US engineering faculties are suffering from staff shortages as academics are drawn to the lucrative salaries offered by the latest energy boom.
Engineering faculties in the United States are reporting difficulties in retaining academics as a result of North America’s energy boom, which has simultaneously increased the need for teaching staff as ambitious youths flock to the profession.
Ramanan Krishnamoorti, a petroleum engineering professor at the University of Houston who is responsible for the school’s energy-related undertakings, said the comparatively paltry salaries offered by academic teaching positions are failing to retain staff.
“It’s very hard to compete with lucrative careers in the oil and gas industry,” he told the Houston Chronicle.
Whereas engineering professionals have traditionally passed through a revolving door between the universities and industry, Krishnamoorti said the movement has recently become unidirectional as a result of ample salaries that the energy boom has made available.
“You don’t see that anymore,” he said. “We see it moving in one direction, more and more.”
Texas A&M’s engineering school is reporting similar difficulties filling staff positions, with five vacancies open at its petroleum engineering faculty despite aggressive recruitment efforts.
Staff are difficult to attract, however, when the energy industry provides remuneration levels which are roughly twice the amount that engineer can hope to earn by sharing their expertise in a university setting.
According to figures from the US Bureau of Labor Statistics, American petroleum engineers earn $150,000 per annum on average, with the highest earning members of the profession making in excess of $190,000 a year. University administrators are unable to match these salary levels due to both funding limitations and concerns about the creation of huge earning disparities amongst faculty.
While these exorbitant remuneration levels are depriving universities of engineers, they are also increasing demand for teaching expertise as students flock to engineering faculties to take advantage of opportunities in the energy sector, thus further exacerbating the shortfall in academic staff.
In the past decade alone, the petroleum engineering program at Texas A&M has seen its enrolment numbers triple to over 1,100, while during the same time frame Texas Tech University’s petroleum engineering faculty has doubled student numbers to over 500.
Other engineering faculties in the US have witnessed similar enrolment gains in even briefer timer periods. The University of Louisiana-Lafayette has seen petroleum engineering students double to 541 in just the past four years, while the University of Oklahoma has logged a doubling in petroleum engineering enrolment numbers to over 1,000.
According to Jeff Spath, president of the Society of Petroleum Engineers, the problem of too few academics in the field of petroleum engineering is extremely widespread.
“It’s not a Texas issue or a US issue – it’s a global issue,” he said.
Spath expressed concern that the shortage of qualified academic stuff could lead to poorer instruction, as teaching quality is severely affected by sharp increases in student-to-faculty ratios.