Friday, 8 February 2013

How Indian companies can change the future of research

Collaboration between companies and campuses has been cemented under the National Functional Knowledge Hub project. And L&T heads the first knowledge hub that has come up in the country — in Mumbai. Five engineering colleges and six companies in the capital goods sector have come together to ensure that students get to work at the companies and gain hands-on experience.

The students can walk into the companies situated around their colleges to work on cutting-edge research in areas such as product design and also interact with the industry so that they get a sense of the kind of domain expertise they need to achieve. "As things stand, there is a huge disconnect between the needs of the industry and the syllabus and the only way out is for the students to get a feel of the real world," says M Ananda krishnan, governor of IIT-Kanpur board, who was associated with the knowledge hub project during its early days.

The Federation of Indian Chambers of Commerce and Industry (Ficci) started the knowledge hub programme and has planned five such regional hubs in the country to facilitate industry-academia linkages. "These programmes help the institutions to expose their students to the cutting-edge demands of their industry. It also helps companies find solutions through the research work done at these campuses," says Shobha Mishra Ghosh, head of education at Ficci.

SOS to Private Sector

Although IITs and a few top-notch institutions exist in India, many of the new colleges that have come up in the past 20 years lack necessary infrastructure. At the same time, research bodies too have lost touch with the needs of the country and the industry and cater to a programme that runs on churning out PhDs instead of working on innovations. The absence of a dependable and equipped higher education system in the country and a bureaucratic scientific tradition has thrown up a massive casualty: research.

Companies such as L&T, NIIT and Intel have realised that they cannot rely on the university system alone in India to supply engineers who are ready for the real world and have started collaborating with premier institutions in the country. This is why the corporate sector has begun to take an interest in education and research.

Apart from companies, the government also appears to be convinced that the private sector can play a huge role in research. This is the reason why, after having extended invitations under the public private partnership (PPP) route to the industry to collaborate on building roads, airports, railways and water, the government sees a huge role for the private sector in research and development (R&D) as well. The new science, technology and innovation policy, released by the prime minister, Manmohan Singh, earlier this month, is a reflection of this thought.

The new policy seeks to give room to the private sector to set up research facilities and to fund research on a 1:1 basis. As of now government bodies spend two-thirds of the total expenditure on research. The policy also states that the government would follow up with incentives for companies who want to get into research.

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