Bismarck State College, if successful in contract talks with a Saudi Arabian institute, could create an impressive revenue stream for the school. It’s a credit to BSC President Larry Skogen and his staff that they didn’t let recent budget cuts curb their enthusiasm for innovation.
The college was selected to provide a five-year curriculum and training at the National Power Academy in Dammam, the capital of Saudi Arabia's eastern province. If a contract is reached, BSC will provide industrial, non-credit training at the National Power Academy. BSC was chosen for a three-year program for Saudi high school graduates that trains them in energy trades and crafts selected by leaders of the academy. The programs include electrical, mechanical, renewable, nuclear, operations and manufacturing disciplines. There could be as many as 800 Saudi students.
To be selected BSC had to compete globally, being a finalist with Germany and Great Britain. That’s powerful company and it speaks well for BSC’s programs that they were chosen. The program could bring several million dollars to BSC over the next five years. BSC has to establish a limited liability company to operate independently of the college and handle the revenue, which would go to a BSC foundation then be distributed back to the college via a grant process. A year after taking a $7.4 million budget cut and eliminating more than 30 positions, that would be a big boost for the two-year school.
The next big hurdle will be to agree on a contract. The Saudis wanted to buy BSC’s intellectual property, or curriculum, but BSC didn’t want to give it up. Instead, the school is licensing the curriculum to the Saudis for the duration of the contract. Skogen hopes after the contract is reached there will be opportunities to add other training programs at the academy, such as a program for existing skilled workers and certification courses for technical management professionals working in the power industry.
There are risks involved in a venture like this and that’s why BSC has spent so much time working on the contract. The Saudis wanted to begin the courses by the end of March, but BSC has suggested it will take until the fall to get started. Zak Allen, project manager with BSC's National Energy Center of Excellence, and a few other BSC employees will go to Saudi Arabia to work temporarily at the National Power Academy. One of the restrictions on BSC that some North Dakotans might find hard to swallow is that under Saudi law BSC can’t hire women as trainers or administrative staff at the facility. If BSC wants work with the National Power Academy it has to follow Saudi law.
If BSC and the Saudis reach a contract this arrangement will fit nicely with Gov. Doug Burgum’s efforts to reinvent government. It’s taking our resources, in this case the curriculum, and exporting it. It benefits the Saudis and BSC, actually all of North Dakota. It certainly speaks well for BSC to be selected after a worldwide search. One also could argue BSC is reaping the benefits of then-Gov. John Hoeven’s Centers of Excellence. Hopefully, if this endeavor is successful, BSC and the state can build on it. BSC could earn a reputation for its educational and training abilities and draw interest from other institutions and countries.
It will be quite an achievement for Skogen and BSC if they can reach a contract and launch the training.