‘Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much’ – Helen Keller

Ideally, a robust and functional collaboration should exist between industry and academia. That would augur well for any country, given that it would enable the growth of the education system and also produce employment-ready workforce.

The common interaction between the two pillars of society has been that of producer-consumer, where the industry provides feedback to the academia for faulty products rather than providing keen insights and feedback, which will help improve the quality of education, research or infrastructure. This has led both sides to develop a frosty relationship.

These are the major pain points in the academia-industry relationship, as also the key to addressing them:

* Social environment and lack of awareness: One of the biggest problems that both the industry and the academia face is the lack of knowledge on what the other really wants. Despite being a long-standing problem, there is no specific model that is widely used. The lack of structure and appropriate forums meant that the few interactions that took place were neither structured nor on going. Both look for self-serving purposes rather than with the objective of working out the differences.

Hence it is important to note that the two entities need to work with a common vision instead of isolating each other. We can also see that a lot of innovation and entrepreneurship is happening at a young age. This has been possible due to convergence of ideas and technology, and through the networking of communities. If we look at the evolution of Cloud Data, Mobility, Big Data, a lot of entrepreneurship has been facilitated through technology as these disruptive changes have increased employment opportunities for the youth.

* The bane of stereotyping sciences: Firstly, there is very little awareness about scholarships and other basic understanding of various streams and there are very few institutes that offer quality education in the sciences. Also, parents and students have built stereotyped images of pure science subjects, which are thought to lead to a career in darkness, with the result being that there are more engineers today than science students. Secondly, many companies prefer to do their own research rather than associate with a university, unlike the West.

* Research and development: The intellectual capital of Indian talent is well-known. However, research funding is not uniform across all sectors. For example, a fund crunch has hit research in ICMR institutions. While India is being touted as a R&D destination, it has contributed only 4.36 per cent of the global research output in 2013. Many R&D partnerships between the corporate and the academia are yet to take off even though the investments are tremendous. The proof is always in the pudding, so we will have to wait and see how they pan out.

However, it is encouraging to note that India is fast emerging as a new innovation destination of choice. The Central government instituted the National Institutional Ranking Framework (NIRF) to rank institutions across the country. According to NIRF methodology, one of the parameters that carries a lot of weightage is the number of research papers published. Hence, it has become necessary for institutes to collaborate with the industry for research fellowship programmes, which is a win-win for both.

* Outdated curricula and teaching methodologies: Technology is advancing at such a rapid rate that the curricula and teaching methodologies in universities seem outdated and out of sync with the market. This results in companies spending a tonne of money in reskilling employees in the skills they need.

Recent surveys have shown that a majority of educated youth in the country are unemployable and given the rising demographic dividend, it can quickly turn into India’s worst nightmare if adequate measures are not immediately to address this demand-supply gap.

For India to emerge as a global leader, job seekers, academia and corporates need to work towards a common goal of fighting the challenges of unemployment and domain knowledge in India. Besides domain skills, the industry also looks at soft skills, team building, values and attitude of an individual at the time of hiring. Upgrading curriculum and keeping up with the changes is required of the institutes. Each domain curriculum needs to be driven by the respective sector to be able to create almost-job-ready students.

The need of the hour is a framework or network that can bring industries and academia on to a platform for dialogue and collaboration. This platform should facilitate identification of synergies and enable outcomes that are lucrative and attractive to both parties.

The Worldwide Academia Industry Network (WAIN) is an attempt to fill this yawning gap by creating a robust platform for students, corporate leaders and academicians to share, identify and collaborate on various levels. Under this platform we will witness an innovation focused event called MeltingPot2020 Innovation Summit 2016 to facilitate dialogue and collaboration between all players in the innovation eco-system. This initiative will see a confluence of ideas from academia and corporate to drive innovation and catalyze India’s transformation into one of the top 10 Innovative countries of the world.

(Indu Kanan is a senior marketing professional. The views expressed are personal. She can be contacted at [email protected])

By Indu Kannan

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