Higher Education in India: Industry-academia partnership is a 21st century imperative, says Dr VS Rao
Dr. VS Rao , 15 May 2017

Stanford University was instrumental in building an ecosystem of innovation and entrepreneurship in the Silicon Valley. Can such a model emerge in India? Dr. VS Rao President, NIIT University tells Careers360 how by active participation of industry with academics can make our education meet global standards.

The colleges and universities of the world are not just the citadels of education, they are also the seeding grounds for research and innovation. Much of what humanity has seen in terms of invention, can often be traced back to these schools of learning. Often, that’s really where it all started.


Natural allies

While clearly, academia continues to be the cradle for conceptualizing and building the future, it is industry that almost always takes these ideas to fruition. Industry is the engine that transforms research to reality and what is on the drawing board into what is tangible.


In that sense, academia and industry are natural allies, with an inter-dependency which is logical and only to be expected. They are tied at the hip, complimenting and drawing sustenance from each other and driving mutual growth.


This truth has of course been proved time and again, though in a way best exemplified by Silicon Valley, USA. Silicon Valley (christened so owing to the large number of high-tech start-ups in the south of San Francisco and the north of the state of California, USA), received much of its impetus through Stanford University. It is accepted fact that the famous University’s engineering school—including its erudite faculty and brilliant students—was instrumental in unleashing the tech revolution and building an eco-system of innovation and entrepreneurship around the Bay area.


Silicon Valley is of course the most celebrated instance of this win-win partnership between academia and industry—where proximity between a University and industry emerged through the academic unity. Other nations too have their share of close academia-industry collaborations that have led to breakthrough developments, particularly in the 21st century IT and now Digital age.


Industry disconnect

India, sadly, has not been able to leverage the academia-industry bond to the best extent possible. A common criticism by analysts has been that research in the country’s prestigious engineering institutions like the IITs, has remained de-linked from industry. Most advanced schools of learning work in isolation-- like islands that are far from the mainstream.


However, this scenario needs to change. The new Indian government has launched its famous Skill India and Digital India initiatives, both of which require industry and academia to join heads and work together in a big way.


This has become critical in view of the fact that a majority of graduates of Indian universities, both engineering and non-engineering, are not considered ‘industry-ready’ or worse still ‘employable’. The very purpose of education is to send out skilled people who can be instantly deployed by organizations and be productive in the real world of work. If this talent has to be re-skilled at great costs by companies, the very objective of education is defeated.


Will India fritter away its advantage?

While India is sending out large volumes of people into the job market each year, the majority are not the preferred choice of hirers. This is a waste, especially in view of the fact that we have among the largest number of people in the 20-35-year age group, that have the potential to be transformed into a powerful and transformational force. Without necessary ‘employability’ skills, India may lose its ‘great demographic dividend’, a short window of opportunity that simply cannot be frittered away.


Having said that, India must look for solutions to this massive challenge. And one of the ways is by forging a strong linkage between academia and industry.


It is apparent now that the emerging needs of the knowledge economy can only be met through an enhanced focus on robust industry linkages and a research-oriented approach.


Industry-academia participation

Academia has to make progress in research and innovation, and curriculum development and design and do so by enlisting the active partnership of the industry. Industry on the other hand needs to know from academic research about what is going to appear on-the-horizon and how it must gear up in terms of talent. It must also take on the mantle of advisor, guiding academia on what hard and soft skill sets it needs and the profile of the workers it hopes to see coming out of the educational system. Universities have to collaborate with organizations that are part of different industry verticals, to gain insights into what domain knowledge has to be created. Adding industry-linked courses will also help.


Interestingly, India’s leading chamber of commerce for the IT-BPM industry, NASSCOM, has recently tied up with US-based University, Georgia Tech to work jointly with the foreign institution to address the technological and non-technological challenges that surround the adoption of the Internet of Things (IoT) technologies and develop a vibrant IoT ecosystem.


Importance of internships

The other area that has to be pushed is internships. Besides on campus projects, universities need to organize paid internship for students in premier companies. These internships will give learners a hands-on experience of the new age workplace and what to expect when they begin their career journeys. If after the completion of the internship, the students can be placed in these very set-ups, even better.


Exposure for faculty

Faculty in advanced educational institutions can also be encouraged to take paid sabbaticals to gain exposure in organizations, to understand their work environments and manpower requirements. At the same time, industry practitioners can be invited on an on-going basis by colleges and universities to talk to students, and teachers about the issues of skilling and upskilling and answer their career building queries.


All this has to happen as a massive movement that sweeps across all colleges and Universities (not just the top ones in the land). This thinking and approach must infiltrate into educational institutions in India’s tier 1, 2 and 3 cities and townships, ensuring that industry-academia linkages become an important part of the nation’s learning fabric. Eventually, it will be through these win-win partnerships that India will remain at the cutting edge of learning and maintain its edge as the global skills capital.


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