it will lead to negative consequences in the future. Engineers, who are sitting now at home, unable to undergo practical training or do lab work, will experience difficulties when entering the workforce. Of course, the short-term outlook worries students a lot more: they do not know if they will be forced into distance learning next term again.

"I am not leaving St. Petersburg until I complete my Master's studies, that is, not before summer then," shares the student.

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Фото © Из личного архива

Jovana is studying at the Faculty of Oil and Gas Engineering. She was born in Kraljevo, a city in central Serbia, but then her family moved to Novi Sad, the second-largest city in the country. As she was studying at school, the girl learned about the Energy of Knowledge programme of Naftna Industrija Srbije (NIS). She passed the competition and, as one of the best Serbian students, was granted a scholarship.

Gazprom Neft is the majority shareholder of NIS, owning 56.15% of its shares. While the second-largest shareholder is the Republic of Serbia, which holds 29.87% of NIS share capital.

As stated by NIS, in 2012, the company recognised a mismatch between the supply and demand of personnel in the local labour market. The biggest shortage of staff was in the field of natural and technical sciences. It was also needed to improve the curriculum and create more modern working conditions. The Energy of Knowledge programme was launched to change the situation and provide new, quality staff.

As part of the programme, the company has contributed to the improvement of educational conditions in schools and universities across Serbia. It has refurbished and equipped numerous classrooms and laboratories. It awards scholarships to the most talented students. It also collaborates with universities in Serbia, the region and the Russian Federation. Such cooperation includes providing scholarships for students at these universities, organising internships for NIS scholarship holders, carrying out joint scientific and research projects. To date, NIS has awarded scholarships to more than 100 students. Upon graduation, they will be employed by the company.

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Фото © nis.eu

Rossotrudnichestvo is an organisation responsible for promoting Russian education services abroad and distributing quotas to international students. This year the agency allocated 125 quotas to Serbian nationals, which means that the rest - whether they are studying for free or not - applied to universities independently. With each year, more and more school graduates from Serbia enter Russian universities. Where is this interest coming from though?

"For applicants and their parents, higher education in Russia is an opportunity to become employed by Russian companies operating in Serbia, such as Gazprom, Lukoil, or Russian Railways (RZD). Besides, our domestic universities are notoriously known for their stringent rules regarding taking examinations. Whereas Serbian students are free to choose when they take a particular exam, their Russian counterparts must pass all exams before the study year ends. Otherwise, they won't be able to continue their studies. Having a possibility to reschedule courses for the next year is relaxing. On the other hand, the learning process stretches out and slows down significantly," says Olesya Babenko, Consultant of the Education Department at the Representative Office of Rossotrudnichestvo in Serbia.

There is also an additional advantage. In Russia, degree certificates are handed out straight after graduation. Whilst at the Balkan region, universities stick with a rather lengthy procedure. Because of that, fresh graduates cannot immediately apply for a second higher education upon completion of the first one. It also makes it difficult to enrol at another university to start a Master's or PhD programme.

"There are 18 universities in the Republic of Serbia, and their diplomas are highly valued by employers. Yet some areas are not that well covered by local institutions. Graduates who have decided to explore international study opportunities and obtain a rare speciality have higher chances of getting a good job once they are back in the country. If the field they have studied is well represented, it doesn't matter what university they chose; they will get employment anyway. For example, the agricultural sector is one of the core ones - Serbian annual exports of agricultural products are increasing, and the country has already accumulated vast experience in that area. Studying mining or oil & gas engineering is also becoming trendy, and we see that the number of contestants for study quotas is on the rise. There are several factors which can explain it: first, NIS, one of the most profitable companies in Serbia, with its Energy of Knowledge programme, and second, the top-notch quality of education at Russian engineering universities," notes Babenko.

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Фото © rs.gov.ru

An education fair "For Education to Russia" was held in Belgrade in November, aiming to acquaint local youngsters with Russian universities. Six higher educational institutions took part in the exhibition. Four of them have programmes in mining engineering, and one - Mining University - focuses entirely on teaching engineering subjects. As a tradition, several hundred high school students attend the fair to watch presentations and talk to institutions' representatives about the application procedures and other related matters.

"Studying in Russia is what I always wanted. The country's resource potential allowed it to have gained profound academic and field experience in the extraction and processing of hydrocarbons. Since I had heard a lot about Mining University, my utmost desire was to study in St. Petersburg. When I first entered the university's main building, I thought for a second I ended up in Hogwarts, from the series of novels on Harry Potter: a majestic old building, corridors with portraits on the walls, astonishing library collections, and of course, the Mining Museum. No less impressive is the social infrastructure and advanced research centres," recalls Jovana.

The curriculum adopted at Russian technical universities implies that students take about 10 to 12 study courses per term - twice the average of European levels. Higher engineering education is also built according to such a principle that first comes the theory, continues with research or lab work, and ends in field experiments.

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Фото © Из личного архива

"I will give an example. In my third year, we had a lab session on which we learnt how to use and operate deep-well sucker-rod pumps. Then I had a summer internship at NIS; I acknowledged myself with the job functions of an oil and gas production operator and realised I already had enough knowledge to administer the on-site oil extraction process. However, it was on-the-job training that made me fully comprehend the principles of work. Afterwards, we went through different other activities: we were taught how to enhance oil recovery, had lab classes on simulation of field development, learnt about offshore production, used simulators to become familiar with well servicing, and a lot more. Each summer, we either had internships or field trips or both. Indeed, none of that is possible to be done online", says Jovana.

Having earned her Bachelor's degree, the Serbian student proceeded to a Master's programme. Soon, she familiarised herself with more field-specific topics and started attending conferences. Before the pandemic began, she had managed to participate in the SPE Tatarstan UpExPro 2020, an international scientific conference held in Kazan and organised by the Society of Petroleum Engineers (SPE). She had also taken part in the Winter School on Petroleum and Process Engineering. As part of the latter event, its participants were invited to visit one of the facilities of SIBUR, Russia's largest petrochemicals company.

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Фото © Из личного архива