(From the June 13 issue of Rubber & Plastics News)
AKRON—The University of Akron Research Foundation will help train Saudis to work at a planned elastomers plant at the Al-Jubail Petrochemical Co.
Saudi Basic Industries Corp. and affiliates of ExxonMobil Chemical Co., which jointly operate the Al-Jubail Petrochemical plant, awarded a contract to the University of Akron Research Foundation to help establish a vocational training program in Yanbu, Saudi Arabia. The university will design curriculum, train instructors and students, and support the High Institute for Elastomer Industries.
It's a five-year project worth about $33 million, said George Newkome, president of the University of Akron Research Foundation and dean of the graduate school.
“We're going to be training the trainers,” Newkome said. “In other words, when this is up and running, they're going to need to have people who will be able to address issues there.”
The agreement calls for the university to perform activities in Akron and in Saudi Arabia. Saudi instructor candidates are coming to Akron to study for about two years, learning about rubber technology, said Barry Rosenbaum, a senior fellow with the University of Akron Research Foundation. The students then will return to Yanbu, where they will teach at the institute.
“It's a relatively new concept in Saudi Arabia to have Saudi instructors at the kind of institute we're talking about, as opposed to relying solely on expatriate instructors,” Rosenbaum said.
During the five years of the contract, the University of Akron will recruit world experts in the field to travel to Saudi Arabia to supplement the Saudi instructors. “But as the project approaches that fifth year, the instruction at the institute will be 100-percent Saudis,” he said.
Besides training instructors and providing experts to supplement the staff at the vocational institute, UA is establishing the vocational institute's curriculum.
“We will supply all of the training modules at the institute in Saudi Arabia,” Rosenbaum said. “We designed all the laboratories and specified all of the equipment, so we've had a major role in developing the Higher Institute of Elastomer Industries—the HIEI.”
The institute should begin offering its first classes in September 2012. The University of Akron Research Foundation will recruit rubber technology experts to assist the Saudi instructors during the startup phase, Rosenbaum said.
The university already has put together a staff to help train potential Saudi instructors and to develop the curriculum for the institute in Saudi Arabia.
“There are 12 to 15 people associated with the project currently, and we would expect that another six or eight people over time will be located in Saudi Arabia as expatriates to manage the project and complement the teaching component in the kingdom,” Rosenbaum said.
About 30 to 40 Saudi students will be coming to the University of Akron to receive training, Newkome said.
The reputation of the University of Akron's polymer science and polymer engineering programs helped it land the contract, according to SABIC and ExxonMobil representatives.
“We completed a thorough assessment when seeking education partners, and the University of Akron has a strong track record and is known to be leading in elastomer education,” the representatives said.
Newkome agreed that the university's reputation was a major factor helping it secure the contract.
“Akron really has a worldwide reputation,” he said. “It's hard to go to any university or to any industry that's associated with polymers and not to have a graduate or two of this establishment.”