Turning learning into action and outcomes is perhaps the greatest challenge for all stakeholders in education. Businesses, even in the most mundane commoditised sectors, today depend upon their ability to innovate to survive and grow. Moreover, innovation is not limited to businesses, governments and non-profits are also actively looking for innovative solutions to social and global challenges.
India had excellent research traditions through its iconic centres of learning in ancient times. These traditions, however, have not been able to keep up. The interface between academia and industry is today benchmarked with the most dynamic ecosystems seen in the US, Germany and Japan. Countries like China have seen a quantum increase in academia-driven research to sustain the strong momentum demonstrated in its economy .
The new challenge will be to motivate young minds to innovate, especially in keeping with the demands of industry. This brings collaboration to the forefront.
With the new age economy powered by digitisation and disruptive technologies, the industry-academia relationship is undergoing a rapid transformation. As we move to multidisciplinary job roles, corporates now support incubators and accelerators instead of grants to academic research. One of the best examples in India is the Centre for Innovation, Incubation and Entrepreneurship (CIIE), supported by the Centre, state governments and industry, to promote innovation. Also, post-recruitment on-the-job training is giving way to apprenticeship for hands-on training. The government’s recent drive to enhance the scope and scale of apprenticeship through the NAPS (National Apprenticeship Promotion Scheme) is a step in the right direction.
However, despite the recent momentum, we have a long way to go. Other than a few islands of excellence (mostly IITs and IISc), research in India degenerates into academic sloth with little encouragement from industry or government. In terms of funding, industry contribution to research even at the IITs is, at 10-15 per cent, far below global standards. In the absence of an active interface between industry and academia, the chances of innovative ideas being absorbed for commercial
exploitation are low. This impacts the country’s global competitiveness and its place in the global knowledge economy. To address these challenges, we need a four-pronged approach.
First, India needs to achieve global standards in universities’ governance. 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 the total institutions. At least 100 institutions should be actively engaged as “research” institutions, up from the current 10 (mostly IITs and IISc). One way to enable such an 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 so that some state universities are prepared to take on sector-specific research complementing their industrial clusters.
Next, apprenticeship needs to catch up. India has only 30,000 enterprises registered for taking apprentices compared to Germany which has more than 2,00,000 enterprises for apprentices. The apprenticeship drive is an effective means of promoting industry academia collaboration.
The spirit of research and innovation needs to be inculcated at an early age at the school level to build a strong base for illuminated industrial minds. The setting up of “tinkering” labs at 1,000 schools under the Atal Innovation Mission through the efforts of the government and the private sector is an excellent initiative in this regard. However, we need to scale-up such initiatives a thousand times more to create a great impact. China, for instance, has installed 3D printers in all its elementary schools to prepare a generation adept at using next-generation technology.
Finally, there is a need for a quantum increase in funding to research. India commits just 0.8 per cent of its GDP in PPP terms to research compared to 2.7 per cent, 2.9 per cent and 2.1 per cent by innovation hubs like the US, Germany and aspiring powers like China. The PM’s recent announcement to provide Rs 10,000 crore to top 20 public and private universities over the next five years to make them world class research universities is an excellent initiative. In terms of funding support from industry, India’s average industry income per academic is less than one-fourth of the top performing countries — Germany, the US and China. This can be addressed by promoting a culture of monetising intellectual property at our universities.
India has an opportunity to reform and transform its broken industry-academia interface as this relationship takes new shape to reflect the needs of the digital economy. Multiple academic and socio-economic objectives can be targeted through this partnership. The culture of industry and technology can best be harnessed at the university level which can seamlessly create a fusion of ideas. We must not miss the bus this time.