November 27, 2017 Yes Institute

Digitization: Another Opportunity to reboot industry academia collaboration

Author: Rana Kapoor, MD & CEO, YES BANK and Chairman, YES Global Institute
The Indian Express, November 24

Turning learning into action and outcomes, is perhaps the greatest challenge for all education stakeholders. Businesses even in the most mundane commoditised sectors today depend upon their ability to innovate to survive, and to grow in the new age economy. Moreover, the aspect of innovation is not limited to businesses only, governments and non-profits are also actively looking for innovative solutions for intricate social and global challenges. In fact, the scope of social impact at the bottom of the pyramid through frugal and rugged innovations like solar powered devices, smokeless stoves, and many others is much more than high end technology research.

India has had excellent research traditions through its iconic centers of learning in ancient times. These traditions however have not been able to keep up with the demands of modern times. The interface between academia and industry are today benchmarked with the most dynamic ecosystems seen in the USA, Germany and Japan. Countries like China have seen quantum increase in academia driven research to sustain the strong momentum demonstrated in its economy (it now spends at par with the US in absolute terms). The new challenge will be to motivate the young minds into innovation, especially in-keeping with the demands of the industry and this brings collaboration to the forefront.

Changing Profile of Collaborations: With the new age economy powered by digitization and disruptive technologies, the industry-academia relationship is undergoing a rapid transformation. As we move from the age of standard job roles to multidisciplinary job roles, corporates now support incubators and accelerators instead of grants to academic research. One of the best example in India is the corporate supported Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE) supported by the Central, State governments and industry to promote innovation and entrepreneurship. Also, post recruitment on-the job training is giving way to Apprenticeship at industries during their time at HEIs for hands-on-training. The Government of India’s recent drive to enhance the scope and scale of Apprenticeship through the NAPS (National Apprenticeship Promotion Scheme) is therefore timely and a step in the right direction.

However, in spite of the recent momentum in building a robust industry-academia interface, we have a long way to go to evolve as a word class performing system. Other than a few islands of excellence (mostly IITs and IISc) which receive adequate government funding, most of research in India degrades into academic sloth with little encouragement from industry or government. In terms of funding, industry contribution to research even at the IITs is in the range of 10-15% much below global standards. India Inc is still to break the glass ceiling of seeking instant gratification from academic support and research expenditure. A Thomson Reuters report indicates that only 0.4% of the patents have been a result of collaboration between industry and academia in India. In the absence of a solid and active interface between industry and academia, the chances of innovative ideas to get absorbed for greater commercial exploitation is low. This also explains India’s relative low rankings in innovation and original research. This ultimately impacts the country’s global competitiveness and its place in the global knowledge economy.

To address these varied challenges, we need to follow a four pronged approach:

      • First, India needs to achieve global standards in Universities governance by allowing universities significant autonomy in policy evolution and, advice appointment of senior officials. Universities need to be given academic, administrative and financial autonomy to evolve as functional ecosystems of research, innovation and entrepreneurship. It is extremely important to harness the budding entrepreneurial energy of students for greater socio-economic development. The autonomy door shall also open much more space for innovative industrial tie-ups.
      • Second, the breadth of research collaborations needs to expand to cover a respectable percentage of total institutions. At least ~100 Institutions should be actively engaged as ‘research’ institutions up from the ~10 (mostly top tier IITs and IISc currently). One way to enable such expansion is to open research funding to all eligible institutions on merit instead of limiting all public funding to government institutions. Moreover, individual States have to evolve their own Vision for their HEIs so that some of the State universities are adequately prepared to take on sector specific research complementing their industrial clusters.

Apprenticeship: Next, the apprenticeship needs to catch up massively, there were only ~3 Lakh apprentices in the country for a country with only ~30,000 enterprises registered for taking Apprentices compared to Germany which has more than ~200,000 enterprises for Apprentices. The Apprenticeship drive is very effective means of effective industry academia collaboration; to affect a positive response from the industry, there is a need to undertake a comprehensive study to articulate the positive economic impact of the apprenticeship system on productivity.

Catch Them Young: the spirit of research and innovation needs to be inculcated at a very early age at the school level itself to build a strong base for illuminated industrial minds. The setting up of ‘tinkering’ labs at 1000 schools under the Atal Innovation Mission through the combined efforts of the government and the private sector is an excellent initiative in this regard. However, we need to scale up such initiatives a 1000 times more to create a great impact. China for instance has installed 3D printers at all its elementary schools to prepare a whole generation of students adept at using next generation technology.

Funding: Finally, there is a need for quantum increase in funding to research at all levels: academic and appliedIndia commits just 0.8 per cent of its GDP in PPP terms to research compared to 2.7%, 2.9% and 2.1% by innovation hubs like USA, Germany and aspiring powers like China. The PM’s recent announcement to provide Rs. 10,000 crores to top 20 public and private universities over the next five years to make them world class research universities is an excellent initiative in this regard. In terms of funding support from industry, India’s average industry income per academic even after adjusting to PPP (USD 000’s), is less than one-fourth (USD ~40) compared to USD 150-200 seen at the top performing countries Germany, US and China This can be addressed by promoting a culture of monetising intellectual property at our universities through administrative, legal and financial empowerment to create shared value with industry.

India has another opportunity to reform and transform its broken industry-academia interface as this relationship takes new shape to reflect the needs of the new age digital economy. Multiple academic and socio-economic objectives can be targeted through this partnership including research on skill intensive technologies vis. – a- viz., automation technologies pioneered by the developed world. The culture of industry and technology can best be harnessed at the university level which can seamlessly create a fusion of ideas and we must not miss the bus this time.