Naushad Forbes, chairman, CII National Committee on Higher Education and director, Forbes Marshall, is a prominent industry figure leading the AICTE-CII Survey of Industry-Linked Technical Institutes for the last two years. Intensely focused on industry academia interactions and actively involved in pushing his company to participate in collaborative projects with IITs Bombay and Madras, Forbes talks about the new surprises and changes in the survey this year and hopes to see more institutes participating this time round.
The yearly AICTE-CII survey is important, he feels, because systematic ways of highlighting industry-academia links have been introduced for the first time. “In the past, many companies have had various interactions with different educational institutes, but there was no systematic way in which these were being looked at,” he says. Now, institutes and industries were aware of the fact that their problems and issues were similar to what their counterparts were facing and finding that this was a good way to look at solving problems.
“Institutes also needed a kind of recognition and reward, especially those that are more outgoing and really trying to reach out to industry. So we simultaneously wanted to make this a learning exercise and a recognition exercise. I think the two rounds that we have done of the study have been useful in recognising the role of the institutes,” he adds.
How much of a push can the industry-academia linkages give to growth in the country? Forbes says at the end of the day the only long-term determinant of how competitive India will be will depend on the quality of its people, the ones being hired. That depends directly on the education they receive. “The input, therefore, that we get in our companies is directly an outcome of how good the quality is in institutes,” he adds. That is why industries have a very direct interest in enhancing the quality of education in technical institutes and the quality of engineers that are produced.
That is finally going to decide whether we are competitive or not. I always tell people to not look at this as CSR on the part of companies. This is in our direct interest and crucial to our success and survival in the long run.” Therefore, since it is in the industries’ self interest, institutes should not just expect cooperation from industries, but also demand it from them.
On how the survey has evolved, Forbes says it has achieved quite a few things. “When we did the first survey there were some institutes that came to us telling us that they did a lot of interactions and should have participated. Companies, too, that were working with institutes went back to them and asked why their good work had not been recognised. So that led to more institutes participating in the subsequent round and it has created more interest and excitement,” he adds.
The second thing, he says, is that institutes had started benchmarking one with the other, examining areas where they lost points or were better than others. The survey results help institutes that have been really interested to seriously examine themselves and say ‘look we have been doing well in terms of having guest lectures and so on but we’ve not been getting industries involved in governance practices.’ It helps institutes identify gaps in curriculum development or student internships. They can then fix those gaps, he says.
On the challenges, he says the number of institutes have to be broadened out. So far the top end – the IITs etc – have not been included. It has tended to focus on the best state and private universities down. Going forward, it would be good to include them as well and increase the total number of institutes significantly in terms of overall coverage. “The bigger challenge or dream long-term is to start spreading out of only technical institutes to start doing management institutes, pharmacy colleges and design institutes. We’ll have to figure out how to do it as among other things we need the competence to do the assessment ourselves,” says Forbes.
On how an organisation can forge links with an institute, Forbes says his company, Forbes Marshall, has very good ties with IITs Bombay and Madras. The company’s relationship with the former go back to about 15 years and range from research projects to guest lectures. “We have had a master’s fellowship in the energy systems area for the last 15 years and sponsored students’ projects and competitions, trying to make engineering and manufacturing companies interesting and exciting places to attract for the best students,” he says.
Strong ties also exist with Vishwakarma Institute, College of Engineering Pune and DY Patil.
At IIT Madras (IITMRP), the company set up a research centre in the institute’s Research Park about a year ago and has six employees stationed there. “To stay on and to continue to rent the place you need to earn points for your interactions with IIT Madras. You earn different points based on the project you are running – it could be anything, a project with students or guest lectures. It’s a very nice programme and I recommend it highly,” says Forbes.
Forbes Marshall’s links with IITS
The company Forbes Marshall has very good ties with IITs Bombay and Madras
With IIT Bombay it has a master’s fellowship in the energy systems area for the last 15 years and has sponsored students’ projects and competitions
Strong ties also exist with Vishwakarma Institute, College of Engineering Pune and DY Patil
At IIT Madras (IITMRP), the company has set up a research centre in the institute’s Research Park about a year ago and has six employees stationed there
The company is now using the park for experimental work, not necessarily for projects where an immediate outcome is expected
Chairman’s cut, Naushad Forbes
Forbes wants his company to significantly contribute to the quality of engineers coming out in mechanical, electronics, instrumentation and chemical engineering
The quest for innovation is also on the cards. Though the company has benefited from interactions with many institutes in the past but it has tended to be more about problem-solving than making new discoveries.
“What we haven’t been able to do is develop whole new technology that can underlay a new product range and business and that is the next step,” he says.
Another great positive is discovering talent. Interactions help industries discover brilliant students. “I say we have benefited greatly from our interactions with IIT Bombay, but I can say that the benefit we have got from our R&D head, an IIT Bombay graduate, has been greater than the benefits from all interactions, he adds.