Bridging the university-industry divide - Hindustan Times

Bridging the university-industry divide

ByHindustan Times
Feb 20, 2024 12:55 PM IST

This article is authored by Brainerd Prince, director, Centre for Thinking, Language and Communication and associate professor, Plaksha University.

The ongoing debate surrounding the efficacy of university education in preparing students for the demands of the industry has been a topic of considerable discourse. Addressing the heart of the matter involves aligning the core objectives of both the industry as well as the universities so that there is a true win for all. Currently, there exists a significant void between these two realms that needs to be bridged. However, amidst this dichotomy, an overlapping space presents itself where both can meet each other halfway — the space of Research and Development (R&D).

Education (Getty Images/iStockphoto)
Education (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

One potential model, which I am calling the ‘Emducation model’, to bridge the university-industry gap could involve a four-year structured programme, encompassing the first two years of academic coursework, coupled with two years of immersive R&D employment in research laboratories, based in the university but run jointly by both the university and the industry working on real-world market-driven research projects. Through such a programme, students could benefit from supervision by both industry experts and seasoned professors. This hybrid approach ensures that theoretical learning is seamlessly integrated with real-world problem-solving, providing students with a holistic understanding of their chosen field and getting employed even as a student.

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The envisioned model strives to create a symbiotic relationship between academia and industry, fostering an environment where theoretical knowledge evolves into tangible innovations having market value. By embracing collaborative R&D initiatives and integrating practical experience into the educational framework, we can cultivate a generation of student-professionals who are adept at addressing the dynamic challenges of contemporary social and technological problems. This journey toward a harmonious union between universities and industry starts with a transformative model that must seek to bring about nothing short of a paradigm shift.

The relationship between the industry and technical universities in India has been marked by a certain complexity. Industry leaders often assert that graduates lack essential skills required for employment, including effective communication and language proficiency, amongst other skills. Simultaneously, universities grapple with the challenge of providing students with practical industry experience through internships. The divide between academia and industry is a tangible gap that requires thoughtful and pragmatic solutions, such as the proposed Emducation model.

While acknowledging the need for change, it is crucial to recognize the inherent constraints universities face. The responsibility of shaping fresh talent for the professional setup comes with its own set of challenges. Striking the right balance between theoretical knowledge and practical skills is a hard task, especially when dealing with students who do not have any industry exposure.

Therefore, particularly in the Indian context, with a burgeoning emphasis on initiatives like “Make in India”, the importance of fostering indigenous R&D capabilities cannot be overstated. Universities, equipped with state-of-the-art laboratories and SMEs, possess the potential to engage in meaningful real-world R&D work. Unfortunately, the Indian industry tends to import technology from Europe and America, thus setting apart no budget for indigenous R&D and innovation, particularly in Indian universities. This stark contrast is evident when comparing the R&D investments from industry in institutions like the University of Oxford, Stanford University and MIT.

Thus, the proposed model of Emducation could be a potential solution for India that could prove to be transformative in establishing collaborative R&D labs, where tech industries and universities can jointly invest in cutting-edge research. The success of such initiatives rests on both entities treating R&D endeavours with the gravity they deserve. Tech industries need to proactively set up R&D labs in partnership with universities, signalling a shared commitment to advancing knowledge and innovation and the universities need to keep a sharper eye on producing research that has real value in the marketplace.

This article is authored by Brainerd Prince, director, Centre for Thinking, Language and Communication and associate professor, Plaksha University.

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