Training Partnership Boosts Mining in Mongolia

A new initiative to train mining professionals in Mongolia is planting the seed for a burgeoning mining industry in the north-Asian country bordering China and Russia.

The program, a mix of online and short (two-day) courses leading to a Certificate in Mining Studies, is the result of the collaborative work between the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, EduMine and the School of Mining Engineering at the Mongolian University of Science and Technology (MUST) in Ulaanbaatar, the state capital.

The launch of the program coincides with the recent announcement of a landmark investment agreement to build and operate the Oyu Tolgoi copper-gold mine in the South Gobi region of Mongolia.

Under the terms of the agreement, disclosed March 31, the Mongolian government will acquire a 34 percent stake in Ivanhoe Mines' subsidiary Oyu Tolgoi LLC, which holds the mining licences. Mongolia's interest will be held through state-owned Erdenes MGL LLC, with Ivanhoe Mines taking a 66 percent interest in Oyu Tolgoi LLC.

Ivanhoe has invested US$1 billion to develop and explore the property since acquiring the exploration licences in 2000, the company stated in a news release, with an additional US$4 billion needed to build and commission the mining complex.

Ivanhoe will rely on minority owner Rio Tinto for the bulk of the financing. The massive project has a construction budget of $758 million and is expected to break ground in the second quarter of 2010.

Bernhard Klein, head of UBC's Department of Mining Engineering, said that Oyu Tolgoi was certainly the catalyst enabling the education and training partnership to go forward, although the program has been in the works since 2008.

"We met with the university to talk about the types of programs we have at UBC that could support its needs," said Klein, noting that UBC offers a Certificate in Mining through EduMine and UBC and a Masters of Engineering in Mining.

The program in Mongolia is modelled on the UBC certificate program. Students will register for 10 days of short courses and 160 hours of study. The plan is for UBC mining engineering professors to teach short courses in Mongolia and EduMine to handle the online courses through its professional development portal.

The certificate program is aimed at mining industry employees, MUST students and government employees, with 40 Oyu Tolgoi employees forming the initial intake. The program is needed, Klein explained, because Mongolia's education system is strong on academics but weak on applied sciences. The current mining engineering program at MUST, for example, does not have linkages with mining companies or operators.

"We're trying to fill a void by making sure they have trained mining professionals," Klein said.

The program could train hundreds of workers at the Oyu Tolgoi mine, according to Klein, and has the potential to attract future mining employees as new mines come on-stream in Mongolia.

It could also play an important role in helping to transform the country from a mostly-agrarian to an industrial economy powered by mining. Mongolia has rich coal, gold and uranium deposits but foreign companies hoping for exploration licenses have faced roadblocks from the Mongolian government.

Klein said that the government's caution is understandable given the country's relative lack of experience in dealing with foreign mining companies.

"It's important to know that Mongolia is going through a process to try to establish regulations and there are a lot of pressures within Mongolia to make sure they're doing it right."

The training partnership has the support of the Canadian ambassador to Mongolia, whom Klein met recently in Ulaanbaatar.

"She thought what we were doing was something very meaningful for Mongolians: training and education of professionals for what they think is going to be their leading industry for a number of years," said Klein.

He noted that the program has the potential to go beyond the training of mining professionals. UBC is also hoping that the certificate program will become a stepping- stone for attracting Mongolian students to UBC to enrol in the Masters of Engineering in Mining program. Other opportunities include the potential for UBC and MUST to collaborate on mining research, Klein said, along with the possibility of linking with other engineering departments at UBC.

"We feel that there's an opportunity to have an impact, by offering programs like this one, and there may be opportunities beyond mining here," he said.

Links and References

EduMine

Ivanhoe Mines

Mongolia is Open for Business … or is it?

Oyu Tolgoi Gold and Copper Project, Mongolia

Rio Tinto

School of Mining Engineering at the Mongolian University of Science and Technology

University of British Columbia