The Need For University-Industry Linkages in India Featured


internsLately, with an increased influence of Globalisation and a job boom due to consumerism, industry exposure to the students has become an upcoming trend in the University curriculums. Various articles on Gyancentral have also laid stress upon the importance of industrial trainings in Engineering and other technical courses. Even non-technical courses such as Law have also started incorporating internships in their academic streams. Thus, in the light of such emerging trends, Gyancentral experts put forward various perspectives regarding industry-university linkages. Various factors which affect such an approach have been discussed. Steps needed to reinvigorate such a methodology have also been suggested.

The nature of interactions between university and industry in India has changed significantly over the years. In the colonial era there was little interaction between the two, as the university system essentially supplied human capital to staff the civil service and judiciary. It was not purported to cater to the industrial workforce. Post independence, graduates of Indian university system found employment in a much wider range of careers including in industry. Other forms of university industry linkages such as industry sponsored research projects, joint publications of scientific articles, business incubators in universities, have started to flourish only recently in certain institutions such as Indian Institutes of Technology (IIT) and Indian Institute of Science (IISc). These institutions have witnessed higher intensity university industry linkages. For example, almost all the business incubators that have been started in academia in India can be traced to the IITs and IISc. As recently, when India Today Best Engineering Colleges Rankings ranked IIT Kanpur as the Numero Uno, one of the major reasons for this has been explained as high amount of alumni fund received by IIT Kanpur. These alumni donations are given by the alumni in the form of university-industry linkages. This benefits their industry as they get young brains to work over Research and Development programs, and of course IIT Kanpur's students get a much better exposure. These institutions have also been the main recipients of industry sponsored projects albeit still quite small in number. It is important to note that it is this class of institutions that are outside the formal university system and are often labelled as 'Institute of National Importance, which enjoy relatively greater autonomy.

Research output within the formal university system has been traditionally very low and this situation is due to both lack of research funding and a dearth of incentive for staff to engage in research. Much of the government funding in research, which is by far the largest part of the total R&D spending in India, is channelled through public research institutes which in general, do not engage with teaching and training. Within academia, it is again the semi-autonomous institutes such as IIT, IIM, ISI (Indian Statistical Institute) and IISc that are leading the way in research with IISc currently ranked as the top institute in term of its research output within the technological and engineering institutes in India. ISI also publishes the acclaimed journal 'Sankhya' in statistics, which is one of the few academic journals that India produces that enjoys a wide international reputation.

Autonomy in universities and the way forward
What emerges from the previous discussion is the strong connection between autonomy that is enjoyed by a particular class of higher education institution and the intensity with which it participates in the nation's innovation system. The relative higher autonomy enjoyed by IIT, IIM, IISc and ISI has directly led to greater partnerships with the industry and a higher research output. The government of India also in recent times have acknowledged the link between autonomy of universities and its performance in the innovation system. It now proposes to set a new class of universities in India appropriately named 'Innovation Universities' thus explicitly recognizing the fundamental role that University plays in its innovation system. The key feature of this new genre of universities (the proposal is to set up initially 14 of these) is the greater autonomy they will enjoy in comparison to the present universities. The Concept Note of the government emphasise that these universities will have "autonomy in matters of academics, faculty, personnel, finances, administration and in the development of a vision for the future."

The 'Innovation Universities' will also not fall under UGC and thus will be free from its bureaucratic controls. It is planned that the universities will be private in nature and each will have a 'university endowment' to enhance the research infrastructure of the university. Furthermore universities will be free to receive donations, contributions from its alumni along with other incomes. The proposal is at present tabled as a parliamentary Bill and is yet to be cleared by the Indian polity but it is undoubtedly a step in the right direction in making the university system a more active participant in the country's innovation system.

Does India's case fit the pattern?
It is clear that the contours of India's university system have been shaped by historical events much like it has been the case with Britain and the USA. However in contrast with these Anglo Saxon economies, India's past has led the academia to the present time when it is overwhelmingly under government control and there is a dearth of diversity in terms of alternate university models. While autonomy and R&D is severely limited in State universities, it is slightly less so in Central universities. Autonomous institutes such as IIT and IISc enjoy greater degree of autonomy and have been more successful than the traditional universities in both R&D and developing interlinks with the industry. Private universities have only recently been allowed to operate in India but are yet to make an impact in the higher education sector. It is important to note that while historical events such as the First and Second World Wars brought universities, industry and state in close contact with each other in the USA and in Britain, in India's case, its colonial past restricted the scope of interaction with industry. After independence, the situation did not improve as the first government of independent India retained much of the colonial university structure and channelled the R&D effort through public research institutes that did research but little teaching. Hence, universities did not get the opportunity to develop close inter-linkages with industry as they had little intellectual property that they could offer to the commercial sector and lack of autonomy hindered any effective partnerships that could have been developed.

To relate India's experience with the various systems, theories of innovation thus pose a challenge. At a descriptive or positive analysis level, these theories do not perform adequately, as apart from supplying skilled manpower to the industry; the universities perform little else that conforms to the pattern of activities depicted in the concepts of Indian Higher Education mission. It is demanded, for example, that university sector is the platform through which public expenditure on R& D is or should be channelled through. There is little evidence of this in India. Educationists advocate that universities should take an entrepreneurial role, fostering business incubators and developing other forms of active partnerships with industry. There is little evidence of this as well within the traditional university sector. It is required that system focuses on industry as an engine for innovation but stresses the core function of the university in creating strong cohorts of scientists and other R&D personnel who can then be employed by the industrial sector for research activities. It uses patents and formal R&D expenditure as the measurements of innovation activities. The industry sector in India fares poorly on both accounts. Majority of Indian R&D expenditure is carried out by the public sector through publicly funded research institutes.

In the light of the spectacular economic growth that India has enjoyed over the last couple of decades, it is safe to assert that innovative activities are taking place in India but these are not captured through conventional measures of innovations such as patent rates and formal R&D expenditure. The question how innovation is occurring in India is beyond the scope of the paper which is limited to looking at the role of the university in the process. Nevertheless, it has been shown elsewhere that India's economic success story is based on growth in business services, including information technology services that are mainly non patentable and which do not require formal R&D spending. This bad trend might seem very luxurious today but it will have negative consequences in future. As we compete with China, Russia and Koreas for a future market at global level, research the university level has to be an essential part of our strategy. If the students of India are made used to this no-research required field of information technology, Indians would be rendered just as a working labour in future with Chinese and Russians leading in entrepreneurship and research. Gyancentral exhorts its young readers to shed this complacency of mind and let their innovation come out. It is only when the education meets demand that new ideas start inventing a new stream of technology.

Image Source:

khitij2Kshitij Bansal is specialising in Business Laws and Intellectual Property Rights at Rajiv Gandhi National University of Law, Punjab, India. Various articles on National and International Policy matters authored by him have been published in various magazines and newspapers.

Last modified on Tuesday, 10 July 2012 18:41